Zimbabwe's Prime Minister still waiting for a passport

Harare – Despite being Zimbabwe's prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai still can't officially travel outside the country.\r\n

And his aides have to make laborious special arrangements with foreign governments every time he visits them. The registrar-general’s office in Harare is reluctant to issue him with either a new passport or an emergency travel document, it has been established.

One reason given is that the office has run out of materials. But senior officials in the office have pointed out that hundreds of Zimbabweans have been issued with passports in the past few months.

At one stage Tsvangirai was offered a repatriation document by the Zimbabwe embassy in Pretoria, which is usually meant for dead people whose bodies have to be returned. "Tsvangirai refused … because he said he was not a dead person," a Movement for Democratic Change official said.

Tsvangirai first applied for a new passport in May after the pages in his old one had been exhausted. It normally takes two days for an emergency passport to be issued in Zimbabwe.

He was told on various occasions that there was no passport material; that the machines were down; and at one point he was accused of having imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe and so did not deserve a passport.

The MDC leader, shuttling in and out of Zimbabwe while negotiating the power-sharing deal, was issued with two emergency travel documents with an unusually short lifespan.

The first allowed him to travel to Angola only for a Southern African Development Community meeting. It expired and he was issued with a new one for travel only to South Africa to attend the SADC summit. This expired after three weeks.

Normally, emergency travel documents in Zimbabwe have a lifespan of six months, and holders can travel to as many countries as they like, as long as they indicate their destinations on the application form.

Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, George Sibotshiwe, confirmed on Thursday that the MDC leader’s passport had still not been released almost four months down the line.

"We are disappointed by the lack of sincerity on the part of Zanu-PF and in particular their inability to deal with the passport issue of the prime minister-designate.

"We believe that (so much) progress has been made in this dialogue that issues like passports are simple and must be handled in a professional manner," Sibotshiwe said.

The MDC took the matter to court, but the case was postponed each time.

Tsvangirai managed to travel in the region by making special arrangements with receiving countries. When Tsvangirai applied for a new passport, the registar-general demanded the old one, which has not been returned.

Registar-General Tobaiwa Mudede was said to be out of the office the whole week when The Star made inquiries.

A staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he believed there was a deliberate ploy to deny the MDC leader a passport.

"Everyone in the passport office took an interest when Tsvangirai’s application came through and workers wanted to process it quickly as he has a lot of sympathisers at the registar-general’s office.

"However, we were ordered by our superiors not to process his application. No reasons were given.

"Since Tsvangirai applied for a passport more than three months ago, we have issued hundreds if not thousands of new passports. So if the bosses here are saying there is no material, where did they get the material to process thousands of passports?" the official said.

Last month Tsvangirai was held up for a day just before the SADC summit in Sandton when his emergency travel document was seized by security officials at the airport. The document was later returned.