27 August, 2013

Alien at home; a quest for citizenship

There’s nothing like stomping all over town, being sent back and forth between the Immigration office, the national ID office and the Passport office (each a 20 minute walk from the other… great planning there, Zim government) with no results, to make you feel hopeless.

 So much for Civil Service.

 As my dad says, “It’s neither civil, nor serving”: efficiency is non-existent and nobody seems to want to do their job. They make you feel guilty for bothering their busy day with work. Work, of all things!

According to the new Zimbabwean constitution, we can finally apply for dual citizenship as Zimbabwe-born residents. My brother and I decided to give it a try. I think we were in denial of what we were really up against.

We got up at 4.30am to join the queue of people waiting for their birth certificates and national IDs outside Market Square (crnr Bank St. and Mbuya Nehanda). As soon as we joined the back of the line we were swarmed by several young guys (in varying stages of soberness) asking if we wanted ‘help’. “I have you a nice spot at the front, my sister,” said one man.
“No thanks, I’ll wait in line,” I said.
"Good price, my sister."
They left, seeing there was no money to be made out of the two murungus. One young guy though, he looked about 15 years old, was persistent.
 “Nice spot for you, my friend, no waiting.”
He got pulled away by two older drunk guys and they started arguing. The whole line of queuers turned to watch. The drunk guys whacked him in the face and left. The teen came back, ranting at the rest of us in Shona about not feeling any pain, about what idiots those men had been. I'm not sure what I would have done if they'd started actually beating him up. It's a sobering thought at 5 in the morning.

As the sun came up, the men disappeared and a policeman came walking down the line, shouting in Shona that no line-shifting was allowed. Where was he 3 hours ago?

Just before 8am the gates opened and they split us into two lines – one for birth certificates, one for national IDs. I was surprised at their organization. They filed us all in and as Josh and I neared the front and showed them our paperwork, the young man told us we were in the wrong place (this after 3 hours of queuing in the cold) and had to go to “Makombe House, room 100” for a letter of permission to get the status on our IDs changed from “alien” to “citizen”.

Makombe. The dreaded passport office. You can queue for days without any results.

On our way to Makombe we decided to try Linquenda House, the immigration office, where Josh had been told he could apply for citizenship. After talking to someone 'upstairs' and running around to make copies of our papers to leave with him, he told us he was too busy to get to it today, and to come back on Friday. We traipsed off to Makombe.
It was as chaotic as I’d expected; crowds of people everywhere, outside and in, lines forming down each body-crammed corridor, people jam-packed and trying to squeeze around each other, tattered paper signs on the walls. An accurate reflection of the true state of this country.

We eventually found room 100 and joined the little crowd waiting to get inside. The harassed-looking, unsmiling young lady at the desk looked at us through bleary eyes as we explained our situation.
“Go to Mrs Chivore,” she said, “room 89. She can answer your questions.”
We squeezed and pushed our way to room 89.

Mrs. Chivore turned out to be an impressive, imposing woman who had the air of a headmistress waiting to see errant children. She worked in the Inquiries Office and was in high demand. We waited in line again.

When we showed her our paperwork and explained our situation, she looked confused.
“No. You must go to Market Square,” she said.
“But we were just there and they sent us to you!”
“Well, they do this sort of thing every day.”
“Can we get a letter from you saying that we have permission to do this?”
“No no, you don’t need a letter. Just ask for the supervisor.”

Josh and I pushed our way through to the outside of the building and tramped back to Market Square. I tracked down the startled young man from the gate.
“We were here at 5am this morning and you sent us to Makombe. They said they don’t need to give us a letter, you do this sort of thing every day. Can we get it done, please.”

He scrambled away to call his supervisor.

Josh and I were made to sit outside a large office for 10 minutes while the young man held our IDs, birth certificates and passports captive. When he finally called us in we realized that we were talking to the big cheese of Market Square. He had a spacious office, private and quite, nothing like the mayhem of our lives outside. There was a Zim flag hanging behind his desk and a picture of Comrade President Robert Mugabe on the wall.

My heart tried to beat its way up my throat and out my mouth.

 “You are not permanent residents of this country so you cannot get your citizen ID,” said the big cheese.

Frantic thoughts bounced around my head. What?! Of course we’re residents! …oh no; they’re going to tell us we aren’t residents and take away our right to live here! 

"Where do you live?” he asked.
“In Meighbelreign.”

I imagined him calling the police, and them shouting at us and telling us we had one day to leave the country because we didn’t belong here. I imagined having to say goodbye yet again to my family, to my dreams of finally living at home.
Josh was more level-headed and explained what we’d gone through to get to him.
Big Cheese kept talking and flipping through our passports, pointing to our re-entry visas from the past 5 years.
“You see," he said, "in 2005, you had permanent residency,” he pointed to a tiny scribble under one of our re-entry visa stamps (the stamps that say “ZIMBABWE RESIDENTS RE-ENTRY PERMIT”….ahem) where someone had used their blue, Eversharp pen to scrawl ‘permanent residence.’ in barely-legible writing.
“You need Immigration to endorse you as permanent residents, then you can come back to me and we’ll give you your ID.”

Ah. I breathed. No deporting.

“You see,” he went on, “the new Constitution has not been passed on to the administration yet. It is awaiting a ruling by parliament before it goes into effect.”

So, he was just stalling.

We thanked him, took our passports, Alien IDs, birth certificates and left.
I was tempted to pull my blue, Eversharp pen from my bag and scribble ‘permanent residence’ in my passport and go back to him. But that might be pushing our luck.

Truth is, the whole country is stalling. Legally, constitutionally, they are required to give us our Zimbabwe passports, to recognize us as citizens by birth. But the ‘law’ is easy to get around, easy to re-write. And they are doing everything they can to throw obstacles in our path.

The civil service may be woefully inefficient but they are well united in their efforts to keep us from dual citizenship. If we press to hard, will they simply throw us in jail?

Welcome home, alien.