Trevor Ncube, the chief executive of the Mail & Guardian, said on Tuesday that he was “delighted” that the Zimbabwe High Court in Harare would meet on January 24 to consider the threat to withdraw his Zimbabwean citizenship.
The Zimbabwe government is preventing Ncube from renewing his passport, claiming he is not a citizen of Zimbabwe — a charge he contests.
“I have approached the court for protection because I am confident that the court will apply itself to the arguments placed before it in a fair and just manner,” Ncube said in a statement to the Mail & Guardian Online before addressing a press conference on the matter.
Ncube said Justice Chinembiri Bhunu would preside over the case. “While I am aware that there have been efforts to appoint compliant judges, there are still many good judges on the bench, as evidenced by a number of good judgements still emanating from our courts,” he said in the statement.
He said he would not be travelling to Zimbabwe for the court case, saying that he was “concerned that they would impound my passport”.
He said the decision by Tobaiwa Mudede, Zimbabwe’s Registrar General, to strip him of his citizenship had rendered him “stateless”.
Mudede’s action had interfered with his freedom of movement and he could not manage his business interests in Zimbabwe, where he publishes the Standard and the Zimbabwe Independent. He was also not able to visit his parents and brothers and sisters who are still in Zimbabwe.
“I am concerned that on an everyday basis many Zimbabweans of Malawian, Zambian, Mozambican, British and Australian parentage are being subjected to humiliation by the registrar general’s office,” Ncube said.
“Indeed, many less fortunate than I am have been unable to go through this process, meaning that they have been denied the right to passports, the base document symbolising citizenship.
Ncube said the country had a “retrogressive way of looking at citizenship”, and this was not restricted to Zimbabwe, and was used by many African dictators to silence their opponents.
“Most of our politicians decry the colonial heritage, but they hold onto the boundaries that were built by the colonisers,” Ncube said. “That is a contradiction that Africans have to come to terms with.”
He said he was passionate and patriotic towards Zimbabwe, and would maintain his business interests there.
“Business is the only space left for debate [in Zimbabwe], the only space that shows there is tolerance among Zimbabweans,” he said.
Ncube was confident that he would win the court case, saying he believed his rights would be upheld.
“It must be remembered that this legislation was introduced to disenfranchise thousands of white commercial farmers and farm workers who were perceived to be MDC [opposition Movement for Democratic Change] supporters just before the presidential election in 2002,” he said.
Ncube said it is important that this “backward legislation” be repealed to recognise the rights of many Zimbabweans whose parents were born elsewhere.
The action is “a serious inroad in what is left of media freedom in Zimbabwe and Ncube’s personal freedom”, South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) chairperson Ferial Haffajee and Sanef media-freedom subcommittee convener Raymond Louw said in a joint statement earlier in January.
“Ncube states that he has been informed that the government’s conduct has been approved ‘at the highest level’ — which means that it has the support of President Robert Mugabe, whose abysmal governance of Zimbabwe has been vigorously criticised by Ncube’s papers, the Zimbabwe Independent and the Standard, the last independent papers in that country.
“This can only mean that Mugabe wants to close down the papers or to change their critical stance by forcing on them a new ownership structure more supportive of him.”
Haffajee and Louw said loss of citizenship would mean that Ncube could own only a 40% share in his newspapers, which means control would pass from him.
They dismissed Zimbabwe’s state-appointed Media and Information Commission’s assurances that the papers would be allowed to continue publishing, saying the laws against foreign ownership would prevail, so Ncube’s papers would be unlikely to continue their critical role.
Sanef was concerned that the action could also affect the M&G in South Africa — published by Ncube and edited by Haffajee — and other media institutions in which Ncube is involved.
Zimbabwean authorities announced their decision to strip Ncube of his Zimbabwean citizenship in late December because, they say, he is a Zambian citizen by descent.
Ncube will ask the court to direct the home affairs minister to confirm that he is a citizen of Zimbabwe and order registrar general to renew his passport within three days of a court order being granted.
The government has refused to renew Ncube’s passport and declared, by fax to his office, that he is no longer a citizen. The grounds are that Ncube’s father was born in Zambia.