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Devolution helplessly biting the dust at Nkayi registry offices

10 Jun 2021 at 07:52hrs | Views
Despite the unambiguous provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Act, 2013, devolution sadly remains a pipedream in the generality of the country. For purposes of particularity, the Nkayi civil registry office is the focal point. The elephant in the house is the continued lack of devolution both in the employment of local residents and the general localisation of all aspects of civil registry. The scope of the registration process itself remains exotic, alien and incompatible with local needs while unconstitutionally mauling the basic human rights of the people of Nkayi. This does not portray the expected government's legal commitment to the principle of non-discrimination, equality, equity and non-supremacy of any tribe or culture above any other, and leaves devolution helplessly biting the dust, in a general sense. In that regard, the whole set-up should be decisively re-dialled and re-railed according to the dictates of the constitution of the country.

Collision course with the constitution
The current approach, which frowns upon the spirit and principle of devolution of power, is in collision course with the country's supreme and supposedly sacred document, the Constitution. Section 264 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Act, 2013 prescribes that "governmental powers must be devolved to provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities". Strangely, even the employment of registry staff does not seem to involve or cater for local Nkayians. Although this generally extends to all government departments in Nkayi, the registry office is a microcosm of the larger world. For instance, how does one justify the current importation of staff from outside Matabeleland when the cancer of wrongly spelt names on identity documents is rife? Even to a small child, this is both morally and legally wrong.
Section 264 (2) (b, c, d & e) states some of the objectives of devolution that should be adhered to in order to promote democracy, peace, unity, observance of human rights and ensure the equitable sharing of local and national resources. However, it is alarming to note that all these objectives are not being met in Nkayi specifically, and Matabeleland in general. Is the government, through its ministries, deliberately molesting and raping the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Act, 2013? One wonders!

There is also the issue of the documentation of the Gukurahundi survivors or the children who lost parents through the manslaughter or abductions whose debate has of late gained momentum. These people need to be assisted by the people who understand their language, what they went through and are not in any way linked to the perpetrators whether by behaviour, language or whatever creed. This calls for local people for local solutions to problems of their adaptation in tandem with the observance of human rights. The ease of accessing and achieving citizenry documentation is both a constitutional and human rights issue. For staff manning the Ministry of Home Affairs, professionalism should be a must. It is disheartening for the affected to continue to experience the brazen molestation of their basic human rights regarding the torturous experiences they have had to endure to get documented. One would be forgiven to suspect that some corrupt members of staff who lack professionalism are also blameworthy, especially for the employment of their cousins and kinsmen to work in registry offices in Nkayi and the generality of Matabeleland North. These culprits could be located in some office in Harare and receiving bribes for their corrupt activities. Such calamitous individuals and cliques should be confronted and exposed in a decisive manner because their behaviour is against Section 266 of the Constitution which regulates the conduct of employees of provincial and local governments. Section 266 (1) unequivocally states that employees of provincial and metropolitan councils and local authorities must act in accordance with the constitution and the law while subsection (2) prohibits such employees to act in a partisan manner or to violate the fundamental rights or freedoms of any person. Unfortunately, a blind eye continues to blink against the law.

 The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, in its report on the problem of wrong spellings of names in applicants' birth certificates, national identity and other related documents, implies a dire need to change course. In another incident, the Chronicle publication (19 December, 2020) wherein a concerned citizen of Zimbabwe, Mr Nqobani Sithole, summoned the Registrar General to court over misspelt IsiNdebele spellings on the Zimbabwe passport, is yet another notable example. This should flash hazard lights on how dire the situation is as it is not only a Home Affairs issue but also a violation of cultural and linguistic rights of the people of the particular languages violated. As the result of poor staffing policies or deliberate disobedience by staff, a large number of people particularly in Matabeleland are having misspelt names and surnames, especially those in their mother languages of Matabeleland. It does not require a rocket scientist to realise that only the genuine and unadulterated application of devolution of power can arrest the problem.

Embrace local recruitment
Local recruitment is essential and invaluable as it could offer massive benefits to both the government and the local community. Therefore, it should be embraced. This could in turn economically empower and enable locals to earn the much-sought livelihoods, thereby ameliorating the abject poverty that is prevalent in the district. The government and the Ministry of Home Affairs could also benefit from the creation of sub-offices throughout the district as accommodation problems could be mitigated through having local employees staying in their homesteads. The creation of sub-offices in places like Dakamela, Mpumelelo, Zwelabo, Gwelutshena, Nyaje and Sivalo, among others, may effectively devolve the civil registration process and relieve the district office of  undue pressure as local employees would not require the scarce government accommodation. In the same vein, residents would not need to embark on costly and unfair travels to the district office to apply for birth certificates and identity documents. Resultantly, a plausible image of government may be created, and a viable community created. Of benefit, both in the short- and long-term, could be the computerisation of all processes at Nkayi registry.

Computerise Nkayi registry
The need for the computerisation of the Nkayi registry office cannot be overstated. The manual handling of the identity and birth certificate registration process is exploitatively cumbersome to both staff and clients. Imagine a boy or girl who is immediately qualifying to apply for an identity document having to travel more than seventy kilometres from say, Sivalo to Nkayi registry and having to apply for a paper identity document which he/she does not get on a single day. Waiting for the film to fill up means that the applicant will have to return to Sivalo and come another day to collect. There will also be the possibility that the photo "burned" and did not come out right. This would invite a complete re-start of the process. More so, the paper identity document is not all that helpful as it is not recognised by most institutions, including but not limited, to banks. The net effect is that the whole affair re-dials itself to poor service delivery and unfair treatment of our citizens who are reeling under immense economic hardship. For staff, to witness the everyday pain of the residents is psychologically and physically draining. Computerisation of the offices and issuance of digitally-oriented documents will arguably speed the process thereby improving service delivery, meeting the needs of residents and improving the dented image of government, which the beauty of the building itself, tries to salvage.

Aesthetically irresistible!
The Nkayi registry office building is aesthetically irresistible, to say the least! It is state of the art and beautifully constructed. It is spacious, elegant, well-built and strategically located near the bus terminus. It is one of the best government buildings, not only in Matabeleland, but in the whole country. The building could be ideal for use even for the application of passports as Nkayi registry covers a wide catchment area. While one would appreciate the proximity of the provincial passport office for Matabeleland North in Lupane, the road and transport network remains a challenge as passport applicants have to use the "no-road" road to Bulawayo in a bid to get to Lupane. As the result they are subconsciously re-dialled to the congested koMsitheli registry office in Bulawayo, a costly affair.  In that vein, the call to computerise and elevate the Nkayi registry office to a passport issuing status is thunderously bellowed and wailed to relevant authorities who are expectedly responsive to community needs.

A call to action
The government is therefore, called upon to fully apply the principle of devolution as the constitution demands. Instead of the current centralised system of recruitment, the district public service offices can be used for the recruitment of registry staff and those of other ministries like education for the convenience of the suffering people of Nkayi. Inescapably, government risks a further dented reputation if nothing is done to fasten the loose nuts.
Ultimately, the somewhat good work being done by some staff members who conduct themselves and act professionally regardless of the circumstances, is appreciated. Government should unfailingly augment their efforts by providing a conducive environment for work and being responsive to local needs as dictated by the Constitution. Unless that happens, devolution will sadly remain biting the dust at the Nkayi registry offices.

Nhlanhla Moses writes in his capacity as a resident of Nkayi and can be contacted on:
+27 73 386 2303

Source - Nhlanhla Moses
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