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This article participates on the following special index pages:
NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis
and the NGO Bill
Noel Scott, Christians Together for Justice and Peace (CTJP)
September 02, 2004
The address at the meeting
of 28th August 2004 at St. Marys Cathedral Bulawayo
The government is
about to promulgate a bill to register NGOs which will be administered
by the Minister of Public Services, Labour and Social Welfare or any minister
the President appoints. The declared purpose of this Bill is to protect
public interest by ensuring that NGOs are administered properly and use
donor and public funds for their intended purpose. The Minister will operate
through an NGO Council which will have five NGO representatives and ten
from the Government. He will have power to inspect NGO operations, to
withdraw licences and to prosecute offenders. So the freedom and power
of NGOs will be drastically curtailed.
An NGO is described
as any foreign or local body whose object is in summary to assist and
give support to persons in need, to uplift their standard of living and
to promote and protect human rights and good governance.
Need for caution
bill purports to protect the public interest we have good reason to be
cautious. AIPPA and POSA were introduced to protect the public interest
but those who live with and have become victims of this legislation have
learnt otherwise, often to their pain. In fact when the government legislates
to protect the public interest the reality is that it aims to CONTROL
the public. Other examples come to mind – Urban Councils were elected
by the public but the government has seen fit to override the wishes of
the people, by discrediting, oppressing and even replacing the elected
officials. The latest victims are the non-government schools. In view
of this ruthless policy to control us even more we the people need to
take an informed and determined stand and say "Enough is Enough"
Over the years the
NGOs, some of which are arms of the church and churches have freely ministered
to the needs of the people in the specific areas of nutrition, hunger
relief, health projects such as clean water and latrines, immunisation
and disease prevention and control, conservation, water storage, agricultural
education, animal husbandry, crop development….. Their object is not just
to meet immediate needs but to equip people to realise their full potential,
to build up confidence and self respect, to know and defend their rights.
Their policy is to set people FREE.
So why does the government
now want to bring in this new registration bill? Two main reasons:
Why this bill?
- For some time now
it’s a well known fact that government has been controlling food relief
as a vote buying exercise. Control of the NGOs would legitimise and
facilitate this. The consequences for the NGOs who are largely foreign
funded and for those who are deemed to belong to the opposition could
- The government
was embarrassed and angered by the recent A.U. Report on human rights
abuses in Zimbabwe, and blames NGOs for submitting false information
to the A.U. Commission. What the government doesn’t seem to realise
is that many people however oppressed and down trodden know their rights
and don’t suffer in isolation, information comes to light, wounds are
seen, testimonies are heard, people speak, for the Truth cannot be gagged
or suppressed in today’s world of investigative reporting and electronic
NGOs who are engaged
in "governance’ or human rights work and are foreign funded will
no longer able to function. With an election looming the reasons are obvious.
The bill purports
to exempt the church from registration for the church is described as
"Any religious body in respect of activities confined to religious
work". What is religious work? In the Minister’s mind it’s probably
limited to what goes on in church buildings, behind closed doors - hymn
singing, praying, reading and exposition of the scriptures preferably
focussed on heaven and how to get there….. baptising, marrying, burying
Archbishop Pius obviously
steps outside the bounds of this definition when he speaks about the plight
of people in Zimbabwe who are casualties of hunger and malnutrition, victims
of intimidation, oppression, torture, of the many who are perpetually
on remand on baseless charges, of the gagging of the independent media
denying people a voice, the list goes on.
How should the
So how should
churches respond to this Bill? Should we submit ourselves and our ministry
to what the Minister would term religious activities and allow him to
write our agendas? Would we have to register to feed the hungry, heal
the sick and be a voice for the oppressed?
To answer any of these
questions we need to be sure about our vocation and ministry and where
our authority and mandate lies. Our vocation and authority and commission
comes from Jesus as His comes from the Father and the Holy Spirit. Note
it doesn’t come from the Minister! At his baptism, Mark 1 v 9-11 in that
moment when heaven was opened to Him he had a vision of the kingdom and
was anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit for the ministry that lay
before him. That ministry is announced in His first sermon in the Synagogue
at Nazareth where he opened the book of the prophet Isaiah and read the
passage Luke 4 v 16-21.
