A Mutare man seeking to renew his passport was told at the Registrar-General Office he was long dead and was shown a death certificate to prove it.
Elias Simbarashe Munanzwi got the shock of his life when last month he was told by officials that he could not renew his passport because there was a death certificate bearing his name, identity number, date of birth and village of origin.
Records from the Registrar-General’s Office show that Munanzwi died in Midlands town of Shurugwi on October 9 2009 and was buried at Mashababe village in Zhombe. The cause of death was listed as multiple injuries/assault and the death entry number is #SKW/10.
Munanzwi, who hails from Chirumhanzu but now works in Mutare, said he has not been to Shurugwi for decades and has no relatives in Zhombe.
“I was shocked to learn that records from the RG’s Office show that I am dead,” he said.
“Up to now, I fail to understand how a death certificate was created bearing all my identity particulars.”
The case has raised eyebrows in civic and political circles, as it proves once again that records at the RG’s office are in a shambles as living people are listed as deceased, further casting doubt about the authenticity of the voters’ roll and the possibility of holding credible elections in the country. Investigations by The Standard established that the births and deaths registration process was fraught with errors and irregularities as some officials were not properly capturing data of living and deceased people, reflecting badly on the voters’ roll.
The Standard wrote to Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede seeking clarification on the issue. A senior official in Mudede’s office, a K Bvumavaranda said the matter was under investigation, but two weeks down the line, the probe is yet to be completed. “We are aware of your request. These issues take long to investigate. We will inform you once we have completed the investigations,” said an official who answered Mudede’s phone but refused to identify himself.
Sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs were surprised that the RG’s Office was taking long to investigate an issue which should otherwise be completed in a matter of minutes or hours, as all the information was computerised and centralised in Harare. “The case of the man who is recorded as dead, but is alive is just a tip of the iceberg,” said the source.
“We are aware of several errors which are being made in the registration process and people have every reason to fear that the system can be open to abuse, especially when it comes to the voters’ roll.”
The Standard travelled to Kwekwe and Zhombe to try to establish the true identity of the person said to have died.
Investigations in Mashababe village in Chief Samambwa area, showed that the person who died in Shurugwi was a gold panner, Mahara Munanzwi (not related to Elias).
The Standard spoke to village head, Lameck Mashababe, and members of Mahara’s family who were all oblivious to the fact that their son was still alive, at least according to official records.
The village head and family were also not aware of a Pianos Mashababe, who signed the death notification in Shurugwi. Mahara was born in Zhombe in 1981, while Elias Simbarashe was born in 1961.
Mahara’s younger brother, Tichaona and stepmother, Gogo Munanzwi, said it was baffling to learn that the RG’s Office bungled in handling the death certificate and suspected that this was done deliberately.
“I smell a rat here,” said Tichaona.
“Maybe someone is trying to steal my brother’s identity and use it for political reasons.”
Political parties and civil society organisations said such gaffes by the RG’s Office proved that the registration of births, deaths and voters was in a shambles and far from being perfect, contrary to claims by Mudede.
The director of the Election Resource Centre, Tawanda Chimhini said the system was flawed with the voters’ roll populated with deceased people, children as young as three years and individuals aged over 100 years.
He said death registration was done using a person’s unique identification number, which differed from individual to individual, even in the event of people sharing names.
“How could they punch wrong information as they were in possession of the person’s ID number?” asked Chimhini.
“This shows lack of capacity for the office, which has the mandate to register voters and help in running elections. It’s a clear indication that the documentation process is chaotic and that the system is not water-tight.”
He called for a comprehensive public audit of the deaths registration process and the voters’ roll in order to allay fears that the electoral process could be manipulated using dead people. Chimhini said some of the thousands of people who died in rural areas were not registered as dead since the process was costly for people living in remote places. Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) chairman, Tinoziva Bere, said the Zhombe case proved that the voters’ roll was imperfect, which could potentially disenfranchise the electorate.
“The registration process should not be cleaned in secret, as this will produce errors,” he said.
“Errors such as wrong addresses are still prevalent. We also believe that the registration process should be more accessible to the people to eliminate some of these mistakes.”