Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Dual citizenship: The people have spoken

By Nick Mangwana

This writer was under the impression that the dual citizenship debate was now water under the bridge. How could it not be?

Zanu PF UK chairman Nick Mangwana
Zanu PF UK chairman Nick Mangwana

First there is Chapter 3 in our Constitution, then there are the two cases of Mutumwa Dziva Mawere v Registrar General and three others. This was one of the first cases to be heard before the ConCourt since its inception under the new Constitution.

Then there was the case of Farai Daniel Madzimbamuto v Registrar-General and three others. But here is a challenge to every Zimbabwean out there, check your passport.

Even if you collected it yesterday you will see, “A citizen of Zimbabwe who is 18 or above may not be a citizen of another country. A citizen of Zimbabwe who makes use of the passport of another government commits an offence . . .”

The first thought was this was old stationery stock. But no, the new Constitution has been in effect for two solid years this May.

This issue cannot be hanging.

It is one of those constitutional issues that have already seen two challenges and yet appears to be still hanging.

There is an argument here that the legal issue has been settled by the highest court in the land which was constituted to safeguard and vindicate the citizens’ rights. Maybe it’s time to look at the moral argument of dual citizenship. Maybe here there is a case of a bureaucrat somewhere imposing their own personal sentiment and whim on a nation.

Dual nationality or dual citizenship used to be a contentious issue with most nations frowning upon it.

Imagine that in the 1930s when the League of Nations came into being it came up with a declaration that: “All persons are entitled to one nationality, but one nationality only.” This was the thinking 85 years ago. The world has moved on.

In those days a woman who married a person from a different nationality was forced to abandon the nation of their birth and adopt that of their marriage. Maybe on divorcing reverse the process. How discriminatory was such a system?

But thankfully this type of archaic thinking has been banished to the dustbin of history by many progressive nations including our own.

There are some people that still harbour the discredited dinosaurian notion that dual citizenship is a catalyst for treason and other subversive crimes. Nothing can be further from the truth. It has already been proved that some of the most fiercely patriotic people in the world have dual nationality.

But still having said that one has to see things from the point of view of those that are opposed to this idea. Some argue that dual nationality is a subversion of democracy as some people vote in two polities and determine the fate of those two sovereigns.

It’s not very clear why this is a subversion of democracy but the issue of people determining the fate of a place they don’t live in might sound like a fair point.

And maybe add the fact that it might also be considered to undermine the principle of one person one vote.

Imagine the thousands of Zimbabweans participating in the UK General Election on May 7 helping to determine the direction of British politics.

Then come 2018 the same group help swing the vote in some direction by determining the course of Zimbabwean political outcomes. To those that oppose extra-territorial voting that seems quite unfair. What gives a person a right to vote in an election? It seems currently in Zimbabwe it’s some combination of citizenship, age and residence. Zimbabwe is one of the countries that have embraced modernity.

Despite the debate around Diaspora voting which still rages on, it has to be made clear that Zimbabwe does allow Diaspora voting.

The writer is a registered voter in Zimbabwe and always makes sure his registration is in order despite having lived outside the country for a bit of time now. Any other Zimbabwean has the same opportunity and entitlement to do so.

What some Diasporians are asking for is the country to facilitate “extra-territorial voting”. That is a debate in which those that oppose it have always asked whether people who are not subject to most decisions a government makes have a right to choose such a government?

This subject has been tackled in this column in the past but will always be referred to as some Diasporians feel quite strongly about it.

Words such as enfranchising and disenfranchising will continue to be used until a proper position is arrived at.

At the moment the strategy seems to be just to ignore it and wish it all away. But it will probably help with the uptake of the Diaspora

Bond to the address this issue in the Diaspora policy in one way or the other.

All these policies have frankly very little to do with dual citizenship which is nothing but pragmatic tolerance.

And tying the issue to extra-territorial voting policies is just a red herring. One of the most sacrosanct principles of sovereignty at international law is the prerogative of a country to set its own immigration rules on who can and cannot be a citizen.

But when the Constitution got worded the way it was in Chapter 3 and the ConCourt interprets it the way it has in the two cases cited above, it leaves the arguments against dual citizenship weak and flimsy to a level they can actually be considered petty resentment.

Citizenship might come with loyalty but the writer is happy to bet his mortgage that if, for example, the US was to go to war with Zimbabwe, and those with dual nationalities were to go to war, they would certainly fight on the side of Zimbabwe. There should be no debate on where the loyalty of those in the Diaspora lies. It is with Zimbabwe.

Prohibiting dual citizenship was and is one of those issues that have always been very difficult to enforce anyway.

A lot would remember in 1992 when Bruce Grobbelaar publicly surrendered his British passport in a blitz of media frenzy only for him to retrieve it quietly soon after. In 1995 he then surrendered both passports as part of his bail condition in a legal bother he was going through.

And there was Zimbabwe’s then Chief Immigration Officer Elasto Mugwadi saying that Bruce had not violated Zimbabwean immigration law because, even though he had retrieved and kept his British passport together with his Zimbabwean one, the fact that he had not used the British passport exonerated him from any accusations of violating Zimbabwean law. Does it sound ridiculous? Maybe it actually is.

One can see that both at law and in reality, positions don’t come more ambiguous than that. The suggestion seems to be that it’s ok to have a foreign passport as long as you don’t use it.

Close readings of the quoted passport condition above seems to support Mr Mugwadi’s then statement actually. If such a high-profile person could get away with it, how many good people out there would be turned into criminals by this out of touch condition?

Any vague and vexatious criminalisation of a whole Zimbabwean community is indicative of a practice that is not fit for purpose. Enough of this equivocation. Zimbabweans need a clear position on dual nationality. The law seemed clear enough but the practice remains confused or maybe it’s just confusing.

The idea of treating citizenship like a marriage where one is forced to abjure to forsake all others and any flirtations with others no matter how innocent is considered disloyal has passed its use by date. Citizenship is not a marriage where having another is synonymous to bigamy. Those who have chosen to take another passport have only done so for the mere purpose of immigration and travelling convenience.

They have just avoided xenophobic victimhood by shifting their status. This has also helped them with accessing employment and education but their emotional fidelity rests with Zimbabwe. How else would they remain so engaged with what happens in their motherland if they were emotionally disinvested?

This is not just some mundane transnational political pastime. It is because that passport is just what it is – a travel document. Everything about them is Zimbabwean.

Of course, there are those that have said they would never get a passport of another country no matter what. This is a laudable principle but it does not make them any better patriots than those that did.

There are also a lot of Zimbabweans that took other citizenship through a process called naturalisation but have desisted from taking the passport of the other nation.

Now where do those stand?

Because the passport of Zimbabwe is only saying that you shouldn’t have another passport and there is a snowball chance in hell of the Zimbabwe state ever finding that out anyway. Taking a second citizenship is pragmatism and not disloyalty to the motherland.

Dual nationality is an irreversible side-effect of globalisation. Any attempts to thwart it might just slightly delay it but it cannot be stopped. The people of Zimbabwe spoke in the referendum of March 16, 2013.

The learned judges spoke and continue to speak loud and clearly. It is now down to the bureaucrats to accept this post-modern phenomenon. The Government of Zimbabwe is regularly accused policy inconsistency.

Rightly or wrongly, time can be spent hurling hypotheticals over this, but the Zimbabwean passport provides enough anecdotes for one to reach an anecdotal conclusion that the accused is found guilty of the charge in this case.