Parents of a one-year-old baby have failed to obtain an external birth certificate for her – because registry officials say their computer system was not designed to accept diacritical marks in names.
Gwanda-born Clever Jofirasi and his wife, Audrey, who both live in Dublin, Ireland, gave their daughter Irish and Ndebele names – Siobhán (pronounced Shi-vawn) and Thandeka – after she was born at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin in February 2018.
The couple obtained a birth certificate for Siobhán in Ireland without hassle, but when they tried to register the birth in Zimbabwe, they were stunned when officials told them their computer systems can only take alphabetic letters.
The acute accent or diacritical mark on top of the ‘a’, said Jofirasi, is critical because it indicates that the vowel is to be pronounced “long”.
“We went to the registry offices in Gwanda. They could type the accent mark using their keypads, but when they tried to save it into their system it rejected it and said ‘wrong input’ or something like that,” Jofirasi told ZimLive.
“They called their IT department in Harare while we were there and they were advised that the system was designed that way and there was nothing that they could do short of summoning the Israeli company that designed it to come back and fix it.”
Jofirasi said one official advised them to either write the name without the diacritical mark above the ‘a’ or even give her a new name.
The registry’s IT systems were installed by Nikuv, an Israeli company that became notorious in Zimbabwe after opposition parties accused it of helping Zanu PF rig elections through voter database manipulation.
Registrar General Clemence Masango told ZimLive there was no law prohibiting diacritical marks on names, but said their challenge was technical.
“For now, we can’t do it and the reasons are purely technical. The designers of the software we use probably never envisioned such kind of names,” Masango said.
Jofirasi said he was taking legal advice.
He said: “The world is changing. We now have a growing Chinese population in Zimbabwe. How will they issue birth certificates with Chinese names if they have such limitations?”
Zimbabwean citizens with a child born outside the country can obtain an external birth certificate from the Registrar General as a way of formalising the child’s citizenship.
During the application process, the parents are required to provide their passports and identity documents; the foreign birth certificate as well as an acknowledgement of paternity where there is no marriage certificate.