A resident in one of the country’s poorest settlements, Sarah Kachingwe defied her circumstances to take head-on powerful state institutions that she regarded as an obstacle in her quest to assert her voting rights.
Kachingwe’s determination has now resulted in a court ruling that opens the way for a class of Zimbabweans previously considered as second class citizens to vote in elections to be held in 2018.
As human rights campaigners, lawyers and other Zimbabweans celebrated High Court Judge, Justice Nyaradzo Munangati-Manongwa’s ruling ordering that the so-called aliens be allowed to register as voters, Kachingwe was happy to remain in the background — out of the limelight although she was the driving force behind the ruling. When the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced that it had launched a blitz to register voters, Kachingwe, as a civic minded citizen, heeded the call and made a beeline for the local registration centre. She was turned away, told by ZEC officials that she was an “alien” hence not Zimbabwean enough to be allowed to register as a voter. Kachingwe was born in Zimbabwe 57 years ago to Catherine Jaure, a Zimbabwean by birth and Chemunyaya Kachingwe who hailed from Malawi but had settled in Zimbabwe.
“The officials at Makomo in Epworth declined to allow me to register. They referred me to the Registrar General [RG]’s Office to ‘regularise’ my identification card,” she said. At the RG’s office, officials told her she needed to part with a staggering $5 000 for her identification card to be regularised.
“I am not gainfully employed. This is an amount which I couldn’t afford to pay,” she said. She decided to fight for her rights and sought help from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, whose lawyer Denford Halimani immediately took up the case and successfully argued that ZEC’s actions were illegal and Kachingwe’s rights as a Zimbabwean citizen had been infringed. Halimani asked the High Court to assert Kachingwe’s fundamental rights as she is entitled to all rights, benefits and privileges of being a Zimbabwean. Justice Munangati-Manongwa agreed that the so-called aliens were getting a raw deal.
Kachingwe demonstrated the predicament an alien finds himself or herself in, said the judge.
“These persons have been labelled aliens with their identity documents duly endorsed as such. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines an alien as a stranger, a foreigner, a resident of foreign origin. Given the circumstances of these people which included their place of birth and parental origins, the label of alien was not in my view appropriate. Constitutional intervention brought clarity to this class of aliens,” said Justice Munangati-Manongwa in her ruling, citing sections 36 and 43 of the Constitution.
“Put simply, Section 43 (2) provides that any person who was born in Zimbabwe before May 22 2013 is a citizen by birth if one or both of his parents was a citizen of a Sadc member State and he or she was ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe as at that date,” said the judge in a 15-page judgment, which has been hailed as a landmark ruling.