Zimbabweans who have been denied dual citizenship are challenging the government to respect their constitutional rights, arguing that they risk being disenfranchised in general elections slated for July.
By Hazel Ndebele
Nearly three million Zimbabweans, including evicted white commercial farmers, have left the country since the turn of the millennium, seeking better prospects abroad. A sluggish commitment to electoral reforms has over the years disqualified them from exercising their right to vote.
Most Zimbabwean citizens who have been denied citizenship by the Registrar-General’s Office have since turned to the courts to try and resolve the matter.
In one such court case, which will be heard by Judge President George Chiweshe on March 8, the applicant, Brian Shaw, through his lawyers Nyakutombwa Mugabe Legal Counsel, is seeking a High Court order to assert his right to citizenship.
The matter has been ongoing since July 28 last year, but the Registrar-General’s Office has been denying Shaw his citizenship as it maintains that he could only claim Zimbabwean citizenship after renouncing his South African citizenship.
Human rights lawyer Tafadzwa Mugabe, who is handling the matter, said the delay in re-aligning the Citizenship Act which does not allow dual citizenship to the 2013 constitution might deprive many of their right to vote.
“It is a regrettable and unfair state of affairs that one has to renounce the other citizenship in order to attain the Zimbabwean citizenship and this is potentially unconstitutional,” Mugabe, who is handling a number of dual citizenship cases, said.
“The delay in the alignment of the Citizenship Act to the 2013 constitution is suspicious, especially when the Registrar-General continues to act unlawfully. In fact, it was supposed to be aligned when we won the Mutumwa Mawere dual citizenship case in which I represented him.
“If a number of people fail to claim their citizenship, those people will not be able to vote in this year’s election.”
Although Shaw was born in South Africa, his mother was a Zimbabwean citizen and therefore he is allowed under the new Constitution to assert his Zimbabwean citizenship. Shaw is concerned that he will not be able to vote in the 2018 elections.
“I am advised, which advice I accept to be true and correct, that I am a citizen of Zimbabwe by birth because at the time of my birth my mother was a citizen of Zimbabwe ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe. I am further advised I have the constitutional right to hold the citizenship of another country, in my case South Africa, without the need to renounce the one in favour of the other,” wrote Shaw in his application through his lawyers.
“I have spent the majority of my life as a resident of Zimbabwe as such; national events like the upcoming general elections scheduled are of interest to me. However, with my current immigration status, I am unable to participate in the voting exercise.”
Section 42(e) of the 2013 Constitution allows dual citizenship to those who are citizens by birth.
However, Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede in May last year maintained that government will not seek to re-align the Citizenship Act of 1984 to the new constitution. The Zimbabwe Citizenship Act of 1984 outlawed dual citizenship, but it was superseded by the 2013 constitution. The Act also stipulates that it is a criminal offence to simultaneously own passports from different countries.
Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi in January said aligning the Citizenship Act to the new constitution is part of his 100-day plan.