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Zimbabwean civil society under acute threat, says CIVICUS during visit
April 15, 2007

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Kumi Naidoo, CIVICUS Secretary General, and Clare Doube, Manager of CIVICUS' Civil Society Watch programme visited Zimbabwe from 13 to 16 April to offer solidarity and support, and to deepen their understanding of the challenges faced by the country's embattled, yet courageous civil society.

In their meetings with civil society activists, including church leaders, unions and non-governmental organisations, Naidoo and Doube were told of growing limitations on civil society's vital work, as well as mounting violations of citizens' fundamental rights to freely express themselves and gather peacefully.

"While Saturday's prayer meeting in Bulawayo was fortunately allowed to proceed without police interference, this was definitely an exception to recent practice," said Naidoo, who spoke at Saturday's peaceful meeting organised by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign and Christian Alliance. "The increasing restrictions on civil society action in Zimbabwe severely hamper citizen participation in making a turn for the better," he said.

Civil society organisations told Naidoo and Doube about a slanted new government report which attempts to criminalise legitimate civil society activity. Opposition Forces in Zimbabwe: A Trail of Violence falsely claims that a "Broad Alliance" of organisations - including CIVICUS partners Christian Alliance, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Women of Zimbabwe Arise - have led a campaign inciting violence and promoting regime change.

The report unjustifiably states, "The Broad Alliance's defiance campaign for regime change and overthrow of the democratically elected Government of Zimbabwe has resulted in a plethora of criminal activities and political violence in the country."

Naidoo and Doube also asked their fellow civic activists for suggestions of how civil society and governments in Africa, and more broadly, can best materialise solidarity and support for civil society in Zimbabwe.

"We Africans should not sit back and see the people of Zimbabwe sinking deeper and deeper into poverty and desperation every day," said Naidoo. "During South Africa's struggle, cross-border solidarity was extremely important. Now that we are enjoying democracy, it is our and every African's responsibility to respond to the plight of fellow Africans, in this case the people of Zimbabwe."

The visit of Doube and Naidoo follows a series of activities by CIVICUS in support of civil society in Zimbabwe. Most recently, CIVICUS and the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition coordinated the first ever African-led civil society solidarity visit to Zimbabwe from 26 November to 1 December 2006.

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