At 45, Philimon Mashava has never had a bank account or a phone in his name.
He has never had a birth certificate and, without documents, Mashava’s stateless existence has meant him missing out on school and countless job opportunities, as employers want some form of identification.
Mashava has survived by street trading. Born in Chipinge to a Mozambican father who returned home and a Zimbabwean mother who died young, his five children are on track to inherit his statelessness.
“Getting an ID has always been tough because my father’s relatives are in Mozambique and there is no way of getting in contact with them. No one knows exactly where they are,” Mashava says from his home in Hopley, six miles (10km) from the centre of the capital, Harare.
“I just grew up without a birth certificate. This is my life.” And his children’s too, as without one, Mashava’s 16-year-old son cannot sit his school exams.
“My eldest son needs to register for his examinations, but he cannot,” he says.
Thousands are living on these margins. Descendants of foreign nationals who moved to the country to provide cheap migrant labour, they have for decades struggled with statelessness, their situation worsened by discriminatory laws, such as the 1984 Citizenship of Zimbabwe Act, which deprives people of foreign origin from citizenship.
Although section 43 of the constitution of Zimbabwe gives anyone born in Zimbabwe to parents who are citizens of any Southern African Development Community (SADC) state – including Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa – the right to citizenship, the legislation is yet to be aligned to the new constitution.
“My heart bleeds for my children, they should never live the life that I have lived. They should be able to go to school and get jobs, and live better lives than mine. I really need help,” Mashava says.
Attempts to engage the authorities to obtain identification for his children have been fruitless. The last time he visited the registrar’s office in Harare, an official asked Mashava for a bribe to speed the process.
“The money that one official asked me to pay was too hefty. I could not pay $350 (£250); I have never held such a kind of money in my life. I am only a vendor,” Mashava says.
Unscrupulous officials and criminals often offer forged birth certificates, which are easily spotted by schools and passport officers.
In a recent report, We Are Like “Stray Animals”, Amnesty has called for the government to act, says Lloyd Kuveya, its research coordinator.
“Nationality and having an identity are a human right, which must be accorded to those people born in Zimbabwe who have no other place they call home. The denial and deprivation of citizenship has serious human rights implications including lack of access to education, employment, housing and health services essential for sustainable livelihoods.
“The authorities must take steps to ensure that no one is living on the margins of society by issuing birth certificates and IDs to stateless people and those at risk.”
On a Wednesday morning in Hopley, Winnet Zhamini, 33, is preparing porridge for her baby on a makeshift stove.
Living with her three sisters, Zhamini has never obtained identification documents and her children are also stateless. Her eldest daughter, who is 20, recently gave birth to her first granddaughter for whom the cycle continues.
“I have never had a birth certificate or an ID. My father was Malawian and settled here in the 70s. When we were born, we never had an opportunity to get birth certificates. My mother, who was Zimbabwean, died without getting these particulars for us; my father just disappeared,” Zhamini says.
“My husband left me because I do not own any particulars. My sister got married and bore four children, but the husband chased her away because she has no ID. Living without any form of identification is tough. I cannot get a job, I survive on doing laundry. But we get exploited because there is no choice,” Zhamini says.
“I’m begging the authorities to help us; this life is unbearable without these particulars. We cannot vote or get jobs. I cannot even buy a sim card. I want my children to have a brighter future and the only way they can have a good life is when they have proper identification documents,” she says.
Her sister Dudzai, 35, said, during the pandemic, she hadn’t been able to get any of the food aid available.
“This has been our life and it has become normal. Whenever our neighbours are registering for aid, we are left out because we do not have identification cards,” says the mother of four.
Fela, 25, is unemployed. Other women her age are in college or working. “I have no prospects of employment because of this problem. I really need a birth certificate and identity card so that I can better my life. I am way behind my age-mates, and I would also want to go back to school,” she says.
Malawian ambassador Annie Kumwenda said Covid had hampered the embassy’s programme to help Zimbabweans of Malawian descent.
“As an embassy, we do outreach programmes, but we have been affected by Covid-19. These programmes help us get enough information on how many people need help. We were also working with UNHCR to reach out to these communities,” says Kumwenda.
Marian Muchenje, 45, was married for two decades before her husband left.
“I am now old, with five children. I have tried several times to get a birth certificate with no success. My marriage is broken because of failure to get particulars. He said he could not live with a woman without an ID. This has affected my children, they too do not have any documents,” she says.
The vicious cycle has now kept three generations of children from school and work, in poor communities where families teeter on the brink of survival, says Hopley Trust chairperson, James Chiware.
