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  • NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis

  • ZIMBABWE: Zimbabwean Civil Society Organisations Targeted by Draft NGO Bill
    Extracted from Civil Society Watch Action Alerts: Issue 229
    August 25, 2004

    Non-Governmental Organizations have been operating within a challenging environment for quite some time in Zimbabwe starting with the government claims in early 2003 that organizations not registered under the Private Organizations Act (PVO) were operating illegally, despite the fact that they were all registered. President Robert Mugabe in his speech when he officially opened the Fifth Session of the Fifth Parliament of Zimbabwe on 20th July, 2004 stated the following about NGOs.

    "Mr Speaker, non-governmental organizations 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 Organizations Act and replacing it with a new law that will create a Non-Governmental Organizations Council, whose thrust will be to ensure rationalization of the macro-management of all NGOs."

    What the President’s speech seems to imply is that the government of Zimbabwe regards all NGOs as working against the country. No mention is made of the enormous benefits that have accrued to the ordinary people of Zimbabwe from the work of NGOs. The President’s speech also implies that NGOs are perceived to be agents of foreign interests that have been set up to interfere in government affairs. This allegation has been used to limit democratic space for civil society in Zimbabwe in the past with the advent of pieces of repressive legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), the Access to Information and Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Media and Broadcasting Act amongst others.

    Civil Society Organisations in Zimbabwe fear that the Bill might be used by government to further clamp down on democratic civic space for Zimbabwean civil society. They are apprehensive that the Draft Bill may be used to ensure that certain NGOs are not registered, as well as to control and manage the operations of the NGOs that register under the Draft Bill.

    The Draft Bill comes in to replace the Private Voluntary Organizations Act (PVO) passed in 1995. The main criticisms levelled against the Draft Bill stem from its provisions. Section 9 of the Bill creates personal criminal sanctions against board members of organisations that are not registered, in their individual capacities. Section 10 of the Bill regulates the sources of funding for NGOs by requiring them to disclose all foreign donations.

    Section 17 of the Draft Bill is especially prohibitive as it provides that "No local NGO shall receive any foreign funding or donation to carry out activities involving or including issues of governance." The Bill defines issues of governance in its Section 2 to include the promotion and protection of human rights and political governance issues."

    Many CSOs in Zimbabwe would be deemed to be involved in governance issues such as human rights defenders and organisations involved in the political governance sphere if they are critical of government policies.

    The implication of this provision is that organisations that have in the past acted as ‘watchdogs’ of the government, and as human rights defenders will be denied any form of foreign funding. If the Draft Bill is passed and becomes a law, the translation of this within Zimbabwean civil society is that a lot of organisations may be closed down.

    The crucial role that civil society plays by providing ‘institutional checks and balances’ will be compromised. Another criticism of the Draft Bill is that it stipulates that if the state dissolves an NGO for non-fulfilment of the provisions of the Bill, it is entitled to seize the property of the concerned NGO according to Section 30. This provision then creates a loop-hole that is open to abuse as the state could use it to target the properties of NGOs that are deemed to be critical of it.

    For more information:

    • Non-Governmental Organisations Draft Bill, 2004, click here;
    • Zimbabwe publishes law to ban human rights groups, click here;
    • ZIM NGO BILL: Dangerous for Human Rights Defenders, click here;
    • Suppressing Human Rights Organisations in Zimbabwe, click here;
    • Another One Party State Effort: Zimbabwe’s Anticipated NGO legislation, click here.

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