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Tightening the noose: Narrowing the democratic space for NGOs in Zimbabwe
Noria Mashumba & Chris Maroleng
September 24, 2004

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The Zimbabwean government will shortly promulgate new legislation intended to monitor and regulate the operations of non-governmental organisations in that country. Some analysts see the proposed legislation as a tactic to further marginalise, and eventually purge altogether, NGOs and civic organisations that are likely to threaten the political hegemony of the ruling party, particularly before the crucial 2005 parliamentary election. It is anticipated that this Bill will primarily target civic movements involved in the field of democracy, good governance and human rights. Should the legislation be passed, it will certainly threaten the survival of NGOs and place independent human rights activists at risk.

While draconian legislation already in effect, such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act

(AIPPA), already restrict the effective functioning of civil society organisations, the proposed NGO Bill will provide the government with broad powers, which will allow it to, in certain circumstances, halt the operations of NGOs altogether. This will be achieved in a number of ways, including burdensome registration procedures and tight control on access to foreign funds, as well as contacts with international organisations.

While the Bill purports to "provide an enabling environment for the operations, monitoring, and regulation of all non-governmental organizations," it will in effect place NGOs under effective government control, undermining their independence. President Mugabe, in his opening address to Parliament, gave some indication of the reasons behind the proposed Bill by saying said that NGOs needed to be controlled because they interfered in politics, and that ‘we cannot allow them (NGOs) to be conduits or instruments of foreign interference in our national affairs.1

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights argues that this new law is motivated by a number of factors, including a desire by government to restrict democratic space, reduce scrutiny of its human rights record and further limit enjoyment of universally recognised rights and fundamental freedoms by the people of Zimbabwe. In addition, the organization considers that the proposed bill will in effect create a ‘black out’ of regional and international news on Zimbabwe reinforcing an uneven playing field in matters of political governance and thereby maintain the status quo.2

1. "Mugabe to tighten security screws", Business Day, 21 July 2004.
2. Arnold Tsunga and Tafadzwa Mugabe, Zimbabwe NGO Bill: Dangerous For human rights defenders, ZLHR, 2004

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