Kefasi Murwira Marufu, 78, has never had a bank account or a phone in his name.
Not because he wouldn’t want one but he couldn’t open an account or register a communication gadget for lacking an identity card or a birth certificate.
Despite having lived in the country for more than 62 years after his parents migrated from Zimbabwe to Kenya, Marufu and other members of the Shona community had not been recognised as citizens.
The statelessness saw him miss out on school and job opportunities.
After decades of statelessness, it was good news to the Shona community when the government finally gave them with Kenyan identity cards with full citizenship rights.
On July 28, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i handed over identity cards among other identification documents to the Shona community in Kiambu.
In his address, Dr Matiang’i announced that the government plans to give citizenship to all statelessness communities in the country by the end of the year. Shona was identified as Kenya’s 45th tribe.
“It has been 62 years of desperation and misery. My parents came to Kenya when I was 16-years-old. They died unidentified. My children couldn’t go to school because my wife and I didn’t have identity cards,” said Marufu.
The statelessness had committed the Shona community to a life of misery as they could not access basic services such as education, healthcare in public hospitals, employment and freedom of movement.
They could not own land and this was the community’s biggest nightmare.
“It was painful that I couldn’t educate my children, not because I couldn’t afford but the challenges were beyond my control. There was nothing I could do,” he said.
Marufu traces his roots to Zimbabwe but technically he belonged to neither his country of birth or Kenya. He said Zimbabwe would consider him a foreigner from Kenya a situation that rendered him stateless.
“It feels like I have been born again after I received my ID. Mattress banking will be a thing of the past. I can now buy land and build my family a house,” he said. Zephaniah Muungani, is happy after receiving identification documents.
Muungani relied on other people’s identity to get things done.
Although he was born in Kenya 58 years ago, he couldn’t access services enjoyed by locals since he didn’t have citizenship rights. “I registered my communication line using another person’s ID for easy mobile money transactions. That comes with risks and challenges when you have to produce an identification document,” he said. There are more than 3,000 Shona people in Kenya with majority spread across Kiambu, Meru, Embu, Laikipia, Kericho, Narok, Kajiado, Mombasa and Malindi.
The community arrived in Kenya in the 1960s as missionaries and later established Gospel of God Church in Kenya.
Apart from the ascent and physique nothing betrays their origin. Most of them are fluent in Swahili and Kikuyu.
Muungani explained that the Shona are deeply ingrained in the Kenyan culture, intermarried with the locals but they were confined to the residence of birth which has caused them untold suffering.
“I hear there are well-paying job in Middle East countries. I would like to travel there and try my luck. I have lost count of the times I tried to unsuccessfully buy land. I have been a tenant all my life,” he said.
“It may appear as minor issue to possess a simple identification document but wait until you cannot do simple things like mobile money transactions…or when you cannot enroll your children in school, unless another set of parents offer their identification documents to help your family,” said Muungani.
In essence, there are many students with ‘two sets’ of parents- the biological and the other for identification purposes. For instance, Sarah Muregerera Ndoro, 52, had to find ingenious ways to educate her children.
In 2009, Muregerera approached a friend who allowed her to use his surname. Technically to be her father for identity.
“My real name is Muregerera but I used Sarah Wanjiku Githiri as my name for more than ten years. I had to lie because I needed to take my children to school and do other businesses that I could not have managed without documents. My children use ‘Wanjiku’ as their surname,” said the mother of four adding that in some instances, she had to bribe her way through.
However, she said they have been given amnesty by the state to surrender the illegally obtained documents.
Muregerera’s new card reads her name and she will have to register her children using the correct details.
It was not easy for children born of the Shona who intermarried with locals. Finiziya Samuel Dube is married to a Luhya man but their four children have gone through school using postnatal clinic cards.
“I’m married to a local but his ID could not help in birth registration. We do not have birth certificate for our children,” said the 38-year old Dube.
Missing out on the National Health Insurance Fund and other subsided healthcare benefits like Linda Mama for pregnant women was a pain for the Shona.
Luckily, the assimilation of Shona into the dominant Kikuyu community in Kiambu has seen most of them get identification.
After futile efforts to seek registration, most of the Shona people resorted to family trades of carpentry and weaving to eke a living.
Majority of the Shona live in Kiambu County but despite the robust real estate developments in the area the few who managed to buy land or build houses have the assets registered in other people’s names.
“It is a risky affair because one can easily be swindled. It takes trust and goodwill for someone to allow you use their identity for personal investments,” said Mashinda Tandeu Chinyanga a resident of Kiambaa who also lived on borrowed identity since 2000.
The life of Shona people in Kenya has been monotonous as the song they belt out during burials.
According to Muungani, their culture dictates that in the case of death, the mourners have to sing one song of contrition, repeatedly from the house to the graveyard without pausing until the last spade of soil fills the grave.
“Singing until the last step signifies people’s unremitting plea to God, to pardon the deceased’s sins and receive their soul in heaven,” he explained.
They live by the cardinal rule, not to commit sin and follow the Ten Commandments. However, children aged below 12 are regarded as ‘holy without sin’ hence no need of the song of forgiveness and other ritualistic activities during the burial.
The only sign that the body of a Shona has been buried in a cemetery in Kenya would be four tree branches put at the four corners of the grave. No heaths on the topsoil, no cross or tombstone. Once the branches rot, their existence remained unknown-alive or dead because there were no records. Thanks to the state, births and deaths can now be recorded.
They teach their children to keep the Christian faith.
During worship on Saturday, women clad in white, long dresses and cover their heads with a white turban to signify holiness. Men wear a long white outfit. The faithful go to Gospel of God church near Daystar University in Nairobi.
Men and women use different doors to enter the church barefoot. They sit on the floor but men take the position near the altar. They sing Hossana hymn to prepare for the sermon.
The men are prohibited from shaving the beard just like the Israelites.
After receiving the citizenship rights, the Shona will now be eligible to vote next year. “Over four decades later, I will now exercise this right like any other citizen and I look forward to that day,” said Muungani.
Interior CS announced that they will issue citizenship to the Sangaf community in Tana River.
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