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  • NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis

  • The threat to NGOs
    *Mike Davies
    August 12, 2004

    The following represents my personal views and does not reflect the official position of CHRA

    The debate about the NGO Bill and the threat from the so-called 'government' raise a number of issues.

    It appears that a number of players in civil society seek to come to terms with the impending threat to ourselves and our organizations. Such 'engagement' ignores or marginalizes the reality of the political situation in our country. While civil society obviously embraces a range of players from all political persuasions involved in the whole gamut of social issues that occupy the public conversation of the day, the sectoral issue-based concerns of the majority of organizations mitigate against an holistic and strategic analysis of the Zimbabwean Crisis in its manifest reality.

    A collaborationist approach characterizes a number of CSOs who rationalize their engagement with the regime by an over-riding concern with the continuing implementation of their own sectoral programmes. This stance is predicated on the assumption of a legitimate engagement process with a lawful government. Such an assumption is in wilful contradiction of the truth of Zimbabwe today. Our once vibrant civil society has been systematically emasculated in the last five years. Not only by the regime's oppression but also by institutionalisation and bureaucratisation, by donor-driven programmes, by incessant workshopping, by leashing of activists into management roles, by employees more concerned with job benefits than social justice, by the proliferation of NGOs and the consequent fragmentation of civil society.

    All this has resulted in the creation of a salaried super-class of well-fed, well-shod civil society chefs who are very comfortable in their 4x4s, flitting from workshop to conference, air-conditioned and increasingly divorced from the daily misery of ordinary Zimbabweans. And when the heat gets too hot to handle, there's always the option of overseas study or moving on up the food chain into a regional post or, even better, to a Western capital. After all, civil society is the only growth industry in Zimbabwe today, one that offers endless opportunities to civsoc chefs who will play the game, keeping the donors sweet, and not rock the boat too much. (A little noise is okay but no shouting, please). Who in their right mind would want to end the crisis? Why then we might have to get off the gravy train and find proper jobs! What horror!

    It is becoming increasingly apparent that the collaborationist elements in civil society involved in health, environmental, gender or other supposedly non-political sectors will distance themselves from the more overtly political NGOs involved in human rights issues like media, governance, accountability and seek an accommodation with the regime that allows them to continue feeding at the trough. Issues of solidarity or conscience will be secondary to narrow self-interest. As seen in our recent history, united we may possibly stand but divided we will certainly fall. Already we have had attempts by NANGO to develop a code of conduct that attempts to impose self-regulatory constraints on NGOs, in effect, trying to do the regime's job for them!

    Civil society's growth is in inverse proportion to the success of government. It is the failure of the mugabe-occupied state to deliver that has prompted Zimbabweans to seek mechanisms outside the state through which they can achieve their diverse goals. For us to then engage with the 'failed' state to regulate and enfeeble ourselves is ludicrous.

    At a time when we need solidarity, we have division. When we need to focus on the big picture, we have blinkered sectoral-based myopia. By year-end, the voices of Amani, NCA, Crisis, Civnet, MMPZ, MISA and others will fall silent but mugabe will still have the chastened voices of others to permit the claim that civil society continues to exist. The shell will remain long after the substance has gone. And as with parliament and the judiciary, the tyrant will be able to point to the remnants and claim that everything is alright since civil society still 'functions'.

    It is time that civil society puts its house in order. The Crisis Coalition must carry out an audit of its members to determine just exactly who they are, what they are doing and who is running them. Crisis has been useful in articulating the elements of the crisis to the region and beyond but it is in danger of becoming what we never intended - a super-NGO sucking up resources at the expense of other organisations while intellectualising and objectifying the crisis. Even when lip service is paid to the principles of the Crisis Coalition, member CSOs appear to be more concerned with the perpetuation of their organisations than any 'solution' to the crisis.

    Even a cursory analysis of civil society is depressing:

    The trade unions which formed the backbone of the democratic movement in the nineties appear to have retreated into a corporatist passivity which allows the regime's fraudulent creations like the ZFTU to appear to be championing the rights of workers. The ZCTU must counter this development, not by engaging in pointless debate with the regime but by enunciating a clear strategy that rejects the illegitimate cabal and encourages workers to disengage from interaction with the regime or its minions at every level from the workplace to social arenas. The ZCTU should highlight issues like the theft of taxes (e.g. misuse for party activities; funding of militias; promoting a chauvinistic, partisan agenda, etc) and pension funds by the regime (primarily through economic mismanagement), the fiascos of NSSA and the para-statals, ad nauseam. Such issue-based actions must feed into the larger aim: the restoration of legitimate government and the return of the State to the people.

    Likewise, the NCA needs to accept that its single issue approach must include broader cooperation with others. Institutional members of the NCA are sidelined and rarely consulted. The initially encouraging efforts of CSO leaders in November 2003 to forge a practical and activist front seem to have resulted in increased fragmentation and individual withdrawal.

    The Women's Coalition has been actively involved in the legitimisation of the regime; in particular its 11 February march against rape which gave a platform to the regime's puppet Makwavarara and laid the ground for the fascist actions of the regime against homeless people that ensued shortly after. Other organisations could be named to support this view of CSOs which refuse to tackle the fundamental questions raised by the crisis in our country, preferring to keep their eyes and heads down while others fight for the freedoms which would actually improve their chances of success.

