Passport Backlog Delays Shatter Dreams

Zimbabweans who for the past two decades have relied on livelihood sustenance from working and studying abroad are finding it difficult to access crucial travelling documents like passports. For scholarship recipients from remote parts of Matabeleland, this is a double blow.

When Mthokozisi Maphosa* was accepted by a South African university to pursue his studies, all he could think of was how life is like in the neighbouring country. He was due to start in March this year. However, his joy of a new-start in South Africa was short-lived, as it heralded the beginning of struggles to advance his education.

Maphosa, a bio-chemistry prospective student from Jeqe in Matobo district lost his passport that was due to expire in September of 2028. Applying for a new travel document to escape Zimbabwe’s multi-faceted troubles and access to a better life proved to be a nightmare.

“The backlog alone is discouraging and worse the tedious process involved. If one factors in the cost involved, worse in forex, it’s a nightmare.”

Recently, central government increased passport fees and those applying for the travel document will pay in United States Dollars to mobilise enough resources to clear the 256 000 backlog.

The passport fees were reviewed to US$60, and $200 for an ordinary passport and three-day passport issuance respectively, pegged at the prevailing US$:ZW$ exchange rate of the day. An emergency 24-hour passport remains pegged at a cost of US$318 while E-passport fees are pegged at US$80.

“My dreams are shattered as I think I have lost out on an opportunity to further my studies. There must be many more prospective students who are in a similar predicament,” Maphosa adds. To compound his situation, the nearest registry office from his village is in Kezi. However, it does not issue or process passport applications, leaving him with no option but to travel 100 kilometres away to Bulawayo, another strain on his finances.

Siphosehle Nkomazana is a civil engineer in Pretoria, South Africa, returned to Zimbabwe in December of 2020 to renew his passport. He says he opted to renew in the country “as I wanted to spend the holidays here.”

However, he found no joy at the passport office in Bulawayo.

“The situation is terrible. Firstly, I was told bookings even for renewals are full for December and then the long waiting lost to process the document, so I could not renew my work permit. A passport is now a privilege in Zimbabwe and certainly one of the most prized possessions for those who have valid ones (passports),” a now jobless Nkomazana said via a WhatsApp message from his base in Pretoria.

Maphosa says most students who come from very humble backgrounds and their parents or guardians struggle to raise foreign currency as they are paid in local currency.

“I suspect am not the only one affected. There could be other intelligent students from underprivileged backgrounds who secured full scholarships but could not make visa and admissions cut-off dates because of passport issues.”

Bulawayo proportional representation Member of Parliament (MP), Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga called for speedy processing and renewal of expired passports for Zimbabweans working abroad to avoid jeopardising both their jobs and work permits.

“Mr Speaker Sir, we have noted in the last few weeks that the Passport Office is unable to deal with issues around the issuance of passports,” she is quoted as having said in the Parliamentary Hansard in April.

“What is more concerning Mr Speaker is the fact that as I speak to you right now, there are people particularly, coming from the diaspora, South Africa in specific terms who have permits and are supposed to be going back to work.”

“Some would go and do the applications in Bulawayo but they are being asked to come to Harare and they are being moved from pillar to post,” Misihairabwi-Mushonga added.

In a post-Cabinet brief, the central government said it would provide US$4,5 million to purchase the required equipment and consumables that have been in short supply. The passport production factory is said to have an installed production capacity of 8 000 passport booklets per day.

However, the passport personalisation capacity is way below at 2 500 passports per day, while the installed quality assurance is further down at 2 000 passports per day, Cabinet added. Government assured the public that passport issuance services will run uninterrupted until the backlog is cleared.

However, Maphosa managed to lodge his application in early April and hopes the document would be out in time for next intake, provided the university agrees to defer his enrolment.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin