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in interracial marriage - Still facing discrimination in Zimbabwe
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legal environment governing inter racial marriages has greatly improved
in Zimbabwe, women married to men of different races still have
to confront social and cultural barriers.
Dr Lovemore Madhuku, a constitutional law lecturer, discriminatory
marriage laws existed before Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain
in 1980. "The Marriages Act, which denied people of different races,
particularly blacks and whites from marrying each other was repealed
in the 1950s because it was discriminatory and unconstitutional.
However, whites were not allowed to marry under the African Marriages
Act, which was another form of racial discrimination," Madhuku,
who is also chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, a
civic organization advocating law reforms in Zimbabwe explains.
Laws that discriminated
against people on the grounds of their race were repealed after
Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, explained Madhuku. But after independence,
laws were enacted which discriminated against people on the basis
of gender. Of note was the Citizenship Act, which allowed foreign
females to get automatic Zimbabwean citizenship if they married
a male citizen. This right was not extended to Zimbabwean women.
Sekai, a black
Zimbabwean woman married to white Australian Jim Holland, is one
person who suffered a bitter struggle at independence when, she
says the government wanted to deport her husband back to his home
country despite the constitutional provisions against such an act.
"For 16 months
we fought battles in the courts to have my husband allowed to stay
in Zimbabwe and at last we won the battle and my husband was allowed
to stay in the country," she explained. "Mixed marriages under the
colonial period were rejected and the government did not do much
to reconcile citizens not to segregate each other on racial lines,
that both the government and non-governmental organizations have
failed to invest in racial harmony. As a result, some colonial practices
that perpetuate racial discrimination still exist in Zimbabwe, she
of legislation (Citizenship Act) was both unlawful and unconstitutional
because it violated women's rights. It did not have any space in
a democratic society which respects human rights and gives equal
opportunities to all people irrespective of their sex," Madhuku
nature of the Citizenship Act forced women and human rights campaigners
to wage a bitter campaign against it. Their efforts forced President
Robert Mugabe's government to persuade Parliament to amend the Constitution.
The amendment became famously known as Amendment number 14 of 1996.
The new law took away men's rights to have their foreign wives gain
automatic citizenship. It now requires both Zimbabwean men and women
who have foreign spouses to apply to the Immigration Office for
registration of their unions.
considered as having one of the best Bill of Rights when it comes
to race relations and mixed marriages in particular. The Declaration
of Rights Section 11 of the Constitutions says, "… every person
in Zimbabwe is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of
the individual, that is to say, the right whatever his race, tribe,
place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed or sex but subject
to the respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the
strides have been made on the legal front, women married to men
of other races continue to face an uphill struggle socially and
culturally. Although interracial marriages are quite acceptable
among sections of the elite, there is still a lot of stigma associated
with such relationships at other levels of the society. A lot of
the women married to men of different races are ostracized by friends
and family. Black women married to white men or those of other races
are labeled prostitutes and accused of being disrespectful of culture.
Tendai, a black
Zimbabwean woman married to a Dutch national Clemens Westerhoff
says she has often borne the brunt of this discrimination. "Some
people do not approve of such kind of relationships (interracial).
One can see an element of disapproval among both blacks and whites
if say we (Clemens and I) go together to a restaurant. The divide
can be seen from the way people look at you."
A white businesswoman
who is married to a black man and who preferred anonymity says she
also has not been spared the disapproving glances:. "While other
powerful groups in Zimbabwe, like politicians and businesspeople
see nothing wrong with interracial marriages, typical traditional
and conservative men in our country do not approve these unions,"
she explains. She says that she has numerous problems when she visits
her husbands' rural home and her conservative friends in Harare.
"In the rural
area, some people think that our relationship is queer and each
time we visit our rural home, a number of villagers actually gather
to observe the behaviour of a white woman married to a black person.
One day I heard one of the village elders saying that my children
will not be blessed because of this union," explained the businesswoman.
She told IPS
that although there was nothing illegal about that union, a lot
needed to be done to educate people that there was nothing untraditional
for white and black people to marry each other. Furthermore, there
is need for people to come to terms with people's human right to
choose freely, their life partner.
men married to white or Asian women are regarded as symbols of achievement
although conservative patriarchal social leaders such as chiefs
sometimes accuse them of violating traditional norms. The different
reactions to men and women's interracial marriages indicate the
gendered nature of interracial relationships.
the government should have done more to operationalize its policy
of reconciliation expounded at independence in 1980. She feels civic
organizations and the government should organize workshops where
they educate members of society on methods of conflict resolution
and peaceful co-existence. Such workshops can also be used to assist
people to accept interracial relationships and to eradicate the
myths and misconceptions surrounding such marriages.
From the looks
of things, it seems plausible to say that Zimbabweans should appreciate
that the Constitution of this diverse Southern African nation says
citizens are all those born in Zimbabwe, born to Zimbabwean parents,
descendants of Zimbabweans and those who obtained the status through
marriage to Zimbabweans or applied for it.
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