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This article participates on the following special index pages:
NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis
we abhor NGO's Bill
Christian Together for Justice and Peace (CTJP)
October 17, 2004
WE, Christians Together
for Justice and Peace, stand in solidarity will all those churches and
church and civic groups which have expressed their abhorrence of the NGOs
(Non-governmental organisations) 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.
Although the contents
of the Bill may be "dressed up" to look respectable and its stated objectives
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 as a threat to their continuing, brutal hold
Specifically, 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.
The Bill is all about
control - 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.
The 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
under this draconian measure the ruling party seeks to take control of
all NGO's and NGO activities across the land, including the right to close
down or refuse registration to any groups whose work takes subservience
of the whole NGO sector the ruling party have appointed themselves policeman,
prosecutor and judge in all matters.
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.
The 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 breadth of Zimbabwe, is
This 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.
Nor 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 else beside in the way of empowering men and women
to reach their God-given potential. Given the ruling party's oft-stated
view that the churches should confine themselves to purely "spiritual"
matters, we doubt whether the minister appointed by President 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.
In 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
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 nation.
the CTJP fact sheet
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