7 May 2002

Court deals blow to Mugabe's citizenship law

Zimbabwe's government conceded on Tuesday in a high court that it cannot strip rights activist Judith Todd of her Zimbabwean citizenship, even if she could qualify for a passport from another country. "I concede the heads of argument presented by the applicant, so I have no further submissions to make," Nelson Mutsonziwa from the attorney-general's office told the court. Zimbabwe's government had refused to renew Todd's passport, saying that she was a citizen of New Zealand because her parents were born there. Government argued that a 1943 New Zealand law gave citizenship to anyone whose parents were born in that country. Todd's lawyer, Bryant Elliot, said Zimbabwean law required an expert from New Zealand be present in court, if that nation's laws were to be considered. He also argued that Zimbabwean law automatically gives citizenship to anyone born here. Judge Sandra Mungwira is expected to hand down her judgment on Wednesday.

Both Todd's parents were born in New Zealand, but she was born in Zimbabwe, when it was the British colony of Rhodesia. Her father, Garfield Todd, is a former prime minister of Rhodesia. She has never sought a New Zealand passport. Judith Todd is an activist who supported Zimbabwe's liberation struggle but who now opposes President Robert Mugabe, accusing his government of widespread human rights abuses. Todd's case could have wide-ranging implications for all Zimbabweans of foreign descent. In March last year a law was passed that required anyone wishing to retain Zimbabwean citizenship to renounce any right to foreign citizenship - even if they had never held a foreign passport. A high court judge had ruled in February that people cannot give up a right, but only a citizenship they actually hold. The law targeted the estimated 30 000 white Zimbabweans who were entitled to a foreign passport and tens of thousands of blacks whose parents or grandparents had immigrated from neighbouring nations. Government critics had feared the law would bar people with foreign-sounding surnames as well as the small white minority from voting because they had not renounced their entitlement to foreign citizenship. The legislation was viewed as part of a wide-ranging strategy to ensure Mugabe's re-election in the elections. (ZWNews / The Star,SA)

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