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Threats Against NGOs: Is The Civic Space Closing Again?

By Aleck Murimigwa

In recent weeks, the Zanu PF-led government has threatened non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are operating in the country, accusing them of plotting to remove it from power, through what is often referred to as ‘’regime change agenda’’.

Zanu PF party’s acting Political Commissar Patrick Chinamasa, without any shred of evidence, alleged that civil society organisations are funding the main opposition party, MDC Alliance in a bid to topple the government.

“Foreign funding of opposition political parties by foreign intelligence services and NGOs which are anything but civil is clearly calculated to undermine the orderly evolution of our political, economic and judicial systems and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms,” said Patrick Chinamasa, during a press briefing.

“All of them are employed to achieve regime change in Zimbabwe and we condemn it…”

Barely a week later, Chinamasa’s compatriot and Harare Provincial Development Coordinator Tafadzwa Muguti issued a statement demanding civil society organisations to submit work plans and work activities to his office.

Muguti accused some NGOs of diverting from their original work setting a precedent and justification to close civil society organisations. 

“It has been noted with a high degree of concern that many organisations operating in Harare Metropolitan Province, in particular NGOs, have been straying from mandates stated in their respective Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs),” read part of the letter from Muguti.

“Suffice to say that such behavior represents a breach of Memorandum of Agreement and should not be allowed to manifest further. In view of the foregoing, all NGOs have hereby directed those operations and clearance of NGOs are now domiciled with the PDC.”

Warning shots have been fired and those who are familiar with Zimbabwe’s political climate know what follows.

This is a worrying trend forming under President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration which likes the “New Dispensation’’ moniker.

It is evident that the government is now going after NGOs whose work ideally thrives in an open civic space.

Demanding Ngo’s work plans, and fine details of their operations is well calculated to clip wings of civil society whose work is often perceived as anti-government.

Educating people to be economical, politically, and socially conscious is presumed to be anti-government in Zimbabwe.

The majority of Ngo’s work oscillates around educating the citizenry about their constitutional rights. 

The return of Zimbabwe’s National Youth Service, in the run up to the 2023 elections, revives memories of the Green Bombers, or Border Gezi oriented youths. 

These are violent militant youths who wait for an assignment.

It is not the first time the Zanu PF led government has issued threats against civil society organisations.

Sometime in 2019, in the wake of a spate of arrests and abductions of trade unionists, civil society members and political activists, European Union (EU) Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, said, “the civil society is not an opponent but an ally in development.”

The Zanu PF led government has been traditionally fighting civil society organisations in its attempt to close the civic space.

High court judges, lawyers and journalists continue to face difficulties in discharging their duties.

In May this year, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi accused some High Court judges of being captured by foreign forces. This followed a court decision that nullified President Mnangagwa’s extension of Chief Justice Luke Malaba’s term of office by another five years.

Renowned human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, was harassed by police officers at Harare Magistrates Court sometime late last year.

Human rights defender and MDC Alliance activist, Makomborero Haruzivishe, was sentenced to 14 months in prison after he was convicted of whistling in Harare. The state alleged that by whistling, Haruzivishe incited people to commit public violence.  

Recently, New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Moyo was imprisoned for three weeks before he was released on ZW$5000 bail.

The state alleged that Moyo assisted two New York Times and US based journalists to get accreditation outside the parameters of the law.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) recorded over 50 cases of press freedom violations in the past 12 months.  This clearly indicates a closed civic space.

All this paints a gloomy picture of Zimbabwe’s civic space under the new dispensation and goes against the constitutional provisions that provide for the NGOs establishment.

Section 58 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees “every person the right to freedom of assembly and association, and the right to assemble or associate with others.”

Section 64 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe stresses that, “every person has the right to choose and carry on any profession, trade or occupation, but the practice of a profession, trade or occupation may be regulated by law.”

The two above sections read together lay the ground for the establishment of a non-governmental organisation.

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