Source: Pulitzer Center (Washington DC)
By Iqra Salah, 2022 Reporting Fellow
It’s a sweltering summer day in eastern Zimbabwe, and Nkosana Moyo drips sweat as he cautiously rides his black, trim bicycle through a vast expanse of dirt scattered with dry, thorny bushes. To strangers, the frizzy gray-haired 70-year-old might appear like an ordinary elder if not for a rusty badge pinned to his brown argyle vest that reads, “village head.”
Moyo is the chief of Bidi Village. In rural parts of the country, leaders like Moyo play a vital role in everything from resolving disputes to enforcing environmental policies.
But perhaps most critically, Moyo can testify on behalf of the people in his village to help them get what many Zimbabweans may take for granted: an ID card. Without one, people living in Zimbabwe are barred from obtaining a SIM card for their mobile phones, accessing health care, and working legally.
“The problem of lack of identification is huge here,” Moyo said as he tilted his bike in the shade of a tree. “Children can’t register for exams, and adults cannot even vote. People come to me to help them as most are not educated and don’t know the requirements for the processing. A lot of them get turned away, and I intervene to help where I can.”
As the village leader, Moyo rode his bike to the local high school that summer day to support a citizen registration drive, the most recent government effort to help the estimated 300,000 people in Zimbabwe who are stateless because they have not been granted citizenship by the government and lack basic identification.
Some of the stateless population are undocumented migrant workers from Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique. Others, like the residents of Bidi Village, are ethnic Ndebele people living in the provinces of Matabeleland and the Midlands who survived the 1982 Gukurahundi massacre that was marked by rape and torture. But some two decades later, the massacre continues to impact survivors and their families, who still can’t get IDs because the government failed to issue death certificates to those who were murdered—documents their families now need in order to apply for citizenship.
The Zimbabwean government attempted to address the statelessness problem in 2013, when it adopted a new constitution creating a pathway to citizenship for children of migrant workers from any Southern African Development Community (SADC) country. It had overturned a 1984 law that had explicitly denied citizenship to the descendants of foreign nationals who came to the country as laborers. But the Registrar General’s office has never entirely resolved the issue of statelessness.