Back to Index
This article participates on the following special index pages:
NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis
NGO Bill: A defining moment for the Church and Civic Society
Together for Justice and Peace (CTJP)
Christians Together for Justice and Peace, stand in solidarity with
all those churches and church and civic groups which have expressed
their abhorrence of the Non Governmental Organisation Bill. We support
those numerous groups of lawyers, journalists, human rights activists
and freedom-loving people in Zimbabwe and around the world who have
condemned the NGO Bill as unconstitutional and anti-democratic.
the contents of the Bill may be "dressed up" to look respectable
and its stated objective is to provide "an enabling environment"
for the operations, monitoring and regulation of all non-governmental
organisations, we discern in this Bill a deeply sinister purpose,
and that is to disable all NGO’s which the ruling party perceives
to represent a threat to their continuing, brutal, hold on power.
we note the outlawing under clause 17 of any overseas funding for
local NGO’s concerned with "issues of governance", which
are defined to include the promotion or protection of human rights
and political governance issues. This no doubt includes the
monitoring of torture and other gross human rights abuses perpetrated
by the present regime. It also presumably includes anything to do
with constitutional issues and the conduct of elections. In short,
in the very areas in which the motives of the ruling party are most
suspect, the Bill seeks to proscribe the invaluable part hitherto
played by NGO’s in monitoring abuses and exposing wrong doing.
Bill is all about control, the iron hand of control which a deeply
unpopular administration seeks to assert over one of the last remaining
democratic spaces in this country. We note that the proposed
all-powerful NGO Council which is the chosen agent of that control
is composed of members either appointed or at least approved by
a government minister. There can be no pretence of objectivity
here, nor of any genuine desire to regulate NGO’s for the benefit
of those millions of Zimbabweans who have come to depend on them
heavily for their well-being; even for their survival.
NGO Council is given sweeping powers, not only over the registration
process, but to investigate the activities of NGO’s and apply disciplinary
measures as it deems fit - including the cancellation and amendment
of registration certificates, removal and replacement of NGO members
and disposal of assets. Furthermore, the right of appeal against
any decision of the Council lies with the government minister who
appointed and directs the affairs of the Council.
therefore, under this draconian measure the ruling party seeks to
take control of all NGOs and NGO activities across the land - including
the right to close down or refuse registration to any groups whose
work takes them into fields which the party finds inconvenient or
embarrassing. To ensure the total subservience of the whole
NGO sector the ruling party has appointed themselves policeman,
prosecutor and judge in all matters.
passing, we note also the huge administrative and financial burden
which this Bill imposes on those NGO’s which comply, both in relation
to the registration process and also the reporting and accounting
required by Council, time and money thereby diverted from the needs
of those whom NGO’s are there to serve.
definition of a "non-government organisation" is so wide
as to include virtually any group involved in humanitarian, relief
or development work, and a great deal besides. All are subjected
to the requirement to register and any group proceeding without
a registration certificate is committing a criminal offence.
At one stroke, therefore, save with the approval of the ruling party,
all the humanitarian, relief and social upliftment work carried
on hitherto by churches and NGO’s across the length and breadth
of Zimbabwe, is criminalized.
Bill, therefore, represents not only a savage assault on the civil
liberties of all Zimbabweans but a grievous blow to the increasing
number who have come to depend on the NGO’s and church-related organisations
for a wide variety of services, from health and education to emergency
feeding schemes, as the services provided by the state continue
to decline. Those who will suffer most will again be the most
vulnerable members of our society who are already living at, or
below, the bread line.
are we deceived by what might appear to be a concession to the churches.
Under clause 2 of the Bill and among the activities exempted
from the general definition of an NGO, is the following:
"any religious body in respect of activities confined to religious
work". The difficulty here is what is implied by the
term "religious work". According to the Church’s
own self-understanding religious work is bound to include works
of charity and compassion and much more besides in the way
of empowering men and women to reach their God-given potential.
the ruling party’s oft-stated view that the churches should confine
themselves to purely "spiritual" matters, we doubt whether
the minister appointed by Mugabe to administer the Bill will subscribe
to such a broad definition of our core activities. Indeed it may
be that the minister will have in mind no more than what Christians
do in worship for an hour or two on Sunday mornings.
short we find ourselves confronted here by a provocative piece of
legislation which threatens to remove completely the Church’s freedom
to respond to human need in accordance with the Gospel imperative.
In essence the Bill seeks to substitute the permission of the state
for a mandate given by God himself. It raises the question
whether the Church needs the permission of the state to be the Church,
and our answer to that question can only be a resounding "No."
divine mandate to which the Scriptures bear witness, is "to
loose the fetters of injustice, and untie the knots of the yoke,
and set free those who are oppressed, tearing off every yoke".
(Isaiah 58:6). Upon this, our God-given mission, we cannot compromise.
We will not accept any restrictions imposed by the state on this
our divine mandate. If what we do in obedience to our Christian
calling makes us criminals in Zimbabwe, so be it; that is only a
measure of how far from the ways of God our rulers have taken this
the underlying purpose of the NGO Bill is to take even greater control
over people’s lives. The essence of the Church’s mission on
the other hand is to set men and women free. (See Jesus’ own
mission manifesto for example in Luke 4:18-19). By moving to enact
this oppressive measure the ruling party has set itself on a collision
course with the Church, as well as with civic society. It
would be possible, of course, for the Church to try to avoid confrontation
by applying to register in respect of its humanitarian work.
in our view, that would amount to a betrayal of our Christian vocation
and also to legitimizing of the ruling party’s attempt to usurp
the place of God. We cannot therefore take the path of compromise.
It is of this regime’s doing entirely that the claims of God and
of Caesar are now in conflict, and in this situation we can do no
other than say to our rulers, with St Peter and the apostles: "We
must obey God rather than men". (Acts 5:29)
is surely a defining moment for the Church. We know we shall
be judged by our response " whether active or passive"
to this pernicious piece of legislation. It is our prayer
that the challenge will not find us wanting, and our hope that the
Church and civic society will act as one in rejecting outright this
vain attempt by the ruling party to usurp the place of God.
Visit the CTJP
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.