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This article discusses how African migrant descendants have grappled with and been affected by citizenship problems in Zimbabwe. Situating itself within the broader discourses on citizenship, it uses the case of people of Malawian descent who have lived in Zimbabwe for over a century and have been ‘othered’ over citizenship rights, culminating in their disenfranchisement. It argues that the state has exploited the fluid nature of migrant identities and redefined citizenship rights on the basis of belonging, ethnicity and political affiliation. Using and doctoring inherited colonial legislation, the state has manipulated citizenship to consolidate power and marginalise the so-called ‘aliens’ or denizens, who also include second-, third- and fourth-generation Zimbabweans of Malawian descent. Despite the hope offered by the 2013 Zimbabwean Constitution, efforts to regularise the situation and accommodate migrants as full citizens remain largely insincere and contradictory. In spite of this, the descendants have persevered and have invented ways of subaltern agency, adapting and resisting the numerous challenges they have faced in a country that many regard as their home.