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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis

  • Another One Party State Effort: Zimbabwe’s Anticipated NGO legislation
    Brian Kagoro, Chairperson, Crisis in Zimbabwe
    July 28, 2004

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    "Some NGOs and churches are causing too much confusion in the country because they are converting their humanitarian programmes into politics" , Paul Mangwana, the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare.

    Several issues have dominated the Zimbabwean political conversation over the last two decades. These range from the state ideology and one-party state debates of the 1980s; the justifications of neo-liberalism in the late 1980s; the constitutional debates of the 1990s to the land and democracy debates of the last decade. Many of the debates and issues have centred on the person and office of the presidency and recently the MDC. Zimbabwean political conversation has placed an enormous premium on politics. Tragically our national politics has largely enacted in moral or ethical vacuum. State politics has rampantly replicated itself in the non-state sector as evidenced by instances of misgovernance recorded in several CSOs.

    Clearly, to begin with, political domination has to be secured as a political victory. A political victory initially has to be secured with public relations. A public relations victory cannot be secured until it has been secured in and with a sense of justice and justification. One does not need to agree with the Government of Zimbabwe’s (Goz) arguments for the control of civic space and actors. The argument for increased supervision and surveillance has great appeal to those within the establishment and simplistic minds who presume good faith on the part of government. Notably the arguments that are likely to be forwarded for this intrusion on democracy are not rooted in power, guns or pity, but some logic that has a pseudo-moral base.

    Throughout Zimbabwe’s history dictatorships have committed unrivalled evil in conjunction with a sense of moral right. Authoritarianism often gains support for its actions by justifying a supposedly moral position to the mass of the people often at the expense of truth and integrity.

    The land issue, food insecurity, human rights violations and political violence have dominated national conversation for the last decade. These issues have collectively defined both domestic and international perspectives on the Zimbabwean question. Resultantly the Zimbabwean question is perhaps the most verbalized and yet misunderstood African political subject. It is not the intention of this paper to unravel this complex question but rather to critically analyse one core component of the Zimbabwean crisis, namely state-civil society relations. This paper suggests that state-civil society relations are a microcosm of a broader political crisis. In part, the analysis proffered herein might also apply with equal force to civic-military relations for instance.

    Available data suggests that between three to four million Zimbabweans will need food aid this year. At least one-in-four Zimbabweans are HIV positive and the prevalence rate seems constant if not on the increase. The country churns in excess of 350 000 high school leavers each year and these join the reserve army of the unemployed. Current figures suggest that 75% of our nation is unemployed in an economy that is likely to continue experiencing shrinkage.

    The Reserve Bank’s new monetary policy is unlikely - in the absence of other measures - to address the broader structural crisis in Zimbabwe. There is urgent need to rationalize fiscal and monetary policies. Many homesteads are unable to afford basic foodstuffs such as bread, cooking oil, sugar, salt and maize meal. Their menial wages are unable to keep pace with inflation and the skyrocketing cost of living.

    The enormity of the above challenges has obscured crucial components of national conversation regarding the specific role of civil society. In the fluid political situation prevailing in Zimbabwe CSOs are expected to act as both a watchdog over the political protagonists and as a safety net for the millions of Zimbabweans living below the poverty datum line (PDL).

    This discussion paper specifically focuses on the pending NGO legislation and the opportunities and dangers it poses. The writer trusts that this is a subject of equal interest to development, governance, local, regional and international CSO leaders. Indeed, as it should be to leaders of various social movements and common law universitas.

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