Citizenship is one of the most important rights in the Constitution of Zimbabwe. It’s about belonging, identity and access to rights, benefits and privileges. A section of the Constitution, Chapter 3, deals specifically with the issue of citizenship, while parts of the Declaration of Rights specifically confer certain citizen-specific rights. This manual, which is based on the Constitution of Zimbabwe, outlines the major aspects of citizenship which you must know.
Rights and benefits
Every citizen is entitled to the rights, privileges and benefits of citizenship. Some of the most important rights are the right to vote, the right to a passport or other travel documents, such as an Emergency Travel Document, and the right to the protection of the state wherever the citizen may be. This means if a Zimbabwean citizen is in the United Kingdom, South Africa, South Sudan or any other country, he or she is entitled to the protection of the state. This is why the state had a duty to rescue Zimbabwean women who had been duped and stranded by unscrupulous individuals in Kuwait.
Every citizen is required to observe certain duties such as loyalty to Zimbabwe, observing the Constitution and respecting its ideals and institutions, respecting the national flag and the national anthem; and to the best of one’s ability, defending Zimbabwe and its sovereignty.
How to acquire citizenship
There are 3 ways by which a person can become a Zimbabwean citizenship: by birth, descent or registration.
Citizenship by birth
You are a citizen by birth if when you were born in Zimbabwe one of your parents was a Zimbabwean citizen or any of your grandparents was a Zimbabwean citizen by birth or descent.
You are also a citizen by birth even if you were born outside Zimbabwe if at the time of birth one of your parents was a Zimbabwean citizen and was ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe. If you have your child in the Diaspora and you can show that you or the other parent were ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe at the time of birth, then your child can be a Zimbabwean citizen by birth. There are certain advantages to being a citizen by birth, for example, the protection of dual citizenship.
A person born outside Zimbabwe to a Zimbabwean parent who at the time of birth was working in a foreign country for the state or an international organisation is also a citizen by birth. If you are working for an international organisation, then your child is entitled to citizenship by birth even if the child is born outside Zimbabwe.
A child who is found in Zimbabwe and who is, or appears to be, less than 15 years old, and whose nationality and parents are not known, is presumed to be a Zimbabwean citizen by birth. The term generally used for such children is “foundlings” and they are normally victims and survivors of war. Granting them citizenship in such circumstances is consistent with Zimbabwe’s obligations and commitments under international law.
Citizenship by descent
A person is a citizen by descent if he or she was born outside Zimbabwe and at least one of his or her parents or at least one of his or her grandparents was a Zimbabwean citizen by birth or descent.
If one of his or her parents was a Zimbabwean by registration and the person is born outside Zimbabwe, he will also be a citizen by descent.
However, in all cases, the birth of the child must be registered in accordance with the laws of Zimbabwe. In other words, you must get a Zimbabwean birth certificate. Most children born in the Diaspora are likely to fall into this category – as citizens by descent.
Citizenship by registration
A person can acquire Zimbabwean citizenship by registration, if they fulfill the conditions, such as marriage for a certain period, long residence, or adoption.
Citizenship based on marriage
You can qualify for Zimbabwean citizenship by virtue of marriage, but you must have been married to a Zimbabwean citizen for at least 5 years. You have to submit an application in terms of the citizenship laws and you must also satisfy any other conditions set out in that legislation.
Zimbabwean citizenship is not lost through marriage or the dissolution of marriage. This means even if you get married to a foreign national, you do not lose your Zimbabwean citizenship because of that. Equally, a foreign person who becomes a Zimbabwean citizen by marriage does not lose that citizenship simply because he or she is divorced from the Zimbabwean spouse.
Citizenship based on long residence
You can also qualify for Zimbabwean citizenship by virtue of long residence but you must have been continuously and lawfully resident in Zimbabwe for at least 10 years. You have to submit an application in terms of the citizenship laws and you must satisfy any other conditions set out in that legislation.
Citizenship based on adoption
A foreign child who is adopted by a Zimbabwean citizen is entitled on application to be registered as a Zimbabwean citizen.
Revocation of citizenship
Citizenship may be revoked if the person acquired it by fraud, false representation or concealment of a material fact.
Citizenship by registration may be revoked if during a war in which Zimbabwe is involved, the person concerned unlawfully trades or communicates with an enemy or is involved in a business which is knowingly carried on in order to assist an enemy in that war.
