Disenfranchisement of ‘aliens’ xenophobic

IT has been argued that in today’s world where countries are increasingly racially and culturally diverse, progressive nations are, among other key indicators, judged by their treatment of minorities.

Candid Comment with Stewart Chabwinja

It is thus baffling Zimbabwe is systematically disenfranchising a substantial minority, effectively rendering them second-class citizens.

The prolonged battle by the country’s so-called “aliens” to (re)gain citizenship and voting rights is a serious indictment of the country’s attitude towards a large chunk of its population some estimate to be well over a million.

The word “alien”, stamped on the minority’s identity documents, is as derogatory as it is a misnomer for by definition it refers to anyone who does not belong in the environment in which they are found; or a person who comes from a foreign country and does not owe allegiance to the country he/she is in. How Zimbabwe can call those born within its borders aliens defies logic.

That the “alien” shambles persists despite provisions in the new constitution signed by President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday which recognises citizenship by descent and birth, and contrary to recent cabinet pronouncements, is testimony to deep-seated official xenophobia.

Zimbabwe has third-generation immigrants and those born in the country, but of foreign parents falling under the alien branding. They have made and continue to make indelible contributions to the entire spectrum of the nation’s endeavours.

The irony of this situation is that millions of Zimbabweans are currently economic refugees in neighbouring countries and overseas, having fled a mostly self-inflicted socio-economic crisis wrought by a Zanu PF regime bent on maintaining its increasingly tenuous grip on power by all means.

The “alien” status, courtesy of the amendment of the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act (Chapter 4.1) in 2002 resulted in many people losing Zimbabwean citizenship, forcing them to identify with the nationalities of their parents despite, in many cases, never having set foot outside Zimbabwe.

In a 2008 research document titled A Right or a Privilege: Access to Identity and Citizenship in Zimbabwe, the Research and Advocacy Unit noted that the long birth certificate which became mandatory in 2001 prior to the 2002 presidential election introduced a new section detailing the country of origin of parents, effectively stigmatising all those of foreign descent born in or out of Zimbabwe.

It is quite clear the objective of this requirement was to disenfranchise all those of foreign origin, including farmers and farm workers perceived to have voted for the then opposition MDC in the 2000 parliamentary elections in which Zanu PF was almost defeated.

With high-stakes elections imminent, “aliens” attempts to secure documents to facilitate voter registration face institutional resistance from a Zanu PF political elite which dreads payback time.

For a country that purports to subscribe to the founding principles of the OAU and the AU’s vision of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens …”, Zimbabwe remains woefully out of touch with the dynamics of its population.

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