Zimbabwean immigration authorities on Wednesday handed back a passport seized from Trevor Ncube, owner and publisher of the Mail & Guardian and The Standard and Zimbabwe Independent six days ago under a new
measure to punish government critics.
Ncube recovered his travel document that was seized at the airport in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, moments after he flew in from South Africa where he is based.
“It appears I am winning. My passport is now in the hands of my lawyers,” Ncube said in an SMS sent to the M&G on Wednesday.
“My lawyers are working on a consent order with the judge. They are also working on a court order making sure my travels are not interfered with,” he said. “Indications are that I will have my passport in my hands by the end of the day.”
“I have got Mr Ncube’s passport in my hands as we speak,” lawyer Sternford Moyo said by telephone in Harare.
“A fellow lawyer went to immigration and they conceded the seizure was unlawful,” he said.
A veteran Zimbabwean journalist, Ncube is the publisher of the weekly Zimbabwe Independent and Standard as well as the M&G.
All three papers have been openly critical of President Robert Mugabe’s policies.
On Monday, Ncube’s lawyers went to the High Court to seek the release of the passport, arguing that the seizure was in violation of “fundamental principles of natural justice”. The court hearing was to take place later this week, but immigration authorities decided to return the passport before awaiting the outcome of the legal action.
Parliament in August approved changes to the Constitution that allow the state to seize the passports of people perceived to be anti-government.
“It’s not morally right and patriotic for any Zimbabwean to go gallivant the world on a Zimbabwean passport asking for a military invasion of Zimbabwe or the imposition of official and unofficial sanctions,” Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told lawmakers at the time the Bill was approved.
The seizure of Ncube’s passport was the first time that the provision had been applied.
The board of M&G Media, which publishes the M&G, on Tuesday said Ncube was effectively under country arrest in Zimbabwe after his passport was confiscated.
The M&G staff was set to stage a protest at the Zimbabwean Embassy in Pretoria on Thursday.
In a statement, chairperson of the board Professor William Makgoba said the board was shocked at the confiscation of Ncube’s passport.
“It marks another sad day for Africa,” Makgoba said, “and a step back for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), the continental programme aimed at lifting our continent high.”
On Friday, a senior member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Paul Themba Nyathi, became the second high-profile Mugabe critic to have his passport seized.
Nyathi is a former human rights activist and an outspoken critic of the Harare government, which he has called “tyrannical”.
Mugabe’s party on Saturday endorsed the seizure of the passports, urging state security agents to draw up lists of targets.
In a resolution adopted by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF at its annual conference, the party said it “welcomes the 17th constitutional amendment, in particular the withdrawal of passports of Zimbabweans who go around demonising the country”.
“We want the security people to draw up a list of people like that and withdraw their passports,” it said. — M&G Online/AFP