At 45, Philimon Mashava has never had a bank account or phone in his name.
She has never had a birth certificate and, without documents, Mashava’s stateless existence has caused her to miss school and countless job opportunities, as employers want some form of identification.
Being excluded from citizenship in the southern African country is a problem for some 300,000 Zimbabweans, according to Amnesty International.
Mashava has survived through street trading. Born in Chipinge to a Mozambican father who returned home and a Zimbabwean mother who died young, his five children are on the way to inheriting their statelessness.
“Obtaining an ID has always been difficult because my father’s relatives are in Mozambique and there is no way to contact them. Nobody knows exactly where they are, ”says Mashava from her home in Hopley, ten kilometers from the center of the capital, Harare.
“I just grew up without a birth certificate. This is my life. “And her children too, as without one, Mashava’s 16-year-old son cannot sit for school exams.
“My oldest son needs to register for his exams, but he can’t,” he says.
Thousands of people live on these margins. Descendants of foreign nationals who moved into the country to provide cheap migrant labor have for decades battled statelessness, their situation worsened by discriminatory laws, such as the Zimbabwe Citizenship Act of 1984, which deprives people of foreign origin of citizenship.
Although section 43 of the Zimbabwe constitution grants anyone born in Zimbabwe to parents who are citizens of any state in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), including Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa, the right to citizenship , the legislation has not yet been passed. aligned with the new constitution.
“My heart bleeds for my children, they should never live the life that I have lived. They should be able to go to school, get a job, and live a better life than mine. I really need help, ”says Mashava.
Attempts to involve the authorities to obtain their children’s identification have been unsuccessful. The last time he visited the registrar’s office in Harare, an official asked Mashava for a bribe to speed up the process.
“The money that an official asked me to pay was too high. I couldn’t pay $ 350 (£ 250); I have never had such an amount of money in my life. I’m just a salesperson, ”says Mashava.
Unscrupulous officials and criminals often offer forged birth certificates, which schools and passport officers can easily spot.
In a recent report, We are like “stray animals”Amnesty has called on the government to act, says Lloyd Kuveya, its research coordinator.
“Nationality and having an identity are a human right, which must be granted to people born in Zimbabwe who have nowhere else to call home. Denial and deprivation of citizenship has serious consequences for human rights, including lack of access to education, employment, housing and health services essential for sustainable livelihoods.
“The authorities must take measures to ensure that no one lives on the fringes of society by issuing birth certificates and IDs to stateless and at-risk people.”
On a Wednesday morning in Hopley, 33-year-old Winnet Zhamini prepares porridge for her baby on a makeshift stove.
Living with her three sisters, Zhamini has never obtained identification documents and her children are also stateless. Her oldest daughter, who is 20 years old, recently gave birth to her first granddaughter for whom the cycle continues.
“I have never had a birth certificate or ID. My father was Malawian and he settled here in the 70s. When we were born, we never had the opportunity to obtain birth certificates. My mother, who was a Zimbabwean, died without receiving these details for us; my father just disappeared, ”says Zhamini.
“My husband left me because I don’t have any details. My sister married and had four children, but the husband kicked her out because he has no identification. Living without any identification is difficult. I can’t get a job, I survive doing laundry. But they exploit us because there is no other option, ”says Zhamini.
“I beg the authorities to help us; this life is unbearable without these details. We can’t vote or get a job. I can’t even buy a SIM card. I want my children to have a better future and the only way they can have a good life is when they have the proper identification documents, ”he says.
Her 35-year-old sister Dudzai said that during the pandemic she had been unable to obtain available food aid.
“This has been our life and it has become normal. Whenever our neighbors are signing up for help, we stay out because we don’t have identity cards, ”says the mother of four.
Fela, 25, is unemployed. Other women her age are in college or work. “I have no job prospects due to this problem. I really need a birth certificate and an identity card in order to improve my life. I am way behind my old peers and I would also like to go back to school, ”he says.
Malawi’s ambassador, Annie Kumwenda, said Covid had hampered the embassy’s program to help Zimbabweans of Malawian descent.
“As an embassy, we carry out outreach programs, but Covid-19 has affected us. These programs help us get enough information about how many people need help. We also work with UNHCR to reach these communities, ”says Kumwenda.
Marian Muchenje, 45, was married two decades before her husband left.
“Now I am older, I have five children. I have tried several times to obtain a birth certificate without success. My marriage broke up for not getting details. He said he couldn’t live with a woman without ID. This has affected my children, they don’t have any documents either, ”he says.
The vicious cycle has kept three generations of children from going to school and work, in poor communities where families teeter on the brink of survival, says Hopley Trust president James Chiware.
“We call on the government to help these families because this affects education and other community programs. We cannot help them; all we can do is ask the government to be merciful and help, ”he says.
“Until stateless Zimbabweans obtain documents, they will continue to live like stray animals.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism