Zimbabwe’s discriminatory citizenship laws have rendered thousands of people stateless and pushed them to the fringes of society, depriving them of access to education, healthcare, and housing, Amnesty International said in a new report Friday.
The human rights organisation found that descendants of migrant workers who settled in Zimbabwe during colonial times and survivors of the Gukurahundi massacres that killed more than 20,000 people in Matabeleland and Midlands in the 1980s were denied nationality by “a cruel combination of discrimination and bureaucracy.”
“For Zimbabwe’s stateless, everyday life is filled with obstacles. Accessing education, healthcare and employment can be a nightmare, and the sense of exclusion and rejection is soul-destroying,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty deputy director for Southern Africa during the launch of the report titled We are like “Stray Animals.”
While the organisation said it could not give any hard figures due to lack of “official data,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are about 300,000 or so stateless people in Zimbabwe.
Mwananyanda called on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to “take concrete action to address this crisis… and ensure laws are in line with Zimbabwe’s own Constitution, as well as international human rights law.”
Amnesty took issue with the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act, passed in 1984, saying it was being exploited to deny persons of foreign origin a right to Zimbabwean nationality even though most were entitled.
The law is yet to be aligned with the new constitution, which would override its discriminatory clauses.
“Section 43 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution states that any resident who was born in Zimbabwe to parents with a claim to citizenship of any SADC state – including Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa – is a Zimbabwean citizen by birth,” the report said, adding that victims of Gukurahundi must be given identity cards without any questions.
While Zimbabwe opened a window of opportunity for descendants of migrant workers to renounce their ancestral nationality within six months in 2001 so as to get citizenship, many were locked out because they did not have the requisite identity documents, Amnesty said, adding many just could not prove that their parents had been nationals of other countries.
Alex, whose father was Zambian, is one of them. He told researchers: “I have no idea how I can locate my parents’ relatives as I have never been to Zambia.”
As a result, he could not proceed beyond Grade 7 at school, and that meant his children falling into the same vicious generational curse since they could not get birth certificates.
Undocumented people also face barriers to accessing healthcare as pregnant women are excluded from critical life-saving services such as antenatal care and assistance during labour, Amnesty said.
Botshiwe Dube, from Tsholotsho in Matabeleland North, told researchers when she went into labour and rushed to a clinic, she was turned away and forced to give birth at home as she could not provide an ID. All her subsequent children were delivered at home.
That, she said, made undocumented people feel like “stray animals.”
Another Tsholotsho villager Vaina Ndlovu, 68, said her father was abducted and presumably killed by Robert Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade forces during Gukurahundi, opening up an identity crisis that would haunt his posterity.
She could not get a death certificate for her father as national registry officials told her to bring witnesses to confirm her father was abducted during Gukurahundi, but she did not have any.
While government insists it started issuing registration cards for Gukurahundi victims last year after Mnangagwa’s engagement with a fringe group called Matabeleland Collective, activists say many people have yet to benefit.
“Amnesty International is calling on the Zimbabwean government to urgently take adequate measures to ensure the registration and restoration of Zimbabwean nationality to all those entitled to it, as provided for under the Constitution, including all those born and raised in Zimbabwe to foreign parents,” the rights group said.