Press "Enter" to skip to content

How do you extract a birth certificate from an extinct country (Zim)?

Before getting into this blog, it would be appreciated if any reader can give me a practical answer or solution to the question posed in my blog title above and a quick solution (less than six months processing) for the unabridged South African birth certificate. Seriously. Including a Zimbabwean unabridged birth certificate.

Dictionaries define “country” as a nation or a state, which in turn is defined as “a large body of people, associated with a particular territory, that is sufficiently conscious of its unity to seek or to possess a government peculiarly its own”.

Unity: the people of Zimbabwe do not have a common unity. Many risk their lives swimming through rivers teeming with crocodiles to escape into neighbouring countries.

Government, as a verb, one dictionary entry defines as “the political direction and control exercised over the actions of the members, citizens, or inhabitants of communities, societies, and states; direction of the affairs of a state, community, etc … ” The word order is strongly suggested by terms such as “direction and control”, “direction of the affairs of a state”. There is little or no order left in Zimbabwe.

So it is not too difficult to hypothesise that “areas” or disaster zones like Zimbabwe are not countries, but just demarcated “areas” that too many people would rather forget about.

I had the best holidays of my life in Zim; Lake Kariba in 1992 being the most wonderful. We lived on a houseboat for a week, did tiger fishing which is a fantastic sport as they fight like tigers when hooked, we ate like horses and drank piles of beer. It was October, very hot, and difficult to get more than tipsy in the heat. The bar opened at about 6am and never seemed to close. Is Zambezi beer still available? It was a great bottled beer. The rich wildlife at night on the Kariba shore had to be the same as it was thousands of years ago (other than the artificial lake).

As a child my folks took me to “Rhodesia” and we stayed at the magnificent Wankie Game Reserve, disappeared for weeks into the spectacular Chimanimani Mountains, and, with what has now a certain prophetic ring to it, visited Zimbabwe Ruins. The people were wonderful and back then in the seventies, “Rhodesians” were great, down to earth people.

Sure, even in 1992, when I last went to Zim, as we crossed the border at Beitbridge, the poverty and drop in standards was immediately apparent. The roads were poorly maintained. Woolworths was like a semi-abandoned fruit and veg shop, flies everywhere, the furthest possible cry from Woolies in Joburg, whose smartness and high standards I was especially proud of as a Saffer. But what a lovely country Zim was. Was.

And now we can’t even seem to get a birth certificate out of Zim for my wife, Marion AKA the Chook, for emigration purposes to New Zealand. She was born in Umtale, spent much of a rich, sunlit childhood in Bulawayo and regales me with stories of giraffes sticking their heads into hotel windows, baby crocodiles in her inebriated aunt’s bath and her father, who, whilst in Botswana several decades ago, told Prince Philip, the Queen of England’s hubby, to fuck off. During his royal visit, like many British royalty, the Prince stopped to speak to the rabble. Marion’s father asked him when he was going to visit Rhodesia (he was just on business in Botswana). The Prince said only when Unilaterally Declared Independence had come to an end. At this point, in full hearing of many, Marion’s father, the saintly Reginald Thomas Green, famously told the royal personage to take a vigorous sexual hike and stalked off. (I would have loved to have met Marion’s artistic, temperamental, devil-may-care father. She paints a brilliant picture of him and he will find his way into my next memoir, a sequel of sorts to Cracking China, due out early next year. But I digress.)

Marion had an unabridged Zim birth certificate. A relative lost it or misplaced it in England. How does one go about misfiling such a valuable document? Does one do a few “dry runs” in attempting to lose it first before doing the final, breathtaking David Copperfield finale?

There is no Zimbabwean embassy in Shanghai. The telephone numbers for the one in Beijing just ring and ring. We get no responses to emails. Marion’s family in New Zealand have even tried approaching Zim embassies in other countries. I have tried googling for attorneys’ firms in Harare who deal with this type of thing, but so far have come up with zilch. Thankfully we have friends trying to help us in South Africa. The Zimbabwean embassy in Joburg no longer processes this type of document, we are reliably told. (So … what do embassies like this do in other countries, hmm?) Marion has a British passport and we tried to apply for a British version of the unabridged birth certificate but the British Government Certificate Services informed us that “We do not hold records for Births in Rhodesia / Zimbabwe. It is suggested that you contact the Foreign Embassy of the country concerned” and subsequently refunded us the fee which was initially accepted by their system.

