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Citizenship law to prejudice many of voters

Orirando Manwere

WITH only four months to go before the 2008 elections there are fears that thousands of people rendered stateless following the enactment of the Citizen

ship of Zimbabwe Amendment Act No 12 of 2001, could again fail to vote as they are still to have their Zimbabwean citizenship restored, it has emerged.

Perceived aliens from neighbouring Sadc countries like Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia, including their off-spring born and bred in Zimbabwe, some of whom have never been to their forefathers’ original countries, were all rendered stateless in 2001.

Some have since renounced their alleged foreign citizenship and others are doing so in the current voter registration mop-up exercise.

However, it has emerged that a large number could fail to do so as they do not have the required long birth certificates due to migration and death of parents and guardians.

Others have sought legal advice on the issue.

Irene Petras, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights director whose organisation submitted evidence on the issue to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs earlier this year, confirmed in a statement that her organisation was representing affected alien farm workers.

She said her organisation had been vindicated by the findings and recommendations of the committee on the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act as it supported its interpretation of the Act and the Government Notice which sets out the legal position which it has successfully argued in court on behalf of innumerable victims of the Registrar-General’s misapplication of the law.

” We regret however that, despite the recommendations of the committee, the Registrar General has nevertheless continued to apply his own blatantly wrong interpretation to deny Zimbabweans their rightful citizenship in contravention of our national law as well as international human rights standards which protect against an individual being rendered stateless

“We continue to be consulted by farm workers and other individuals who have wrongly been advised that they have forfeited their Zimbabwean citizenship despite not holding any other citizenship,” said Petras in a statement.

She said this was a matter of concern as the nation approached the 2008 elections, as many people were likely to be denied their right to register as voters and exercise their fundamental right to choose their representatives or run for political office

“This can only suggest that the Registrar General, as the person responsible (incorrectly, in our view) for drawing up the voters’ roll and registering voters, has ulterior motives as, instead of scrupulously implementing the recommendations of the committee to abide by the rulings and interpretations of the courts and cabinet and undertake “a vigorous nationwide campaign” on the Citizenship Act, he continues through his actions to defy the legislature, just as he has done and continues to do with orders of court, evidencing a clear lack of respect for the rule of law. This must end as a matter of urgency,” she said.

Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo was in May quoted as saying in the Herald that all aliens born in Zimbabwe should register to vote, adding that plans to issue them with identity documents were at an advanced stage

He said a meeting was being held with the RG’s office “to iron out grey areas”.

However, despite the court rulings, the Registrar-General still requires aliens’ children to renounce their alleged foreign citizenship and the process has not been smooth as some have no long birth certificates because their parents and guardians either passed away or returned to their original countries.

The citizenship saga dates back to 1983 when government amended the Constitution to do away with dual citizenship which was allowed at Independence in 1980.

According to a Zimbabwe Election Support Network report, the Constitution then provided for dual citizenship.

In 1983 the government amended the Constitution so as to remove the guarantee of dual citizenship by amending the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act (now Chapter 4:01).

Dual citizens had to surrender their foreign passports and sign a form renouncing their foreign citizenship.

The renunciation had no effect in foreign law, but it satisfied the government until 2001, when the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act was amended again for dual citizens to renounce their foreign citizenship within six months, failing which they would cease to be Zimbabwean citizens.

This time the renunciation had to be valid in terms of the foreign law concerned.

The initial abolition of dual citizenship was almost certainly aimed at the whites, but ended up affecting those whose parents migrated from neighbouring countries.

These people, whether they knew it or not, were also dual citizens even if they had been born in Zimbabwe, and like whites they were obliged to renounce their foreign citizenship.

The report says very few of them did so when dual citizenship was first abolished in 1983 and government was faced with the embarrassment of having disenfranchised many of its supporters in rural areas.

This led to a hasty constitutional amendment before the 1990 general election, which gave the vote to people who were not citizens but permanent residents since the beginning of 1986.

This led to a further amendment of the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act in 2003, which stated that descendants of migrant workers from Sadc should renounce their foreign citizenship by filling in a prescribed form, thereby “confirming” their Zimbabwean citizenship.

The report said the problem with this amendment was that all the people who might have benefited from it had already lost their Zimbabwean citizenship by the time it was promulgated (March 5 2004).

The courts have ruled against the Registrar- General in a number of cases but the office continues to stick to the renunciation requirement.

To clarify the law, the Minister of Justice published a notice in the Government Gazette which the cabinet also endorsed and approved that everyone was presumed to be a Zimbabwean citizen by birth and one could only renounce foreign citizenship if he or she had had to acquire it. One of the first cases to challenge these provisions was Morgan Tsvangirai v Registrar-General and others.

Justice Adam held that it is wrong to presume that when one has a parent or parents that are born out of the country they are citizens of the other country by descent.

This interpretation has been relied upon in several instances when the RG has refused to issue individuals with passports.

The other previous judgements were in favour of Judith Todd, and Ricarudo Manwere, Lewis Uriri and Trevor Ncube.

The Registrar-General refused to issue Lewis Uriri (a lawyer) a birth certificate for his child claiming that he was Mozambican.

Uriri was born in Zimbabwe but both his parents were born in Mozambique and migrated to this country before Independence.

The Registrar-General lost the case and was again ordered to pay the costs.

Two years later, in the case of Trevor Ncube v Registrar General the court made a similar ruling faced with the same facts.

Born locally from a Zimbabwean mother and a Zambian father, Ncube was refused renewal of his passport.

However, Justice Bhunu sitting at the Harare High Court ordered the Registrar General to pay the costs on a higher scale as he was in defiance of cabinet rules and a court orders.

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