Candid Comment: Thing of the Past, Future, but not Present

THE Constitution Amendment No 19, which was drafted and piloted through parliament by Patrick Chinamasa, the current Minister of Justice, has made most of the former citizens of Zimbabwe stateless persons.  Even the President of Zimbabwe is no longer a citizen of this country.


Amendment No 19 repealed the former Chapter II of the Constitution and substituted a new Chapter. 

The new Chapter II provides as follows.  In Section 4 it states that there is a common Zimbabwean citizenship (whatever that means) and that all citizens are equal (which also is nonsensical).  It then goes on to spell out the duties of every Zimbabwean citizen to observe the constitution and to respect its ideals and institutions, to respect the national flag and the national anthem, and, to the best of his or her ability, to defend Zimbabwe in time of need.

It says that every Zimbabwean citizen is entitled to the protection of the state wherever he or she may be (even though he or she might not get it).  Finally, section 4 (4) provides that Zimbabwe citizenship may be acquired by birth, decent or registration. 

The new Section 5 spells out the provisions for acquiring citizenship by birth as follows.  Everyone born in Zimbabwe is a Zimbabwean citizen by birth if, when he or she was born, either of his or her parents was a Zimbabwean citizen or either of his or her grandparents was a Zimbabwean citizen by birth or descent.  Similarly with citizenship by descent.  

The new Section 6 provides that anyone born outside Zimbabwe is a citizen by descent if either of his or her  parents was a Zimbabwean citizen.

To take one well-known example.  The president, who recently celebrated his 85th birthday, was born on February 18 1924.  Neither of his parents could possibly have been a Zimbabwean citizen because there were no Zimbabwean citizens at that time.  Therefore the president is no longer a citizen of Zimbabwe. 

Everyone born in this country before April 18 1980 has likewise ceased to be a Zimbabwean citizen.  The new Section 7 provides that anyone who has been voluntarily and ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe for at least 10 years may apply to become a Zimbabwean citizen by registration. Can our Citizenship Office handle three or four million applications for citizenship?  

Ordinarily, when a provision such as the new Chapter II is introduced, there is a savings clause.  Thus, when the 1979 Constitution was drafted (by a more competent draftsman, obviously) the first section of  Chapter II, which Amendment No 19 repealed, provided that a person who, immediately before April 18 1980, was or was deemed to be a citizen by birth, descent or registration shall, on and after that day, be a citizen of Zimbabwe by birth, descent or registration, as the case may be.  The new Chapter II, does not contain such a provision.

If the constitution is not changed so as to provide that persons who were Zimbabwean citizens immediately before Amendment No 19 was promulgated will retain their citizenship, there will be problems in finding candidates for the next presidential election.  

Section 28 of the constitution provides that, to be qualified for election as president, the person must be a citizen of Zimbabwe by birth or by descent and must have attained the age of 40 years. Under the current provisions of the new Chapter II persons who have attained that age can only become citizens by registration.  Under Chinamasa’s new law there will be no Zimbabwean citizens by birth or descent who are 40 years of age until 2020!

Justice Smith is a retired High Court judge.

BY GEORGE SMITH

 

Top