In a previous blog about this kind of wild-goose-chase bureaucracy, Charlene Smith asked me not to use excruciating South Africanisms like “ja well no fine” (deliberately used to mirror the excruciating predicament) and I certainly am not going to as the situation described above is now beyond even a mild jokiness of style intended to mock the excruciating.

The point is this. Why should it be so difficult to get such a valuable but simple document? The worrying thing is that South Africa seems to be developing a similar trend. A South African friend of mine currently living in Australia applied for a new ID book in 2004 when he was living in South Africa. He is still waiting with “bated breath”, as he puts it. It took him six months just to get his SA passport renewed. That is unbelievably inconvenient especially if you are a businessman or need to renew a work permit. I am still waiting nearly five months for my renewed SA passport, which I wrote about in a previous blog, instead of two weeks or so, as was the case before. Oh, by the way, the documentation was subsequently found, according to this email I received the other day from the SA Consulate here in Shanghai in such cute English:“Dear Mr. MacKenzie,I was just going to write you to tell you that you may not come to our mission for your 2nd application for passport. The system today shows that your application is “received and being processed” which implies they have finally found this batch!” Hallelujah. Sort of. No, really, I am grateful. There is some light.

It is “little” drops like these in standards in SA that speak volumes about SA’s future. Take this anecdote: When renewing my passport in South Africa, in about 1997, companies specialised in doing this for you. For an extra hundred bucks or so they would come to your home, photograph you, have all the forms ready for you to fill in and sign and they would queue for you and personally deliver the processed passport to your door. And it was a matter of two weeks or less because they specialised in getting documents. The man (a white) came back very glumly with my passport renewed for the next ten years and said the government was closing their business down. “Why?” I asked incredulously. He shrugged his shoulders. “Bureaucratic reasons. People must renew their documents themselves.”

He was despondent because of course that job was his livelihood which he shared with a few other partners. Affirmative action was very much in place then in 1997, and he — like me, who also had to resort to running my own business — had been enterprising enough to find a need in the market place and fill it very professionally, I thought. His was a great little biz and I was happy to part with the hundred or so rands to save me the bother.

Are there companies like this out there again in South Africa? If there are, I would appreciate any reader passing on the details. I remember one that was called “Queue for You” or something to that effect. The reason why I ask this is that I can apply for my unabridged birth certificate at the SA Consulate in Shanghai for purposes to emigrate to New Zealand. But I have been warned it will take at least six months (apparently because so many South Africans are applying for the unabridged certificates, which speaks worlds about the ongoing skills drain from South Africa). I felt discouraged from applying. Especially since I was told it would take about three months to process my new SA passport, and so far it has taken nearly five months and I have received nothing to date. So the six months sounds like maybe it will take a year or the documentation will get lost, like my SA passport application. Of course I politely send an email query to the SA Consulate here in Shanghai from time to time, and so far I have a conversation of thirty-seven emails between me and them with regard to applying for a new passport and now enquiring about applying for the birth certificate.

Don’t get me wrong; I am grateful there are still ways of getting these documents. In closing, there is apparently now a strong possibility that New Zealand may even waive Marion’s requirement to produce her unabridged birth certificate because of the sorry state of affairs that Zimbabwe is in. It has come to that pass. Any bets that, in the not-too-distant future, these countries may also be waiving the necessity to provide an SA unabridged certificate?

And I hate saying negative things about the future.


  • Rod MacKenzie

    CRACKING CHINA was previously the title of this blog. That title was used as the name for Rod MacKenzie's second book, Cracking China: a memoir of our first three years in China. From a review in the Johannesburg Star: " Mackenzie's writing is shot through with humour and there are many laugh-out-loud scenes". Cracking China is available as an eBook on Amazon Kindle or get a hard copy from His previous book is a collection of poetry,Gathering Light. A born and bred South African, Rod now lives in Auckland, New Zealand, after a number of years working in southern mainland China and a stint in England. Under the editorship of David Bullard and Michael Trapido he had a column called "The Mocking Truth" on NewsTime until the newszine folded. He has a Master's Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. if you are a big, BIG publisher you should ask to see one of his many manuscript novels. Follow Rod on Twitter @