Citizenship law in Zimbabwe has been controversial since the country gained majority rule in 1980. In particular, the right to Zimbabwean citizenship of those who have access to a potential other citizenship has been subject to several changes of policy, with multiple amendments to the constitutional provisions and citizenship act.
The most important rules on citizenship are currently established by the 2013 Constitution, which provides for acquisition of citizenship at birth if either the father or mother is a citizen, and for later acquisition by registration based on marriage or long residence; as well as for dual citizenship and revocation of citizenship, and certain other matters. For the first time a presumption of citizenship was established, in favour of a child of unknown parents found in Zimbabwe who is, or appears to be, less than fifteen years of age. Details are delegated to legislation. However, the 1984 Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act, as most recently amended in 2003, remains in force and has not yet been replaced to bring it into line with the constitutional provisions.
Southern Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was formerly known, adopted its first citizenship legislation in 1949, which was suspended during the ten-year period of the Central African Federation with Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi), and replaced in 1963. The citizenship provisions of the first majority-rule constitution, negotiated under British supervision, were modelled on these laws.
The 1979 constitution initially allowed for dual citizenship. It was amended in 1983 to prohibit dual citizenship, and the 1984 citizenship act required those with dual nationality to renounce it by the end of 1985 or lose their Zimbabwean citizenship. Amendments to the citizenship act in 2001, adopted following the success of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in campaigning for the rejection of a proposed revised constitution, provided that those that had claimed to renounce foreign citizenship, but had not actually done so, would lose their citizenship if they did not do so within six months. These rules were manipulated to withdraw citizenship from people with a presumed right to another citizenship, and remove them from the voters’ roll. The 2013 Constitution removed the prohibition on dual citizenship for those who acquired more than one citizenship at birth.
Gender discrimination was removed from the constitution in 1996, but at the same time previous (limited) rights to citizenship based on birth in Zimbabwe were also removed. In 2009, a constitutional amendment allowing for the installation of a government of national unity also revised the citizenship provisions, removing restrictions on transmission of citizenship to children born outside the country (provided the birth is registered with the Zimbabwean authorities), and extending rights in some circumstances to those with a grandparent who was a citizen. These changes were mainly confirmed in the 2013 constitution.