Rule against statelessness
However, the state is prohibited from revoking a person’s citizenship if this would render him or her stateless. A stateless person is one who does not have any citizenship and does not legally belong to any state. International law prohibits statelessness and this rule fulfills Zimbabwe’s international obligations. In the past, thousands, if not millions of Zimbabweans were rendered stateless when they lost their Zimbabwean citizenship due to restrictive citizenship laws which made them stateless. This is now absolutely prohibited and all such persons are recognised as Zimbabwean citizens once again.
Citizens by birth are entitled to dual citizenship. This means a person who is a Zimbabwe citizen by birth can hold Zimbabwean citizenship, in addition to any other citizenship that he or she may acquire. This has been confirmed by the Constitutional Court in at least two cases since the new Constitution came into effect in 2013. For the sake of emphasis, dual citizenship is not prohibited for Zimbabwean citizens by birth.
Parliament has an option to prohibit dual citizenship in respect of citizens by descent or registration but it doesn’t have to. However, under no circumstances can Parliament prohibit dual citizenship in respect of citizens by birth. This means the majority of Zimbabwean citizens abroad who are citizens by birth have become citizens of their host countries are perfectly entitled to retain or reclaim their Zimbabwean citizenship.
Restoration of citizenship
Every person who was born in Zimbabwe before the 22nd August 2013 is regarded as a Zimbabwean citizen by birth if at least one of his or her parents was a citizen of a SADC country and he or she was ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe on that date. This restores the citizenship of thousands, and possibly millions, of persons who had previously lost their citizenship, had become stateless and were regarded as “aliens”.
Restoring rights of so-called “aliens”
The combined effect of these rules is that all those persons born in Zimbabwe but had previously lost their Zimbabwean citizenship purportedly because they were entitled to foreign citizenship are perfectly entitled to reclaim their Zimbabwean citizenship.
Many people, particularly in former farming and mining communities who were branded “aliens” are entitled to reclaim their citizenship. The state must change and replace their identity cards which describe them as “aliens” because they are not. If you were born in Zimbabwe and your ID card describes you as an “alien”, you must get it changed to reflect the correct legal position. You are entitled to all the benefits of citizenship like any other Zimbabwean citizen. This includes a right to a passport and the right to register as a voter and of course, the right to vote.
Freedom of Movement
Every Zimbabwean citizen guaranteed the freedom of movement. This includes the rights to:
to enter and leave Zimbabwe: the state cannot stop a citizen from entering or leaving Zimbabwe;
immunity from expulsion from Zimbabwe: the state cannot deport a Zimbabwean citizen;
the right to a passport or other travel document: the state must provide a passport or any other travel document. This is a fundamental right. If the fees and administrative hurdles to obtain these documents are too high and unreasonable, this would be a contravention of this right;
move freely within Zimbabwe: you can go anywhere freely without interference
reside in any part of Zimbabwe.
Anyone else, a resident or traveler who is legally in Zimbabwe, is entitled to move freely within Zimbabwe, to reside in any part of Zimbabwe and to leave Zimbabwe whenever they want to.
Access to basic health-care
Every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has the right to have access to basic health-care services, including reproductive health-care services.
Emergency medical treatment
No person may be refused emergency medical treatment in any health-care institution. This covers both public and private health-care institutions. If emergency medical treatment is required, no health-care institution can refuse to provide treatment.
Every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has a right to a basic State-funded education, including adult basic education.
Free and fair elections
Every citizen has the right to free, fair and regular elections for any elective public office and to make political choices freely.
Join or form political parties
Each citizen has a right to form, to join and to participate in the activities of a political party or organisation of their choice and to campaign freely and peacefully for a political party or cause.
Peaceful assembly and association
Every citizen has the freedom of assembly and association, which includes the right to participate, individually or collectively, in gatherings or groups or in any other manner, in peaceful activities to influence, challenge or support the policies of the Government or any political or whatever cause.
Right to vote
A citizen who is over the age of 18 years has the right to vote in all elections and referendums to and to do so in secret and to stand for election for public office and, if elected, to hold such office.
Access to information
Every Zimbabwean citizen or permanent resident has the right of access to any information held by the State or by any institution or agency of government at every level, in so far as the information is required in the interests of public accountability. If, for example, you want information on how a state-owned entity awarded a contract to a company, and it’s in the interests of public accountability, you have a right of access to that information.
These rights and benefits of citizenship can only make sense if Zimbabweans are ready and willing to assert and defend them. There are many administrative impediments in the way of full enjoyment of these rights. They can only be overcome if the citizens are willing to challenge them. Many people have been asking about the Diaspora Vote. That will be the subject of the #BigSaturdayRead this week.
NB: This manual is for information purposes only. Should you need detailed legal advice, please consult a lawyer.