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.
Being locked out of citizenship in the southern African country is an issue for an estimated 300,000 Zimbabweans, according to Amnesty International.
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.”
Pussy Riot: Maria Alyokhina, a punk poet against Putin | Culture
The setting is the White House – or rather a set of White House, the one inhabited by actors Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in the TV show House of Cards. The year is 2015. Maria Alyokhina, better known as Masha, has already been jailed and released more than one time. And she has begun to write her book, a Vonnegutesque memoir called Riot Days. The memoir tells the story behind Pussy Riot, the feminist punk collective that made Alyokhina the kind of star that is invited to make a provocative cameo in a hit TV show. It also depicts the author’s day-to-day life in prison, with special emphasis on the freezing cold, systematic mistreatment and forced labor – problems that seem not to have changed since Dostoevsky’s time. And it also recounts Alyokhina’s lifetime of defying tyranny.
In the third House of Cards episode of the show’s third season, Masha and fellow Pussy Riot activist Nadya Tolokonnikova refuse to toast Viktor Petrov, the Vladimir Putin of the series, played by Lars Mikkelsen. The women’s appearance on the show reflected the fact that they are recognized as major players in history –although Masha is not so sure. “As a teenager,” Masha recounts in Riot Days, “I used to do graffiti on one of the school walls.” The wall was painted with historical motifs depicting a Russia she hadn’t seen and didn’t believe in. “I liked seeing how the graffiti was gaining ground and began to mix with those historical episodes, giving shape to another truth, ours,” she writes. Even then, the teenage Masha thought like an activist.
Born in Moscow in 1988, Maria Alyokhina grew up in 1990s Russia, and she remembers “people queuing everywhere, queuing for food, clothes, vouchers.” That, she says, has not changed. “They tell us that the country has changed, but I keep seeing the queues.” Masha was raised by her mother, a programmer, and did not meet her math teacher father until she was 21. She hated the Russian educational system and changed schools four times. “They taught you not to think. They wanted us to just follow the rules. Obviously, I didn’t like it at all,” she once said. A poet, actress and mother, Masha studied journalism and creative writing and was a Greenpeace activist. She has long been inspired by the performance artist and political provocateur Aleksander Brener.
Pussy Riot’s first action took place in the same spot where Brener stood before the Kremlin with a pair of boxing gloves – the image of him dressed as a boxer became iconic – and asked the Russian president at the time, Boris Yeltsin, to come out and fight. “There were eight of us, like the eight dissidents in 1968″ who protested against the occupation of Czechoslovakia, she recalls. But the image that spread across the world, forever changing the West’s conception that Russia had left its Soviet past behind, occurred in the Moscow Cathedral. The action landed the collective in jail for the first time: the collective sang a song asking the Mother of God to become a feminist and free Russia from Putin. Masha dressed in green and wore a yellow balaclava. Lara Alcázar, the founder of the Spanish branch of the feminist activist group Femen, says that the action was significant because it “clicks in the mind of those who see it.”
“The protest seeks to arouse an opinion, a series of questions. It has always been necessary, but right now there is an emergency. It shows you the other side – in this case, where the oppressors and the oppressed are,” says Alcázar. Today, Masha is hiding somewhere in Iceland, after having fled Russia with her partner Lucy Shtein, both disguised as food couriers. Her life is in danger. Alcázar also points out that women who dedicate themselves to activism break many boundaries. As with Femen’s demonstrations, Pussy Riot’s protests are especially powerful because they consist of direct action and provocation, she says.
Carol Paris, editor of the Spanish-language version of Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism, says that the most interesting thing about the collective is how they transcend the idea of individuality. “They show us how we can become active free agents. We should all be Pussy Riot.” And yet, as writer and translator Monika Zgustova points out, we cannot forget that Masha and the rest of the Pussy Riot “are in real danger, danger of being killed with a bullet to the forehead or a sophisticated poison, as has already happened to so many people who made the Kremlin uncomfortable.” That danger “gives value, weight and seriousness to their message,” a message that, as Nadya Tolokonnikov writes, they express through “barbaric and primitive political cabaret.”
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The battle for the ends of the earth: Australia, the US and China dispute the islands of the South Pacific | International
Fiji. Kiribati. The Solomons. Tonga. The names evoke tiny tropical paradises, shirtless Olympic flag bearers or bloody World War II battles. But they are also islands in a key strategic position to either give access to the South Pacific or block vital sea routes, a short distance from Australia, for decades the region’s great protector. The territories are now the scene of an intense struggle for control between the great powers: on the one hand, Australia and the United States; on the other, China, which has begun its power play by sending high-ranking government officials to the region and promising investments, security agreements and infrastructure construction.