“We are appealing for the government to help these families because this affects education and other community programmes. We cannot help them; all we can do is ask for the government to be merciful and help,” he says.
“Until stateless Zimbabweans get documents, they will continue to live like stray animals.”
With all the fanfare Covid would allow, the global education summit opened in London this week. Ahead of the meeting, the minister for European neighbourhood and the Americas was on rousing form. “Educating girls is a gamechanger,” Wendy Morton said, going on to describe what a plan would look like to do just that.
The UK, co-hosting the summit with Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, plans to raise funds for the Global Partnership for Education, from governments and donors. The UK government has promised £430m over the next five years.
There followed a number of reasons why the issue is so important, all of them absolutely sound: on any given indicator, from GDP to infant health and beyond, a nation stands or falls by how well, for how long, and how inclusively it educates its girls.
These are all the right words, even in the right order, yet they land completely at odds with the government’s behaviour.
Lis Wallace, head of advocacy at the One campaign, is most immediately concerned with these pledges being fully funded. There are two core targets: one is to increase girls’ access to education, the other is to boost the key milestone for all children – that they’re able to read and understand a simple story by the age of 10.
The past 18 months have been devastating for education, particularly in countries where it’s harder to access to online learning. About 1.6 billion children are out of school across the world. There’s a target to raise $5bn (£3.6bn), “which is a drop in the ocean of what is required to meet the global learning crisis”, Wallace says. It looks as though this summit will raise no more than $4bn, which is nothing less than a “failure of statecraft”, as Wallace explains: “It’s challenging when the host government is stepping back and making aid cuts for it then to ask other countries to step up.”
This is a depressing echo of the G7’s failure earlier this year; commitments to share vaccine doses with low-income countries came too little, too late, with devastating results, and it’s hard to avoid the question of whether that outcome would have been different if the host nation had role modelled some generosity.
Furthermore, there’s some confused causality in the minister’s assertion that staying in school protects girls from “forced child marriage, gender-based violence and early pregnancy”. The exact inverse is true: it is largely teenage pregnancy that forces girls out of school in the first place, and to try to use education in lieu of sexual health and reproductive provision is illogical.
Esi Asare Prah, who is a youth and advocacy officer in Ghana for MSI Reproductive Choices, describes a situation in which 5,000 to 7,000 girls drop out of school each year after becoming pregnant – last year, 2,000 of them were between 10 and 14. Across sub-Saharan Africa, MSI estimates that up to 4 million girls drop out or are excluded from school every year due to pregnancy.
“These girls are most likely to be on the street, doing menial jobs; their children will not make it into higher education. It creates a cycle of poverty and a cycle of slums. For me, the foundation of it is that you can’t seek to invest in education for girls in sub-Saharan Africa and cut down funding for sexual and reproductive health. If you treat development issues as isolated, you will have the same issues of 50 years ago chasing you into the future.”
Here, the recent cuts to the aid budget make a mockery of these pledges on education: UK funding to the UN Population Fund recently went down by 85%.
There is inspiration to take from this summit, nevertheless; President Kenyatta has been leading the charge not only on education but also on the climate crisis, and there is a solidarity and sense of purpose between poorer nations that may yet inspire greater generosity from donors. Whatever it achieves, though, it will be despite its UK host not because of them.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken affirmed his country’s support to conduct additional investigations into the origins of the Covid-19 after meeting with the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday, Reuters reported. “He stressed the need for the next phase to be timely, evidence-based, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference,” a US state department spokesperson said in a statement.
The 78-year-old American president is known to be prone to verbal gaffes and slips of the tongue, for which he is usually criticized or mocked by some people on social media.
US President Joe Biden appeared to confuse former US President Barack Obama for another former US president, Donald Trump, in a Wednesday speech, but swiftly corrected himself and suggested that the mistake was a “Freudian slip”.
“Back in 2009, during the so-called Great Recession, the president asked me to be in charge of managing that piece, then-President Trump,” Biden said while addressing the public in Pennsylvania. “Excuse me, Freudian slip, that was the last president. He caused the…anyway, President Obama, when I was vice-president.”
Others argued that the 46th president does not know what a Freudian slip really is.
Biden was in Pennsylvania on Wednesday speaking at a Mack Truck assembly plant in Lehigh Valley, promoting his administration’s new measures to encourage US citizens and companies to “buy American”. Particularly, he announced plans to modify the 1933 Buy American Act that requires federal firms and agencies to purchase goods that have at least 55% US-made components.
Under the Biden plan, the threshold will be increased to 65% by 2024 and to 75% by 2029.