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No ticket to ride: Zimbabweans trapped for months without passports

The Guardian logo The Guardian 08/07/2019 Nyasha Chingono
a group of people walking down the street: Zimbabweans queue outside a Home Affairs Department office to apply for passports in Harare, Zimbabwe. © Reuters Zimbabweans queue outside a Home Affairs Department office to apply for passports in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Every morning for the past two months Eldah Makuvise, 35, has braved the cold winter mornings to queue for her passport at the local registry office in Harare, Zimbabwe. Each time she’s been sent away in despair.

Makuvise’s application, like others submitted a year ago, is stuck in a huge passport backlog.

Zimbabwe’s passport office has seen an influx of applications as economic woes push more people to search for work in other countries.

Inflation in Zimbabwe has hit a 10-year record of close to 100%, the second highest rate in the world after Venezuela.

The registry office can only process 50 passports a day. It has bemoaned the lack of foreign currency available to import paper and is now faced with a backlog of 280,000 applications.

passort with entries © RandyHarris via Getty passort with entries

The Zimbabwe human rights commission has begun inquiries into the delay of passports and national identification documents following a public outcry.

Makuvise and her friend, Moreen, 30, have resorted to taking turns sleeping in the queue to better their chances of being served the following day.

Makuvise’s hopes of working in South Africa are slowly fading.

Related slideshow: Henley Passport Index - 2019's most powerful passports (Provided by Photo Services)

“After waiting close to a year, I decided to come here daily. They often tell us that there is no material for the passports and keep on postponing the collection date. It’s getting frustrating. I get ZWD 80 [17p] per month and it’s not enough. I need a better job so that passport is the only way out of here,” Makuvise tells the Guardian.

Millions of Zimbabweans left the country over the past two decades of economic mismanagement by longtime leader Robert Mugabe.Things have not improved under President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took power in a military coup in 2017.

FILE PHOTO - Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa arrives for the inauguration of Cyril Ramaphosa as South African president, at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko © REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko FILE PHOTO - Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa arrives for the inauguration of Cyril Ramaphosa as South African president, at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Mnangagwa, who promised a “new dispensation”, ran into challenges in his first year in office. The possibility of getting a bailout loan from international financial institutions remains a distant dream because of human rights violations.

The return of the Zimbabwean dollar is expected to worsen the economic situation as it remains weaker against other currencies, including the US dollar.

Applicants in need of medical attention abroad have also borne the brunt of passport challenges in Zimbabwe.

Cleopatra Arufandika, 45, is due a major operation in India in the next month, after suffering a hip dislocation.

Accompanied by her son, Marlvin, she hoped her predicament would persuade the authorities to fast-track her application. But Arufandika was turned away.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Zimbabweans queue outside a home affairs department office to apply for passports in Harare. Photograph: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters © Reuters Zimbabweans queue outside a home affairs department office to apply for passports in Harare. Photograph: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

“I am in pain and my hospital booking is in a month. My family have already spent a lot of money on treatment. All I want is to get better,” Arufandika says.

Arufandika has been pleading with the authorities and hopes for a better response at her next appointment.

The passport situation has also dashed the hopes of students wishing to study abroad.

Taurai Dyanda, 18, who was due to start at university in China in May, has called on the government to expedite travel documents for students.

“I applied for my passport in September last year ,but almost a year later nothing has come. I have already missed the May intake and I’m forced to plead with my sponsors,” Dyanda says.

“I won a scholarship to study civil engineering and I don’t think it’s fair for young people to lose opportunities like these.”

Hopes are also fading for Thelma Ndebele, 22, a prospective medical student.

“I should have gone to school in February and I have been turned away from the passport office for the fourth time. Now they want me to give an extra ZWD 53 to improve my chances of getting the passport, which cannot be guaranteed. I cannot continue to stay here while my friends are studying,” Ndebele says.

The government this week admitted that they are facing a backlog dating back to July 2018.

Home affairs minister Cain Mathema has promised to improve the process within a month. He says the Treasury has purchased new machines to print travel documents at a cost of nearly $600,000 (£480,000).

“We can promise that within the next four to five weeks we’ll be able to produce 3,000 passports a day. The president had to intervene. Our ultimate goal is to produce at least 8,000 a day,” says Mathema.

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