    The MDC which was formed by civil society to contest directly for political power has taken on a life of its own as a conventional political party locked into parliamentary procedures, despite the fact that parliament itself has no legitimacy. The MDC can only speak as a partisan body whilst it remains focussed on parliamentary power. The truth is that most Zimbabweans are tired of politics and just want an end to the crisis. The danger is that such disillusion will equate with apathy and a low turnout at the polls.

    While many elements of the MDC retain credibility as civil society leaders, many office bearers appear to be part of problem, with an unhealthy concern for personal position and power. While recognizing the efforts of those individuals who have taken the struggle into Parliament, their very presence in that building lends legitimacy to the regime who can claim that parliamentary democracy is alive and well. Since the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2000 and 2002 were fraudulent, then what are the MDC doing engaging in a process that is the result of those massive deceits?

    Enough with the critique; what is the way forward?

    Firstly a clear understanding of the political reality in Zimbabwe. We do NOT have a government, a president, a judiciary, a parliament, a police service, a city council or any of the institutions of representative democracy established under our constitution. Rather we have the shadows of these things, feeble ghosts whose substance has been eviscerated by a small clique of Zimbabweans who have taken over the State through a combination of electoral fraud and criminal activity, underlined by the monopolisation of some supposed ideological legitimacy bestowed by liberationist credentials.

    This conception of the theft of the State must enlighten our collective consciousness and be the bedrock upon which we build our strategies to restore legitimate government in Zimbabwe.

    Secondly we must recognize the diversity of Zimbabweans and embrace the plurality of our people. We should avoid ideological debate: this is not about social or liberal democracy, about access to resources or any of the 'normal' concerns of political discourse. It is about the very right to engage in such discourse, free from threats to our physical existence. As such, we must suspend our ideological concerns whilst searching for an over-arching confederacy that will allow united action to wrest the state back from the criminals who have occupied its institutions. We desperately need a broad activist coalition of all those opposed to the regime: from anarchists to capitalists, Christians to pagans, the young to the elderly, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The current fragmentation can only serve our opponents well.

    The emergence of the Broad Alliance will only be meaningful if it is embraced by all Zimbabweans opposed to the tyrant, but not if it is merely another intellectual construct, rearranging existing elements in yet another a self-delusional construct, substituting idealism for activism. The Broad Alliance must be a united democratic front that will confront the dictator and his underlings from the streets of DZ to the wood-panelled bars of Meikles.

    Thirdly we need resolute action that challenges the regime at every turn. Just as Zimbabweans died for liberation from colonialism, we must be prepared to sacrifice our own lives for liberation from indigenous oppression. We are indeed involved in a third chimurenga, not for some fake hondo yeminda (that is primarily furthering the interests of the new elite and setting up a new landed gentry with unquestioned allegiance to its political overlords, unlike its white predecessor) but for a mature political dispensation that allows Zimbabweans to live in a plurality of modes. Just as Smith and his racist cohorts regarded blacks as inferiors, Mugabe regards blacks as unable to think for themselves and considers himself as mukuru yechikoro who will, in his unquestionable omniscience, choose for us all.

    Fourthly we must identify and individualise those who are agents of the regime. We must expose these nation killers, from politicians to businessmen, militias to police and army - let us name and shame the individual people themselves: they must not be allowed to hide behind an institutional veneer any longer. We must stress that accountability will be an integral aspect of any genuine return to legitimacy. Accountability must not be sacrificed on the altar of expediency.

    Fifthly, as far as street action is concerned, undoubtedly the final act will take place on the streets when the mass of ordinary Zimbabweans are convinced that they have nothing left to lose and that change is a possibility rather than an ideal. Until then, there is little chance of our modest actions coagulating into a broad uprising. Those activists who are committed to direct confrontation with the regime must realize that they will be at best arrested and at worst, disabled either by the regime's corrupted legal system or through more dire measures. As zanupf learnt in its formative days, one cannot challenge an overwhelmingly powerful enemy head on without being destroyed at the start. Instead any potentially successful strategy requires sophisticated planning that stretches the resources of the enemy while never providing a clear target. We need non-violent guerrilla tactics to deal with this regime, hit and run actions that provide hope and inspiration to bystanders while avoiding endless arrests and court appearances which drain financial resources and corrode the morale of activists. The example of those social activists operating under the broad banner of Zvakwana should be followed by us all. From landscape artists spreading the message of resistance on walls around the country with paint and charcoal to those who undermine the functioning of the regime's bureaucracy through various means, Zimbabweans are learning to reclaim their power from the thieves of zanupf. As the regime crumbles into internal power struggles, the time is ripe to strike your blows.

    Genuine progressive democrats will not engage in fraudulent 'negotiations' with the criminals masquerading as our government. The only negotiations we should enter into should be those concerned with the nature of the legal charges to be levelled against these Mafioso when their time is up.

    *Michael Davies is the Chairperson for the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA).

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