Depriving others of nationhood

It seemed a joke when, during a gruelling election campaign period, an obviously pent-up Robert Mugabe blurted that the “totemless people” of Mbare (a densely populated suburb in Harare) cost his Zanu (PF) party victory in a national plebiscite. Things were never the same for most Zimbabweans from that day onwards.

Most of us know one or two top government officials who are not fully “Zimbabwean” – going by their own definition of what a Zimbabwean is. Some of them have dismally failed to trace their genealogies honestly and to the satisfaction of keen observers. These are the very same people who are quick to deny others of nationhood for their own political survival.

They have chosen to believe that a person born in Zimbabwe to legally resident foreign parents is not a Zimbabwean, by birth. Funnily, they accept that a child born in the UK of Zimbabwean parents is British, by birth. This double standard is not for any national good – but for selfish political reasons.

I am not sure about Mozambicans and Zambians, research is ongoing, but the reality about those of Malawian origin is that they have lost Malawian citizenship as well. Due to the fact that both the governments of Malawi and Zimbabwe consider them “aliens”, they have become stateless. They cannot access land, bank loans, decent education or legal employment, to name just a few basics. They have been stripped of humanity.

Most Malawians who left their country in search of better livelihoods, left because of a black government that turned against its own people, especially non-Chewas who questioned the abandoning of the founding principles of the independence struggle. Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s famed crocodiles never went hungry as human flesh from dissenting individuals was always there to feed them. Banda’s reign was abominable – a shameful blot on Malawian history.

With his demise, most foreign-based Malawians hoped for a better life back home. Unfortunately for them, their children and grandchildren were declared “aliens” by successive governments.

Whilst Kamuzu Banda might not have been genuinely Malawian himself, his successors Bakili Muluzi and the late Bingu wa Mutharika should have treated the issue with sensitivity, logic and humanity. Dr Heatherwick Ntaba, Banda’s personal physician and also the Malawi Congress Party Publicity Secretary, told SADC journalists in 1996 “We do not have a birth certificate (for Banda)”. He did not have a Malawian birth certificate or any other birth certificate, for that matter. Reports that he could have been American or Ghanaian still linger long after his death.

Like Malawians, most of the three-to-four million Zimbabweans living outside her borders, left because a black government had doused their cherished dreams. Those who dared ask difficult questions were forced to leave – a Banda reincarnation! Citizenship is now being denied to those born outside her borders.

In Zambia, Dr Kenneth Kaunda suffered after Frederick Chiluba’s government accused him of being Malawian. This after ruling Zambia for 27 years and struggling for her independence! His accuser, Frederick Chiluba, was a Zambian believed in some circles to be of Congolese origin.

Take a look at the South African xenophobic attacks of 2009. When the most expected course of action was to encourage the targeted Africans to return to their countries of origin, the Zimbabwean government opted to have its citizens stay in South Africa by “helping regularize their status” and making money out of their citizens’ misery. The reasons for such actions sound humane, but in fact these people are not wanted back in Zimbabwe because they would help vote out the party that got them into South Africa in the first place.

Malawian labour power to the rest of the sub-region has been significant. By 1960, there were 400 000 Malawian migrant labourers in Zimbabwe and South Africa, about 100 000 in Zambia, 20 000 in Tanzania, 5 000 in Zaire, and others scattered in Uganda, Angola and Mozambique. Today, this Malawian factor constitutes an important element in economic development of most of the countries of Southern Africa.

But today these people are squatters in Zimbabwe with no identity documents, no citizenship and no voting rights. Their children face a similar fate – neither Malawi nor Zimbabwe will consider them as citizens, unconditionally. Political independence has not brought freedom to these Africans; it has brought darker and harsher slave masters in place of their lighter-skinned ones. Our fathers fought for nothing!

Tell us about it

The writer is compiling a book on the fate of these stateless people based on one-on-one interviews with victims. Those with personal insights or other related input can reach him on: [email protected]

Post published in: News

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