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  • NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis

  • ZIMBABWE: Peace building NGO could face closure
    IRIN News
    August 31, 2004

    HARARE - In Zimbabwe's current political climate, peace building and conflict management would seem to be two fruitful areas of work, but most NGOs have shied away from the subject.

    Few are publicly linked to activities that recognise the problems associated with political violence between the ruling ZANU-PF and its opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

    One exception is the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust (ZIMCET), which has been working towards the consolidation of peace since January 2000 by establishing non-partisan local peace committees that spearhead peace education and conflict management at community level.

    Now ZIMCET is uncertain about its future. Impending legislation that seeks to deny registration to NGOs receiving foreign funding for "promotion and protection of human rights and political governance issues", could force it to shut down.

    According to the government, the proposed legislation would ensure that NGOs were governed and administered properly, and used donor and public funds for the purpose for which they were established, but critics allege the bill will result in a clampdown on civil society.

    ZIMCET director David Chimhini told IRIN that "there is a general sentiment that ZIMCET's offices might possibly have to close" in the near future, as their work is financed largely by organisations based overseas.

    ZIMCET advisor Terrance Ncube (not his real name) said that although the government was "generally supportive", it closely monitored the NGO's operations.

    "The communities clearly indicated to us that their main problem was state-sponsored political violence," said Chimhini, who also insisted that conflict "never comes from one side only."

    Initially, ZIMCET was active in the fields of election monitoring and voter education, but the focus of its work changed after Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections were won by ZANU-PF in June 2000, when the NGO recognised a need for peacekeeping and conflict management.

    "With the land reform came the deterioration of the economic situation and, with that, a polarisation in the society between ZANU-PF and MDC," explained Ncube. He felt the country's economic problems and the prevalence of violence were interrelated: "People without jobs are easier to mobilise and influence politically," he said.

    To re-establish a culture of tolerance, transparency and participation, ZIMCET started forming local peace committees composed of a number of stakeholders, such as representatives from ZANU-PF, MDC, police, women's organisations, and traditional, church and youth leaders.

    Peace committees are trained in conflict management and go through a team-building process to foster cooperation among themselves. While ZIMCET facilitators initially play a crucial role in setting up and guiding a committee, they eventually retreat to a solely supervisory position. The committee ultimately "owns" the programme and runs it independently of ZIMCET.

    The committee usually takes preventive as well as corrective measures in areas of conflict and discusses problems until consensus is reached between all stakeholders. "It is a long, long process," admitted Ncube.

    A ZIMCET-led peace committee intervened successfully in Masvingo, where political violence broke out in February and March 2004, ahead of the provincial elections. The committee called on candidates of both ZANU-PF and MDC to publicly denounce violence, said Chimhini. As a result, pre-election violence decreased drastically.

    In another instance, police tried to shut down peace committee meetings in Bulawayo, arguing that its members "talked politics". Chimhini said in the past such an event would have easily led to violence and counter-violence, but three representatives of the committee - one from ZANU-PF, one from MDC and a war veteran - met with the head of the local police station to explain the non-partisan nature of the peace committee and since then, peace committees in Bulawayo have been allowed to meet without restriction.

    The NGO is careful not to force its programme on people. "It is for the community to decide if they are interested in a peace programme. If they deny that there is a problem, you cannot force them - you cannot be more concerned than they are themselves," Ncube explained.

    In some communities Ncube preferred not to name, ZIMCET had failed to set up peace committees - facilitators have had to discontinue their work, although they still monitored violence and made a fresh approach to the leaders every few months.

    ZIMCET has 44 fully operational peace committees, four regional branches in Matabeleland, Mashonaland, Midlands region and Manicaland, with its administrative headquarters in Harare. Chimhini hopes that if ZIMCET's operations are shut down, the peace committees will be empowered enough to continue their work.

    Ngube estimated it would take another two or three years before all the committees could work completely independently, but maintained that "the fact that we managed to establish these committees alone is a success."

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