ZIMBABWE human rights and advocacy groups have condemned as disturbing and criminal a threat by the government to ban non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from operating in Masvingo, a threat implemented in 2012 when the authorities canceled the licences of over 50 entities.
This comes days after Zanu PF’s acting political commissar Patrick Chinamasa (pictured) threatened a ban on nearly 3 500 NGOs operating in the country, accusing them of plotting to topple the government.
This is not the first time a Zanu PF government has threatened to bar NGOs from operating in the country.
In 2004, a draconian NGO Bill was brought to Parliament which sought to prevent international organisations from working explicitly on human rights while also providing the government with direct and excessive control over civil society.
In the latest incident, Masvingo provincial development coordinator Jefter Sakupwanya raised the spectre of a ban on NGOs in Masvingo, months after the forced closure of a civil society organisation in Manicaland province.
“Please advise all Development Partners/NGOs working in youth programmes in your respective districts that they are required to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation even if they have a current MOU with the respective Rural District Councils (RDCs). Failure to comply with this directive will result in cancellation of the NGO’s authority to operate in that particular district,” Sakupwanya wrote in a memo dated 21 June addressed to district development coordinators in the province.
In April 2021, the government banned Connect, a family therapy and counselling services organisation based in Mutasa district, Manicaland.
Deputy Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation minister Tinoda Machakaire on Wednesday professed ignorance over the threat to deregister NGOs in Masvingo unless they sign new MOUs.
“I am not aware of this,” Machakaire said when asked whether this is a national exercise to re-register all NGOs.
Farai Maguwu, the founding director of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance, condemned threats to ban NGOs operating in Masvingo, saying it is an attempt by the government to close the democratic space.
“The most notable thing in this memo is that it does not cite any constitutional provision. It does not cite any legislation or Act of Parliament that compels the ministry to demand these MOUs from NGOs. That simply tells you that it’s a political memo that is meant to silence NGO’s, especially those working in the human rights sector,” Maguwu said.
“It is criminal. It is illegal. It is unconstitutional to do all those things.”
CNRG has on several occasions clashed with the government over plans to evict villagers from their communities to pave the way for mining operations.
As recently as this week, CNRG threatened court action to stop a Chinese mining company from exploring for coal in family graveyards in the Dinde area of Hwange district in Matabeleland North province.
Khumbulani Maphosa, the coordinator of the Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) added: “It is unfortunate that we are seeing such kinds of memos at a time when we need a strong government and civil society partnership in order to enhance the protection of the rights of the people. A few years ago, we saw a lot of organisations being banned from operating there…”
In 2012, the then Masvingo governor, Titus Maluleke, banned more than 50 local and international NGOs from operating in the province after accusing them of being pro-opposition.
“These are clear signs that we are now approaching elections. They know that NGOs will do civic education, voter registration, voter mobilisation and they are trying by all means to suppress that voice,” noted Mbuso Fuzwayo, the coordinator of Ibhetshu LikaZulu, a Bulawayo-based civil society group known for pushing for redress of the Gukurahundi massacres.
The late President Robert Mugabe repeatedly threatened to ban NGOs from observing national elections, a threat he implemented in 2008 a few weeks before the presidential run-off election.
Mugabe banned the NGOs when he was defeated in the first round of voting by the late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai after accusing civil society of supporting the opposition.
The ban was lifted after he was re-elected in an election boycotted by Tsvangirai citing widespread violence and murder of his supporters.
“The operations of the government against NGOs are consistent with the DNA of Zanu PF. It cannot accept any dissenting opinions to operate in the country. It seeks to silence them and to come down on democratic opposition and all alternative voices,” analyst Effie Ncube said.
“Additionally, this is a message to the world that Zanu PF will always be Zanu PF; Zanu PF will not change. Zanu PF’s respect for human rights and democratic governance are inconsistent. They cannot co-exist.”
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