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MISA statement on the NGO Bill in Zimbabwe
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
August 29, 2004

"Bill an excuse for intrusion, clamp down and closures of critical NGOs"

We the undersigned members and participants to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Annual General Meeting held in Maseru - Lesotho, from 26 – 27 August 2004, unreservedly condemn aspects of the Non Governmental Organizations Bill which has been gazetted in Zimbabwe, especially those clauses specifically designed to exert full and complete control over NGOs and other human rights organizations.

The impending NGO legislation will not enhance democracy in Zimbabwe, but only serve to further severely curtail people’s civil and political rights.

While acknowledging the principle of regulation, accountability and transparency in the operations of NGOs and any institution, we note with concern that the NGO Bill does not conform to democratic principles and the rights of Zimbabweans to freedom of association and assembly.

We note that the Zimbabwean constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression and assembly.

By restricting NGO activities, banning funding from outside sources, and heavily penalizing NGOs in their work, the proposed law goes beyond acceptable democratic principles and criminalizes the noble work of NGOs.

Whereas the Bill says its intention is to bring sanity in the NGO sector, MISA notes with grave concern that the registration procedures and monitoring mechanisms to be implemented by the proposed NGO Council, will result in the government’s direct interference with the work of NGOs to the extent that they cease to be NGOs but extensions of government institutions.

While the government of Zimbabwe argues that the proposed law is meant to protect public interest by ensuring that NGOs are governed and administered properly and use donor and public funds for the specific objectives for which they were established, our analysis of the draft bill proves otherwise.

This is a political gimmick designed to administratively create criminals out of civil society organizations especially human rights activists, so as to provide excuses for intrusion, clampdown and closures of NGOs.

It should be highlighted that the Government of Zimbabwe has in the past three years introduced draconian media and security laws that have led to the shrinkage of democratic space.

As a result, independent newspapers and broadcasting stations have been shut down. The Minister of Information has powers through the Media and Information Commission to license and register journalists and publishing houses.

These licences can be withdrawn if it is deemed that one is breaking the law on various spurious grounds.

We, therefore, call on all concerned SADC member states and citizens to take note of these sad developments and act against the entrenched authoritarian tendencies of the government in Zimbabwe.

We call for the repeal of all repressive legislation, namely the Public Order and Security Act, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the Broadcasting Services Act.

We resolve to support Misa-Zimbabwe and other civic society organisations in Zimbabwe in their struggle for the realisation of the ideals spelt out in the Windhoek Declaration and African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

We reaffirm the legitimate right of Misa-Zimbabwe to operate in the country and work with other democratic forces that have sought to regain public space that civil society organisations and social movements have lost since 2000.

Signed: Misa-Lesotho, Misa-South Africa, Misa-Zambia, Misa-Malawi, Misa Mozambique, Misa-Swaziland, Misa-Namibia, Misa-Botswana, Lesotho Association of Non-Governmental Organisations.

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