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This article participates on the following special index pages:
NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis
law seeks to strangle Zim's NGOs
Lorgat, Media and Communications Manager of the South African NGO Council
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe
will soon put before Parliament a Bill that will divert NGOs' attention
and energies from educating voters for the March 2005 election towards
navel-gazing and concerns about their own survival.
Copies of the Bill
have not been made available through official channels, and those who
will feel its impact most severely (NGOs) have not been approached to
comment or co-draft the new laws.
It was only when the
Bill was sent to the government printers that a copy found its way to
civil society groups. NGOs in the Southern African Development Community
(Sadc) region agree that there is no problem with regulation in itself,
but in a context of violence and human rights abuses, as is the case in
Zimbabwe, an NGO Bill can only be seen as a continuation of repression
by other means. The Mugabe government blames human rights NGOs for its
poor report card from the African Commission on Human and People's Rights.
Now, observers say,
the government is trying to target a few key NGOs and, in the process,
force compliance from the rest.
Mugabe laid bare the
intentions of the Bill when he said: "NGOs must work for the betterment
of our country and not against it. We cannot allow them to be conduits
or instruments of foreign interference in our national affairs. My government
will, during this session, introduce a Bill repealing the Private Voluntary
Organisations Act and replace it with a law that will create an NGO council,
whose thrust will be to ensure rationalisation of macro-management of
The Bill aims to neutralise
and sidetrack NGOs from doing what they should before the elections -
educating citizens to make an informed choice. It uses legal obstacles
(registration requirement, penalties, fines) to enforce regulation.
Clause 17 deals with
funding: "No local (NGO) shall receive any foreign funding or donation
to carry out activities involving governance issues," thus cutting off
the oxygen of most NGOs. The proposed NGO council will be dominated by
the government, which will directly appoint nine representatives from
various ministries including the Office of the President and Cabinet.
It then proposes "five
representatives from NGOs or associations the minister considers representative
of them". Their mandate will be "to consider a code of conduct for NGOs
... to conduct investigations into the administrations and activities
of NGOs … to take such disciplinary or other actions that may be appropriate
It prevents "foreign
NGOs" from registration if their "objects include or involve issues of
governance". Goodbye to the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa and
the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and anyone else the Zimbabwe
government does not trust to produce a tailored verdict on the election.
The NGO Bill is but
one of a host of anti-human rights legislation and practices in Zimbabwe.
Others include the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information
and Protection to Privacy Act, the Broadcasting Services Act and the Criminal
Procedure and Evidence Act. A recent analysis of the use of Posa showed
there had not been a single conviction out of 1 225 cases where arrests
had taken place under the Act.
Just weeks ago, four
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union leaders were arrested at a workshop to
report back on the following: high levels of taxation, the HIV/Aids levy,
the National Social Security Authority and the International Labour Organisation's
annual conference, held in June. They were charged under Posa and jailed
for holding the meeting without police clearance.
It was later discovered
that trade unions are exempted from seeking police clearance. The charges
were changed to "uttering words that were likely to cause despondence
and influence the overthrow of a legitimately elected government".
Media laws already
undermine free access to information and two newspapers have been banned.
The role of NGOs, community-based and faith-based organisations in elections
are recognised and respected in the Sadc region and the African Union.
But to win the March 2005 election, Zanu PF strategists have gambled that
NGOs must be neutralised through regulation - or perhaps that should read
- strangulation". - Mail & Guardian (SA).
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