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ZIMBABWE: NGOs slam moves to introduce tighter controls
July 19, 2004

JOHANNESBURG - Civil rights groups in Zimbabwe on Monday slammed moves to introduce a new bill that will give the government greater control over the operations of NGOs and churches.

The Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) and Churches Bill is expected to be tabled in the coming parliamentary session.

"Some NGOs and churches are causing confusion in the country because they are converting their humanitarian programmes into politics," Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister, Paul Mangwana, told the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper earlier.

"The government cannot allow that to happen, so we are saying they should come under scrutiny, where we revise all the modalities of their operations in the country. [Failing] that, we are going to simply close all the doors and not allow them in this country any more, because the bill will set out a code of conduct which they will be expected to stick to," he was quoted as saying.

According to Brian Kagoro, chief executive of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a group of pro-democracy NGOs, the proposed law will make it illegal for hundreds of human rights groups and community organisations to continue to operate as trusts, answerable only to boards of trustees and members.

"The bill is part of a total strategy to close the last crevices of democratic opinion. This is an assault on NGOs under the guise of protecting national sovereignty. All these additional constraints will make it nearly impossible for NGOs to operate in Zimbabwe," he told IRIN.

Over the past three years NGOs have come under increasing fire, with the authorities accusing them of promoting foreign interests and supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

In September 2002 the government ordered NGOs to register under the Private Voluntary Organisations Act, a law that was lambasted by rights activists.

General secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, Densen Mafinyani, commented: "There are many NGOs in Zimbabwe who have concentrated their efforts solely within the humanitarian field. However, there are some NGOs who have gone and mixed humanitarian work with politics - it is because of this that the government reacts in such a harsh manner."

Mafinyani said it was still unclear how the proposed law would affect the operations of church organisations in Zimbabwe.

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