Alarm began to spread in Canberra and in the United States last month as a result of the unexpected signing of an agreement between China and the small Solomon Islands, with 687,000 inhabitants. The agreement covered trade, fishing and–most importantly–security, allowing Chinese security forces to be sent to maintain social order and protect lives and private property at the request of the national government. Chinese military ships will be able to make visits to the islands and carry out “logistical replacement.” Although the two signatory governments deny the prospect, both Canberra and Washington fear that the pact could open the way for a future Chinese military base in the area, less than 2,000 kilometers from Australian territory.
China’s growing diplomatic and economic activity in the area has not stopped there. This Thursday, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, arrived in Honiara, the capital of the Solomons, to begin a 10-day tour of eight Pacific island nations: the Solomons, Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor. Upon his arrival, he expressed his hope that relations with Honiara will serve as an example for other Pacific islands.
A “sincere” partner, according to Beijing
Beijing describes itself to the island nations as a “sincere and reliable” partner, appealing to the disenchantment that their governments may feel for the cavalier treatment or even neglect they may have received from Australia and the United States.
Wang will meet with Pacific foreign ministers in Fiji next week. The Chinese minister will present a cooperation plan, the China-Pacific Island Nations Common Development Vision, sent last week to a dozen governments.
With this initiative, similar in language to the pact signed with the Solomons, China hopes to strengthen its ties with the region. It offers millions of euros in assistance and the prospect of a free trade agreement that gives products from these islands access to the huge Chinese market. Beijing also offers local police training nd cyber security cooperation. In exchange, the country seeks access to the area’s natural resources and the ability to draw highly detailed marine maps of its waters.
China’s aggressive courtship of the islands, until now firmly anchored in Australia’s orbit, has unleashed the fear of a change in the nations’ geopolitical alignment. In addition to their strategic position, their votes in international institutions can be decisive. “We know that China sees [its Development Vision proposal] as the first of many,” said the new Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. “It is trying to expand its influence in the region of the world where Australia has been the primary security partner since World War II,” he added.
After taking office on Monday, Albanese promised to increase his attention to the island nations. His initiative begins with assistance against climate change, the great concern of states particularly vulnerable to the effects of greenhouse gases and an issue that his predecessor, the conservative Scott Morrison, disdained. Canberra has also announced a plan for 500 million Australian dollars (€330 million) in development aid. One of Albanese’s first acts was sending his foreign minister, Jenny Wong, to Fiji to meet with prime minister Frank Bainimarama before the arrival of the Chinese representative.
The United States has not been left behind. In February, Washington announced the reopening of a US embassy in the Solomons after a 29-year absence. In April, the White House chief for Indo-Pacific, Kurt Campbell, traveled to the area.
The competition has picked up speed this month. In addition to Labor’s victory in the Australian elections, US President Joe Biden’s tour of Asia has contributed to the growing tension. At the Tokyo summit on Tuesday of the Quad, the informal alliance between the US, Australia, Japan and India, the four leaders devoted part of their discussions to China’s growing influence in the South Pacific. They announced the creation of an initiative, the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness, that will include the islands of the area to respond to humanitarian disasters, in addition to combating illegal fishing.
This week, during the Chinese and Australian diplomatic campaigns, Campbell spoke by video with Bainimarama about economic agreements and improving security. Meanwhile, according to the Financial Times, Beijing is preparing a new bilateral agreement with Kiribati, although the latter country has denied the collaboration. Minister Wang will visit Tarawa, its capital, for four hours this Friday.
The countries in the region had traditionally been diplomatic allies of Taiwan and therefore had no formal ties with Beijing. After the victory of President Tsai Ing Wen in 2016, though, the Xi Jinping government began to courting Taipei’s partners to break ties with the self-ruled island and engage with China.
Amidst allegations of corruption and bribery, the Solomons took the step in 2019, just four months after Manaseh Sogavare came to power.
The relationship with the islands has become an important element for Beijing in its strategic rivalry with the United States and its allies, particularly since Washington’s September announcement of the formation of Aukus. The Pacific military alliance also consists of Australia and the UK and is intended to respond to China’s rise.
“The United States is trying to tame China’s rise with its Indo-Pacific strategy, but now China’s footprints are ubiquitous in the region, showing that the taming strategy is not working,” wrote the newspaper Global Times, owned by the Communist Party.
Meanwhile, the islands are accepting the support from all sides. In a tweet this Thursday, Bainimarama wrote, “They ask me about the Fiji agenda. At all tables, what matters most is our people and our planet, as well as our respect for International Law.”
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