PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday afternoon met representatives of Zimbabwe’s civil society organisations (CSOs) at State House in Harare to discuss the contentious Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Bill which now awaits presidential assent.
The agenda of the meeting by CSOs was to persuade Mnangagwa not to sign the Bill into law. The PVO has already passed in Senate and is now being scrutinised by the Attorney-General’s office.
Information gathered by The NewsHawks shows CSO leaders from the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and Women of Zimbabwe Arise attended the meeting, while other vocal pressure groups such as Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition were conspicuous by their absence.
A tight information blackout has been imposed on the meeting and talks. There were no journalists at the State House except government spokesperson Nick Mangwana who released a few details. Mangwana, also ministry of Information permanent secretary, confirmed the meeting.
“Late afternoon HE President @edmnangagwa met and engaged with representatives of CSOs in Zimbabwe at Statehouse. The subject of the engagement was the PVO Bill which is currently being tidied up by the AG. The meeting was cordial and good natured,” Mangwana wrote on Twitter.
Critics say the proposed law has huge financial implications for Zimbabwe which stands to lose over US$1 billion in annual financial aid. CSOs and Western governments such as the United States have over the past year engaged the Zimbabwean authorities in an attempt to discourage Mnangagwa from signing the Bill — which they say is an affront to democracy — into law.
Responding to the Senate’s passing of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Amendment Bill, which now awaits Mnangagwa’s assent to become law, Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s director for East and southern Africa, recently said: “The PVO Amendment Bill in its current form threatens civic society organisations working on human rights in Zimbabwe. The proposed Bill, if it becomes law, will have dire consequences, including restricting civic space and access to humanitarian support services in Zimbabwe as it will immediately render all non-governmental organisations (NGOs), not registered as PVOs, illegal.
“This Bill, if passed by the President, could be used to deny registration of human rights organisations due to the work that they do, including defending rights such as freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. The Bill would also exacerbate the growing crackdown on civil society organisations, increase human rights violations and make it more difficult for the people to hold the government to account. There is a risk that employees and board members of NGOs could be arrested and subjected to punitive measures, including imprisonment, simply for doing their work. “President Mnangagwa must use his leadership position to reject this Bill as it is repressive. The President must ensure that this Bill is never signed into law.”
Chagutah added Zimbabwe should enact laws which are consistent with fundamental rights and international law.
“Any future law must fully reflect international human rights standards and reaffirm the country’s human rights obligations towards the promotion and protection of the human rights of everyone including those who work to defend the rights of other people. NGOs must be allowed to operate freely and to do their work without any reprisals,” Chagutah said.
On 5 November 2021, the Zimbabwean government gazetted the PVO Amendment Bill ostensibly to “counter terrorism and prohibit political lobbying from non-government organisations”.
The Bill was then presented to Parliament in June 2022, significantly toughening the initial legislation, disregarding civil society’s concerns, and imposing harsher and more repres sive clauses. The National Assembly and Senate passed it. The PVO Bill places civic organisations registered under different laws under one legislation in an attempt to control civil society perceived to be “anti-government”.
The PVO Amendment Bill is not the first attempt by the Zimbabwean authorities to restrict NGOs. The first one was made in 2004 through the Non-Governmental Organisation Bill. It was passed by Parliament, but the then president Robert Mugabe did not sign it into law.