The nation's last white leader, former Prime Minister Ian D. Smith, said Wednesday that the government stripped him of his Zimbabwean citizenship and passport.
Smith, 82, the prime minister of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known before independence in 1980, said authorities in Harare refused to renew his passport, leaving him stateless.
"They have canceled my nationality. It is illegal, and I'm not going to let them get away with it," Smith said by telephone from his home in Harare, the capital.
Smith said officials at the Harare passport office refused to meet with him after informing him that his passport was not being renewed ahead of a scheduled trip to Britain and the United States next week.
Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo denied that the government had stripped Smith of his citizenship, saying he was free to stay in Zimbabwe pending the normalization of his citizenship status.
"In terms of the laws of Zimbabwe, if one or both parents are born outside the country, you need to renounce your right to the citizenship of their country of birth," Nkomo said. "I understand he has not done that yet. He can still do that, but while he is doing that he is not entitled to a Zimbabwean passport."
Several appellate cases on citizenship rights are pending in the courts.
Smith, whose father was a wealthy Scottish immigrant, was born in Rhodesia and headed the white minority government after his Rhodesia Front Party severed ties with Britain, the former colonial power, in 1965.
He said he renounced claims to British citizenship in 1984 but did not renounce again last year under new rules passed by President Robert Mugabe's ruling party that ban dual citizenship.
Under the new law, even those who did not possess foreign passports were required to renounce all rights to foreign nationality. By ignoring it, Smith was still entitled to British nationality through his British-born father.
Critics of the government said the stricter rules were intended to frighten whites worried about their future status in Zimbabwe during a violent campaign to seize white-owned farms that erupted before June 2000 elections and continued amid a presidential ballot this month.
The government said at least 5,000 whites who retained foreign citizenship rights were disqualified from voting in the March 9-11 election.
About 60,000 whites comprise less than half a percent of the nation's 13 million people.
Smith said he was able to cast his vote in the poll using a national identity card showing him as a citizen born in the country.
Mugabe was declared the winner against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, amid political violence and allegations of vote rigging.
Mugabe has frequently said that he left Smith free to live in the country and tolerated his criticisms of the government as part of his reconciliation policy.