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Zimbabweans in South Africa risk deportation after passport office fire
A centralized governance system in Zimbabwe has come under attack by citizens after the southern African country’s entire passports processing center was gutted by fire, leading to an indefinite suspension.

The identification production center for passports, birth and death certificates based at KG Six Army Headquarters in Harare was gutted down by fire on Friday, December 31, shattering the hopes of many Zimbabweans who had hoped to obtain vital documents.

Conservative estimates say it could cost anything up to $48 million to repair the machines.

Those affected mainly include thousands of Zimbabweans who are facing deportation in neighboring South Africa due to a lack of valid permits.

The deadline to get valid documentation was the last day of 2010, and the SA government said on Friday that it had received about 230,000 applications from Zimbabweans who are avoiding deportation.

Close to three million Zimbabweans live in South Africa, the majority without residency permits or passports.

The gutting of the identification center in Harare forced suspension of business at a time when Zimbabwe had turned down an offer for a passport-making machine by South Africa.

In a public relations exercise, the country’s Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede addressing reporters on Monday said his department was not in a position to issue birth certificates or identity cards.

“We wish to inform members of the public that the department is currently unable to process computerized documents until further notice.

“These include acceptance of new passport application forms, processing of temporary traveling documents, processing of computerized identity cards and processing of computerized birth certificates,” he said.

According to Mudede, “The department’s engineers were working flat out to rectify the problem,” while assuring that the building and all production equipment were intact.

“Our major computers were not affected, and that is the production computers. The 18 printers that we have are intact, as well as the 20 scanners, and those are our major equipment,” he added.

In Zimbabwe, anyone wishing to obtain these documents has to travel to Harare — even from as far Victoria Falls, which is close to 850 kilometers away.

Other cities have to mail applications to Harare for processing.

The Zimbabwean government has been battling to register millions of Zimbabweans in that country. It sent a total of 47 officers to process passports, birth certificates and identity documents. However, it has been failing to cope.

The South African government offered the country a passport printing machine to ease the problem. The machine, which has a capacity to produce 4,000 passports an hour, was turned down by the government on “security grounds.”

This is despite the fact that the single machine being used in Harare only has a capacity to print 500 passports a day.

Zimbabweans started flooding into neighboring South Africa following the collapse of their economy and an upsurge in political violence sparked by President Robert Mugabe’s policies of forcibly acquiring mainly white-owned commercial farms, which began in 2000, and a series of violent elections.

Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party has ruled the country in coalition with the Movement for Democratic Change since February 2009, and elections are due to take place this year.


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