“Don’t panic” say government officials in Zimbabwe. But with the economy failing and political tensions rising, the opposite is happening. Nowhere is the panic more obvious than the passport office.
In Zimbabwe, the local currency is weak. Basic items like cooking oil change prices several times a day. Unemployment is widespread, and jobs are few. Many believe leaving Zimbabwe for work is their best option. But doing so legally means getting a passport.
At the passport office, people are desperate. Zimbabweans sometimes sleep in line just to submit an application. The approval process takes at least a year, and the application backlog is huge.
People must stand in multiple lines, often remaining outside the office for a week. After waiting to apply for an ordinary passport, some then wait again for a chance to upgrade to an emergency passport. One woman says the date she can upgrade her passport application to an emergency one is May 2020.
The root of the problem is simple . . . and shocking: The government cannot afford to import the proper paper, ink, and other materials to make the passports. Frequent machine breakdowns don’t speed things up either.
Zimbabwe’s Home Affairs Minister, Cain Mathema, insists the government is resolving the crisis. “The backlog will be cleared soon. We have to bring dignity to our people,” he says.
But for those in need of legal international travel, such statements ring untrue. Teenager Brian Ndlovu says coming to the office makes him “feel like there is really no way out of this country. We are trapped.”
Outside the passport office, the line snakes for over half a mile. Dozens of people, including women with toddlers, sleep on cardboard boxes or in the dust, holding their places. Some young men hold places in line for a fee. A preacher delivers sermons about hope. For many, hope is slipping.
Humanly speaking, the loss of hope in such conditions is understandable. But Christians remind themselves that real hope is not dependent on earthly conditions. The Apostle Paul said, “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (Philippians 4:12)
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission has launched an investigation into the passport disaster. Government officials like Mathema are promising change. “Passports are being done, the paper is now there, and the machinery is there. Our people should not panic.” He insists, “We are working on it.” But after months of problems, some people don’t believe him.