Zimbabweans within and beyond the country’s borders have expressed shock and dismay at the new passport fees for the Diaspora announced by the government on Monday.
The cash-strapped government is struggling to issue citizens with passports in time with a backlog of 359 288 passports which dates back to August 2018.
The Registrar-General Department has blamed the state of affairs on the shortage of consumables which have to be imported and the low passport fees being charged.
The obtaining passport fees were gazetted in 2010 before the country de-dollarised and an ordinary passport costs ZWL$53, while an emergency passport costs ZWL$253.
Last month, the government hinted passport fees would be increased significantly to enable the Registrar-General’s Office to clear the unprecedented backlog.
However on Monday Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister, Kazembe Kazembe, pulled a shocker and authorised the Civil Registry Department to charge US$318 for passport applicants in the Diaspora.
“The ministry is aware of the high expectations from members of the public for timely provision of service, particularly in the area of issuance of travel documents,”said Kazembe.
“The ministry is also aware of what citizens are going through, especially those living abroad whose passports have expired. Citizens in the Diaspora need to have valid passports in order to regularise their stay in the host countries. As a way of assisting the department to attend to requirements for passports by citizens in the Diaspora, government has therefore authorised the Civil Registry Department to charge US$318 for passports, in respect of those in the Diaspora. The applications will be prioritised on an urgent basis.”
Details on the implementation of this decision, Kazembe said, were being worked out by the Civil Registry Department in consultation with other stakeholders.
However, the government’s move has attracted public outcry with the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa calling for an urgent review of the fees which they described as exorbitant.
“The Zimbabwe Community in South Africa is deeply shocked and concerned at this exorbitant price,” the community’s spokesperson Bongani Mkwananzi said.
“It is common knowledge that many of our Diaspora community here in South Africa work menial and low paying jobs as maids, waiters, construction workers, security guards and so on. To set such a steep price for passport applications at a time when thousands of Zimbabweans who received their passports in 2010 to apply for special permits are set to expire, reeks of an uncaring and inhumane government.”
He said a responsible and caring government would charge reasonable passport fees in foreign currency.
“At today’s ZAR to USD exchange rate, the fee is set at R4 655.85 which is even way beyond some of the salaries and wages earned by struggling Zimbabwean workers monthly,” bemoaned Mkwananzi. “Compared to the South African passport fee equivalent – which is R400 with a maximum of R800 for a lost passport, we fail to understand the R4255.85 which is a 1063.96 percent difference!”
Mkwananzi added while the government has promised to expedite the application process, they would not applaud it for doing what it should have been doing in the first place.
Social commentator, Ntando Dumani, told CITE, while the move would help ease passport woes of Zimbabweans in the Diaspora, it was also a strategy by the government to harvest foreign currency.
“The government has been subtly re-introducing the US Dollar without coming out openly to say that,” said Dumani.
“The hypocrisy of the government should be noted when it creates conditions to benefit enormously from the Diaspora through foreign currency yet they deny them the right to vote. That smacks of hypocrisy when the welfare of the Diaspora is catered for only to the extent that government benefits.”
Political analyst, Rejoice Ngwenya, said it was improper for Zimbabweans living outside the country to be discriminated against locals in passport applications.
“I think this impression that the Diaspora has money is patronising,” argued Ngwenya.
“Passport fees must carry the same value for all citizens. This is a government that always encourages the Diaspora to invest; open business, and so forth but look at what they are up to? They don’t even want Diaspora to vote. The guys (Zimbabweans in the Diaspora) should appeal to the Constitutional Court on account of discrimination.”