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Declared stateless in country of birth

Orirando Manwere

HAVE you ever been declared stateless in a country you thought you belonged to? It happened to me and I had to fight to regain my Zimbabwean citizenship.

I was born Orlando (mispelt as Orirando) Manwere Mondhlani over three decades ago at Muriel Mine Clinic in Mutorashanga, Lomagundi (Makonde) district in Zimbabwe’s agro-rich Mashonaland West province.

My parents had settled at this gold mining town in the 1960s after migrating from Mozambique from where they came along with my two elder brothers and sisters.

Because of the colonial Portuguese influence upon my parents, we were all christened with Portuguese names.

However, my proper name Orlando was somehow mispelt by a birth registration officer as Orirando at the Chinhoyi district registry in 1976 when my mother took us there to get birth certificates.

It had to remain like that.

My immediate elder sister, two other younger ones and I were thus born and bred at Muriel Mine where we all began our primary education in the late 70s before moving to Dalny Mine in Chakari where I completed my secondary education.

After school, I worked as a temporary teacher in Chegutu Six Resettlement Scheme between 1988 and 1992 before I started my childhood dream profession — journalism at the Mashonaland West Telegraph in Chinhoyi in 1993.

In February 1994, I was attested into the Zimbabwe Republic Police at Morris Depot and was posted to Bulawayo Central where I briefly worked before I was moved to the city’s provincial press and public relations department.

In the department I worked as reporter for the police house journal —The Outpost — between 1994 and 2001 after which I joined mainstream media at the state run Sunday News in Bulawayo.

I believe I have over the years remained a loyal, law-abiding and patriotic citizen of Zimbabwe and have significantly contributed towards this nation as a teacher awaiting training, policeman and scribe.

However, despite having been earlier attested as a member of the police force under which I loyally and patriotically rendered my services, sometimes under harsh conditions, I was to get the shock of my life sometime in 2001.

The state, under which I had served for over a decade in different capacities, suddenly rendered me stateless alongside millions of others whose parents originated from neighbouring Sadc countries.

We all fell victim to the controversial Citizenship of Zimbabwe Amendment Act No. 12 of 2001 which sought to abolish dual citizenship by requiring that those of us who were born and bred in Zimbabwe renounce the alleged foreign citizenship of our parents countries’ of origin.

This was despite the fact that my parents underwent a similar renunciation process before the 1985 general election and were issued with Zimbabwean citizenship certificates.

I did not understand why they had to do the same again 16 years later. I know my mother has kept her 1984 citizenship certificate as a treasure behind a family picture frame at home.

I could hardly believe my ears when news about this controversial piece of legislation was announced.

I was still in the police press office in Bulawayo then and I wondered how I would continue serving in the police as a “foreigner”.

There were many of us so affected by this legislation and we were told to go to the district registrar’s offices where our renunciation processes would be expedited.

The effect of this legislation caused a lot of confusion among thousands of affected people, with some, out of frustration, deciding to return to their parents’ countries of origin to turn over a new leaf.

I could not do likewise as my father had passed away earlier and had secured a piece of land for my old mother and younger brothers and sisters in Mount Darwin.

I sat on the fence for almost two years during which period I was technically stateless and could not apply for either a Zimbabwean or Mozambican passport.

Sometime in 2003, I crossed the rubicon and went to complete the renunciation forms at the district registry after I failed to attend a course in South Africa because my emergency travel document indicated that I was a non-citizen.

A South African Embassy official had told me over the phone that if my travel document indicated that I was Mozambican, I did not require a visa to go to South Africa.

So, I had confidently left for Beitbridge only to be told that the document should instead have been issued by the Mozambican embassy, not Zimbabwe passport office.

This marked the beginning of the trials and tribulations that I have gone through in this renunciation process.

After submitting the renunciation forms which I only did after numerous trips to Makombe Building in Harare to obtain the required long birth certificate which has my parents details, I only got the certificate in April 2005 — exactly two years later.

I received a letter from the citizenship office in Harare advising me to go and swear an oath of allegiance together with other successful applicants at Drill Hall offices in Bulawayo.

There were over 20 of us on that day and we were sworn in by a Mrs Ndlovu who first read some provision of the Zimbabwe Constitution and the Amendment Act.

We got our certificates after the swearing in ceremony but were told we could not immediately apply for Zimbabwean passports, as our names had to be logged into the citizenship database.

I initially thought the process would be complete within a week, but alas, I had to wait for another 14 months before I was told that my name was “now in the system”.

I had a situation where I was in possession of a Zimbabwe citizenship certificate but was technically stateless because I was not yet in the database.

I wondered how and why we were called in for the swearing-in ceremony and handed certificates when the log-in process was not done.

In the meantime, I had to resort to applying for emergency travel documents each time I had a trip out of the country.

Given the pressure at the passport office nationwide and the nature of my duties, I have continued using emergency travel documents.

I am in the process of applying for a passport now that my name is in the citizenship database, but the process continues to be cumbersome and requires one to take leave particularly to go through the rigorous vetting exercise.

The exercise again takes one to the citizenship office for authentication of renunciation in the computers despite having an original citizenship certificate.

These are some of the trials and tribulations I have gone through to regain my lost Zimbabwean citizenship status.

There are thousands of colleagues who are still to make a decision to renounce their alleged Mozambican, Malawian or Zambian citizenship status due to a number of factors.

A colleague told me he was asked to bring long birth certificates and identity documents for his late father or any of his relatives, but most left for Malawi and he is in a quandary.

Most people still have the short birth certificates issued in the 1970s and early 1980s and are having a hectic period getting new ones from regional offices of the Registrar-General.

It has been a cumbersome and frustrating experience and I can now heave a sigh of relief though I feel for my colleagues who have not yet started on this long and painful journey.

The Citizenship of Zimbabwe Amendment Act No. 12 of 2001 has affected thousands of people despite numerous court challenges and rulings, prompting the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs and Defence to research on the issue and advise government accordingly on the way forward.

Their research revealed that the Registrar-General’s office was wrongly interpreting the provisions of the amendment and it was resolved that there was need for a vigorous awareness campaign to enlighten people on the Act.

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