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Society | Media

Zimbabwe publisher wins in citizenship fight

Zimbabwean publisher Trevor Ncube:
« The withdrawal is unlawful, null, void and of no force or effect.»

© CPU / afrol News
afrol News, 26 January
- Trevor Ncube, a prominent Zimbabwean journalist yesterday won the battle to maintain his citizenship title after a High Court ruled in his favour. Mr Ncube, the publisher of the 'Zimbabwe Independent' and 'Zimbabwe Standard', had his passport confiscated by the Zimbabwe government on 8 December 2005, being accused of being Zambian. The action was overturned by the court.

The famous Zimbabwean journalist - who also owns South Africa's 'Mail & Guardian' newspaper - claimed he was stripped off his citizenship only for being a critic of the Mugabe regime.

"It is accordingly ordered that [Mr Ncube] is a citizen of Zimbabwe by birth ... the withdrawal or cancellation of his citizenship is unlawful, null, void and of no force or effect," a High Court Judge, Chinembiri Bhunu, ruled on Thursday.

Zimbabwean authorities had argued that the South African-based journalist is a Zambian national because his father was born in Zambia. Mr Ncube however was born in Zimbabwe and both his parents were Zimbabwean nationals.

If the High Court had ruled against Mr Ncube, it would have a negative impact on his two newspapers because Zimbabwean press laws only give the right to a national to own majority interest in media.

Earlier, Zimbabwe's Registrar General, Tobaiwa Mudede insisted that Mr Ncube had forfeited his citizenship for failing to renounce his right to a Zambian passport in 2001 because Zimbabwe's laws outlaw a dual citizenship.

"His failure to comply with the requirement to renounce Zambian citizenship by descent within the prescribed period automatically meant loss of Zimbabwean citizenship," Mr Mudede told the government mouthpiece, the daily 'Herald' newspaper.

Publisher Ncube described Mr Mudede's claims as groundless and false because he was born in Zimbabwe and that both of his parents were Zimbabweans. He said there is no need for him to renounce his Zambian citizenship because he had never held that country's passport.

Press freedom organisations in Harare had described government actions as a last straw on the camel's back. They saw the move as a calculated attempt to nail the country's last two remaining independent newspapers and therefore urged the government to cease the "indefensible persecution" of Mr Ncube.

The Zimbabwean Media and Information Commission in a statement read out on state television today however reacted to these allegations, saying the two papers will be allowed to continue publishing. The Commission said it was "outraged by a campaign of disinformation originating from publisher Trevor Ncube's papers suggesting that the commission is somehow behind the case between Mr Ncube and the registrar general's office and is about to close Mr Ncube's two weekly newspapers."

"The [Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act] in fact allows any newspaper already publishing at 31 December 2002 to maintain their ownership and shareholding structure even when shareholders are foreigners," the statement further said. This was also the conclusion in articles published in 'Mail & Guardian'.

Mr Ncube himself sees the government's attempt to strip him of his citizenship more as a general policy of intimidation against potential critics of the Mugabe regime, not directed so much against him personally. "Any Zimbabwean now is going to think twice before they express themselves on anything, because the fear of losing one's passport becomes a way of censoring oneself," he said in a recent interview with the US broadcaster PBS.

The action against Mr Ncube did nevertheless come as a surprise. So far, the Mugabe regime did not really feel threatened by his two weeklies, Zimbabwean journalists told afrol News as the independent 'Daily News' was battling to survive. The 'Daily News' reached a large readership on a daily basis and had a large impact on the forming of an opposition to the regime.

According to these journalists, Mr Ncube's two weeklies have never had the same mass readership, and their weekly nature made them less threatening to the Mugabe regime - despite the fact that they publish biting government criticism. Zimbabwe media insiders further told afrol News that Mr Ncube, being aware of these government calculations, avoided exploiting the obvious market for an independent daily, and kept his two newspapers weeklies to steer away from confrontation.

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