"The spirit of
the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring Good News to the
poor. He has sent to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of
sight to the blind;
To set free the oppressed
and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save His people"
The overall message
of Jesus is that he came to save, to liberate His people and that is always
a threat to those who hang on to power at any price. This was not a popular
message to the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem who oppressed people with
the demands of the law and grew rich through the takings of the temple
sacrifices. It was an ominous and threatening message to Herod and Pilate
who imposed their will on the people through ruthless taxation and tyrannical
Jesus could have stayed
in the synagogue or in the temple doing religious work as the priests
did but he chose to put His message into practice. When John the Baptist
sent his disciples to Jesus to enquire if he was the promised Messiah
"Go back and
tell John what you are hearing and seeing: the blind can see, the lame
can walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are brought
back to life, and the Good News is preached to the poor" Matthew
11 v 4-6.
Jesus’ ministry was
to promote life, life in abundance, but right from the beginning the forces
ofevilwerearraignedagainsthim.In the temptations, the devil tried to buy
him off not just with the offer of a ranch but the whole world. Time after
time the devil through the Jewish authorities tried to arrest and kill
him and finally he was put on trial before the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod.
He was crucified and buried but God raised Him from the dead and today
he lives as Lord and King. Truth and Goodness have triumphed over evil
bringing hope to the victims of evil everywhere.
The churches mandate
is the Spirit filled, Spirit led, and Spirit empowered Community. We receive
our mandate from God to proclaim in the power of the living Lord, the
Kingdom of God. Jesus said – " As the Father has sent me so I send
you" John 17 v 18. At our baptism we share the vision and are anointed
and empowered as Jesus was, to proclaim Good News to the poor, set free
the oppressed, give sight to the blind, liberty to the captives and to
proclaim God’s Jubilee of justice, of peace and reconciliation. It’s a
call to liberate people but also to do battle with the forces of evil
who seek to control people’s lives, but believing in the victory of the
Cross we fight with confidence. The battle is not new, when Peter and
John were challenged for healing a cripple by the Jewish leaders and told
not to speak of Jesus they replied that they must obey God and not man.
Acts 4 v 19.
The conflict between
good and evil is on going, it’s even within ourselves. As St Paul says,
the good that I would I do not, the evil that I don’t want to do, that
I do. Evil seeks to control and destroy, good seeks to free, to liberate
and it’s a conflict that perpetually exists between church and state.
It needs to be said
at the beginning that church and state receive their authority from one
source, God. There is not a religious God, a God whose interest is religious
work and who resides in the churches doing churchy things and another
God who confines his activities to the secular field of commerce, industry,
health, education, parliament, agriculture etc. There is one God, the
creator God, the Liberator God, and both Church and State are answerable
to Him. Obviously it would be very convenient for Church and State and
indeed for all of us if we could put God into a religious or a secular
box. If we could box Him we could control Him! The Jews tried to do this
when they crucified and buried Him but He broke free, He refused to be
Rulers have a place
in God’s plan and Jesus recognised this. When asked about paying taxes
to Caesar, a corrupt and harsh ruler, he reminded us of our twofold duty
to God and neighbour - give to Caesar what belongs to him, taxes for the
benefit of the community and to God what belongs to Him, love and obedience.
But remember that Caesar like us is made in the image of God, he is answerable
to God, for his deeds.
St Paul says – "The
Powers that be are ordained by God" Romans 13 v 1. Governments have
a purpose in the Divine plan to provide laws, order, justice, peace, health,
education for the benefit of society and the benefit of the people but
that doesn’t give them licence to behave as they like. Like the Jewish
Kings of old they are answerable to God for they are servants of God and
of the people. The church too has a mission and purpose to proclaim the
Kingdom of God, to care for and serve the people without fear or favour
and to promote life in abundance. That is our vocation and like the government
we are answerable to God if we fail.
Seen in the light
of the Gospel, the NGO Registration Bill is a deliberate attempt to control
people, to oppress and enslave them for which the government is answerable
to God. We the Churches therefore call on the government to repeal POSA
AND AIPPA, to withdraw this Bill, to respect and listen to the people,
to promote human rights, to desist from intimidation and oppression and
to work with the NGOs and churches in the spirit of God to whom we are
all answerable to promote the life and well being of all the people of
Zimbabwe whom we are privileged to serve.
the CTJP fact sheet
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