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Independence Day threat to Zimbabwean civil society
April 17, 2007

The statement by the Zimbabwe Minister of Information threatening to revoke the registration of every non-governmental organisation operating in the country is a severe blow to already beleaguered citizens and civil society groups, says CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation. Ironically, this statement came just two days before Zimbabwe's Independence Day.

"27 years after Zimbabwe welcomed democracy and justice, the current government has marked this Independence Day by clamping down on peaceful NGOs - the same organisations that work to protect human rights, reduce poverty and encourage the betterment of Zimbabwean society, said Clare Doube, Manager of CIVICUS' Civil Society Watch programme. "Rather than engaging these active and passionate citizens in ending the current economic and social crisis, the government is attempting to silence them."

According to reports, Minister of Information Sikhanyiso Ndlovu made the announcement at a meeting of ruling party supporters in Bulawayo on Monday.

"While the threat is deeply disturbing, as far as I'm concerned, it was just a statement which has no legal basis. If the government wanted to revoke registration they would have to create a legal instrument. So far they have not done this," said Jacob Mafume, Coordinator of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition based in Harare.

The same day Minister Ndlovu made this statement, Doube and CIVICUS Secretary General, Kumi Naidoo returned from Zimbabwe, where they had spoken with representatives of NGOs, trade unions and church groups. Naidoo and Doube were told about the deepening poverty in the country, and the ongoing limitations on civil society activities, including the right for citizens to freely express themselves and gather peacefully.

On Saturday, Naidoo spoke at a peaceful prayer meeting organised by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign and Christian Alliance at St. Patrick's Church in Makokopa, a suburb of Bulawayo - the first public meeting since the brutally repressed 11 March gathering in Harare.

"While Saturday's prayer meeting in Bulawayo was fortunately allowed to proceed without police interference, this was definitely an exception to recent practice. The increasing restrictions on civil society action in Zimbabwe severely hamper citizen participation in making a turn for the better," said Naidoo.

In another recent attack on civil society, the Government of Zimbabwe has released a report prepared by the Zimbabwe Police attempting to criminalise legitimate civil society activity. Opposition Forces in Zimbabwe: A Trail of Violence falsely claims that 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, available on the Home Affairs website, 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."

During their visit, 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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