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Passport Apartheid

Condemn the South African apartheid regime and support the international boycott (1976) vintage poster by Rachael Romero.

In Zimbabwe, one of the popular relishes to go with the staple dish of sadza (a porridge of cornmeal and water) is “haifiridzi”. The history of this delicious dish speaks to the stringent pass laws in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe’s name under colonial rule) under the Native Passes Act. The same effects of these pass laws in colonial times can be seen in the present day visa system. Haifiridzi was invented by the witty native working men in Rhodesia’s high density towns as a way to cope with the law that hindered them from owning property and having their wives in their worker’s quarters. These men were only permitted to have two pots--one for sadza and one for relish, which was usually a meat portion. Most relishes would be missing a rare component, marrow-stem green kale known as muriwo, a side dish staple in Zimbabwe even today.

Failing to have an extra pot in which to cook the muriwo, after cooking their sadza and meat in the other two pots, the native workers would then simply add the muriwo to the pot with the relish, giving birth to what is known today as “haifiridzi”. The name is a Shona language version of Highfields which was a popular high density town housing most workers quarters. It was strategically positioned by the Rhodesian town planners to be next to the industrial area of what is now Harare (then called Salisbury) amongst other worker’s towns such as Mufakose, Glen View, Glen Norah and Kambuzuma.

Today’s restrictions resemble the pass laws that blocked black citizens economic opportunities, decent wages and a healthy social and family life.

To this day, Zimbabweans under self rule are still making their own compromises, their own mixes. Many don’t come out as nicely as “haifiridzi”. Today’s restrictions resemble the pass laws that blocked black citizens economic opportunities, decent wages and a healthy social and family life. Visa laws today are separating working husbands and wives. Just as pass laws stopped ‘natives’ looking for empowerment in certain districts, visa laws are obstructing Zimbabweans and Africans at large from working at good jobs.

This is a form of systematic racial discrimination based on one’s nationality. Many people are disenfranchised from the right to travel. People with Zimbabwean passports have great difficulty obtaining visas, be they for tourism, study or work. Some African citizens have to travel to other African countries to obtain a visa due to lack of consular services in their respective countries. This form of segregation is reminiscent of in-country travel for a black man during colonial times when Zimbabwe was Rhodesia.

In Rhodesia, failing to walk around with a pass or a “chitupa” or failure to produce it at required times was lethal. There could be dire consequences, some resulting in death. Today many Zimbabwean dreams, especially of youth, are killed for lack of obtaining a visa to work and study in other countries. Soon after high school, one of my friends was unable to pursue a career in criminology because he failed to obtain a study visa. This was in spite of the fact that he had excelled in his studies, had been enrolled at a reputable institution and had even secured a scholarship. But failure to get a visa was the end of his dream of a good education.

The visa application process itself is so intense and so interrogative it feels inhumane. The patronizing treatment received at the consular offices to the frisking, detention and interrogation received at immigration and border controls if one misses but a single correct response during questioning are humiliating.

The visa application process itself is so intense and so interrogative it feels inhumane.

Such treatment is akin to the treatment given native workers during colonial times when a person was found outside their district of origin or their registered district of employment.

It boggles the mind to think this form of discrimination even transcends diplomatic ties. A recent example is the inhumane and frustrating experience of South African President Ceril Ramaphosa at the hands of Polish immigration authorities on his way to the Ukraine-Russia Peace Talks. In June, 2009, then Mining Minister Obert Mpofu was denied a UK visa to attend an investment conference. Today many Zimbabweans face deportation from South Africa as this neighboring country has decided not to renew the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit (ZEP) visa. Visa requirements and visa restrictions are a huge stumbling block to the economic and social progress of many Zimbabweans.

Zimbabweans are Africans, and Africans are disproportionately impacted by visa restrictions. A European can mostly travel freely, often visa free. Europe has a relaxed inter-continental visa-free travel system. But in Africa, a Zimbabwean would need a visa to visit Egypt, a country with which it shares a continent.

As an individual who has been fortunate enough to travel to around eleven countries, I am appalled at the problems faced by my fellow African citizens due to visa restrictions. Now technology and online visa appointment booking begin the stress and mental strain of securing a visa even before the formal process itself starts. Failure to attain a visa can be fatal, killing one’s travel plans dead. My first time traveling was to Washington D.C. I received my visa at the Embassy at around 1400 hours and my flight was four hours later. If my visa interview had been delayed by even a day, I would not have been able to travel.

I was going on an advocacy tour to prepare me to attend college. My whole future prospects would have shattered had I failed to secure a 10 minute interview.



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