Citizenship

Should the new Constitution deal with citizenship?

Citizens form the basis of every independent State because a State is an abstract concept comprising the people who live within a defined area.  Of the people who constitute a State it is the citizens who have a right to determine who will govern them and, sometimes, to decide the form which their government should take.

Every State must specify who its citizens are and the extent of their rights and duties in relation to the government.  This should be done in the constitution because if it is left to ordinary legislation the government may be tempted to deprive citizens of their citizenship, and hence of their vote, if it thinks they will vote for the opposition.  Citizenship, in other words, is too important and fundamental to be left to ordinary legislation:  the rules by which people acquire and lose citizenship should be set out clearly and comprehensively in the constitution itself. 

History of Citizenship in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s history will almost certainly affect the way in which the new constitution deals with citizenship.  Between 1891 and 1948 everyone in this country was a British subject, and after 1948 they were citizens of the self-governing colony of Southern Rhodesia.  There was no such thing then as equal citizenship:  Black citizens were not given the vote until 1961, and then only partially, and other restrictions imposed on Black citizens were so onerous that their citizenship meant very little.  At Independence full citizenship was given to:

·        everyone born in Zimbabwe, whether before independence or after independence, other than children of foreign diplomats, enemy aliens, illegal immigrants, or foreign residents;

·        everyone born outside Zimbabwe, if his or her guardian parent was a citizen (but not if the guardian parent was a citizen by descent) or an non-citizen resident of Zimbabwe;

·        everyone who acquired citizenship by registration (i.e. became a naturalised Zimbabwean). 

Dual or multiple citizenship was specifically allowed — i.e., people could be citizens of Zimbabwe as well as of a foreign country.  This was generally regarded as a sop to Whites, most of whom were citizens of Britain or South Africa, but as events showed it applied also to Zimbabweans of Mozambican, Zambian and Malawian origin.

The right to dual citizenship was removed from the Constitution in 1983 and Zimbabweans if dual citizens were required to renounce their foreign citizenship if they wanted to remain citizens of Zimbabwe.  This proved difficult for the many Zimbabweans who were descendants of Mozambican, Zambian and Malawian migrant workers, so from 1990 to 2005 they were given a special dispensation so that they could vote even though they had lost their citizenship.  They were later deprived of this right.  Since then the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act has been amended to allow them to “confirm” their citizenship and regain the right to vote One thing this history makes clear is that citizenship should not be politicized to be granted, taken away and restored at a political whim.  It must be protected by the Constitution itself.

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