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NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis
Peace building NGO could face closure
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
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
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
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,"
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,"
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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