We are like “Stray Animals”

Thousands living on the margins due to statelessness in Zimbabwe.


The report, We are like “stray animals”, details how Zimbabwe’s discriminatory and arbitrary nationality laws have left generations of migrant workers and their families marginalized in the only country they have ever called home. Meanwhile, thousands of survivors of the horrific Gukurahundi massacres, one of the bloodiest episodes of Robert Mugabe’s rule, are denied citizenship because they cannot provide the death certificates of relatives, which are required to prove Zimbabwean nationality.

“For Zimbabwe’s stateless, everyday life is filled with obstacles. Accessing education, healthcare and employment can be a nightmare, and the sense of exclusion and rejection is soul destroying.”

Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.

In Zimbabwe, approximately 300,000 people are currently at risk of statelessness, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Lack of official data means that the exact number is unknown.

Migration and Statelessness

Amnesty International research lays bare the devastating consequences of statelessness on the eve of 41 years of independence where many hoped to live in a country where they are treated equally, regardless of their political affiliation or ethnicity. The current statelessness crisis in Zimbabwe has its roots in colonial history. The British colonial government largely depended on cheap migrant labour from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia to grow its industries.

After independence in 1980, Zimbabwean authorities passed a series of discriminatory laws which have, over the years, effectively excluded, marginalized and disenfranchised the descendants of these workers.For example, the 1984 Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act 23 was used to arbitrarily deprive persons of “foreign origin” of their right to a Zimbabwean nationality, even though most were entitled to citizenship under the Constitution. Section 43 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution states that, any resident who was born in Zimbabwe to parents with a claim to citizenship of any SADC state including Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa, is a Zimbabwean citizen by birth.

The Citizenship Act is not yet aligned to the Constitution and continues to be used by the Ministry of Home Affairs to deny citizenship arbitrarily and unfairly to descendants of migrant workers. In so doing the Citizenship Act gives almost unfettered discretion and arbitrary powers to both executive and junior officials to deny people their constitutional rights. In 2001, a new law required descendants of migrant workers to renounce their ancestral nationality within six months, in order to be granted Zimbabwean citizenship. Many people were unable to do so because they did not hold the requisite identity documents. To be granted Zimbabwean citizenship, they first needed to prove that their parents had been nationals of other countries.


This report reveals how certain sections of the population in Zimbabwe have been deprived for decades of their rights as citizens. Denied the documentation enabling them access to education, work, health care and other basic rights, hundreds of thousands of people have been rendered stateless, stripped of any legal status in the country where they have raised families and which they regard as home. The government’s failure over many years to remove the administrative obstacles to the enjoyment of these rights, particularly to descendants of migrants who migrated to Zimbabwe before independence and to victims of Gukurahundi and their descendants, has forced people into daily struggles just to live freely. They are restricted from participating in the economy, accessing jobs, opening a bank account, buying a house, opening their own businesses or entering into legally recognizable marriages or family unions.

The deprivation of nationality was based on the Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act of 1984 which over the years was amended and used arbitrarily in order to achieve political objectives. It did not conform with international law and therefore did not serve a legitimate purpose. Yet as a direct result, thousands of people targeted and specific groups were rendered stateless or placed at risk of being stateless. To reduce the number of stateless people caused by some of the discriminatory and restrictive practices, Zimbabwe must take steps towards harmonizing the nationality law with the 2013 Constitution. Amnesty International also urges Zimbabwe to enact enabling legislation to give effect to the 2013 Constitution which allows for dual nationality.

Read the full report here(1MB PDF)

Source: Amnesty International

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