By Anna Chibamu
FREELANCE journalist Violet Gonda has finally been issued with a Zimbabwean passport after an 18-year struggle that, recently, included an airport deportation ordeal and a showdown with notorious ex-registrar general (RG) Tobaiwa Mudede.
Gonda said she was relieved when confirming to NewZimbabwe.com that the travel document had finally been issued last Friday.
“At last I have a Zimbabwean passport after an 18-year struggle,” she said.
“No more arriving in Zimbabwe as a foreigner and paying $55 visa fees on entry as well as regular visits to the immigration office to renew my visitor’s status.”
Gonda returned home this year after spending 17 years in exile, having been banned from Zimbabwe by the former Robert Mugabe regime.
She was however stunned when told in September by the registrar general’s department that her passport application could not be progressed because she was on a so-called “stop list”.
With the support of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), Gonda challenged the decision at the High Court, resulting in a meeting with the controversial Mudede who had run the RG’s department since independence in 1980.
Mudede denied there was a list of people banned from getting passports and, further, demanded the name of the officer who had refused to issue Gonda with a passport describing the staffer as a “worm that must be eradicated”.
The then RG told Gonda she would get her passport but refused to apologise for the incident, famously telling the scribe that “I don’t apologise, Lady. I don’t!”
However, despite Mudede’s promise, Gonda had still not received her passport nearly three months later when immigration officials tried to deport her upon arrival at Robert Mugabe International Airport.
Narrating the incident, Gonda said; “As I disembarked from an Ethiopian Airlines plane on 6 December, an immigration officer advised me that I was going to be deported because the British passport l held had no pages, something that I understood.
“I pleaded with them to give me an opportunity to come into the country so that I could sort out my passport issues, but the person was very aggressive and mocking me.
“He even asked; ‘What kind of an activist are you who deals with soldiers here in Zimbabwe and now you are sobbing because you are about to be deported?’
“I told them I was not crying because of the deportation threat. I informed them that I was being targeted and even showed them my national ID, pleading with them not to treat me that way.”
A lawyer from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) Denford Halimani had to intervene after Gonda contacted him, realising deportation was imminent.
“The immigration officer kept on barking even as my lawyer managed to talk to the Chief Immigration officer who came to my rescue and authorised my release without documentation,” said Gonda.
“He gave me a provisional restrictive notice which stated I only had 30 days to prove my residential status in Zimbabwe.”
After the incident, Gonda had to submit another application for a Zimbabwean passport, which was then issued last week.
She lamented the fact that “many people have no access to documentation such IDs, passports, birth certificates yet it is a constitutional right to have such.”
Meanwhile, Halimani said the legal challenge against the passports “stop list” is still before the courts but would not be drawn to reveal more details.