Press Statement: Calling for an end to persecution of CSOs

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) notes with concern the remarks made by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in his speech on the official opening of the 3rd Session of the 9th Parliament on the 22nd of October 2020. This statement is premised on the Forum’s firm beliefs on the importance of civic organisations as the mouthpiece of the generality of Zimbabweans and watchdogs for good governance and respect for fundamental human rights.

In his speech, the President vowed to push for the enactment of the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill to specifically “deal” with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Private Voluntary Organisations (PVOs) that operate outside their mandate and out in sync with the government’s humanitarian priority. These comments, should not be viewed in isolation, rather, they show a long-standing need to silence citizens through a coordinated and systematic attack on NGOs in Zimbabwe. The “new dispensation” has continuously attacked civil society organisations labelling them as “agents of the west”, “regime change agents” and “purveyors of falsehoods.” The government has aso continuously harassed, detained, tortured, assaulted and arbitrarily arrested civil society leaders. As such, we are aware that this amendment is driven to punish CSOs that speak out against the government’s maladministration and abuse of citizen’s human rights.

On 27 October 2020, Zimbabweans and the rest of the world were taken aback by the announcement by the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Hon. Monica Mutsvangwa, on Cabinet’s approval of proposed amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23].The amendments will criminalise the conduct of isolated citizens or groups, who for self-gain cooperate or connive with hostile foreign governments to inflict suffering on Zimbabwean citizens and to cause damage to national interests. In addition, Hon Mutsvanga announced other actions that will become punishable include planned and timed protests deliberately designed to coincide with major international, continental or regional events or visits and claims of abductions. This is clearly another ill-planned attempt to silence dissenting voices.

The Forum has noted with regret the unfounded attack on the work of genuine civic organisations in contradiction to the values of democracy, openness and constitutionalism on which this 2nd Republic proclaims to uphold. The threats to deregister NGOs does not tally with principles of democracy and constitutionalism as enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe. The Forum unequivocally states that CSOs are unavoidable in Zimbabwe’s developmental agenda and democratic society.

Civil society organisations are in no way a threat to the 2nd republic as they do not have any political ambition. Rather, civil society organisations are partners for development, who have constantly called for constitutionalism and respect for human rights as a foundation for development and unity. NGOs have been on the forefront of  finding homegrown solutions to problems affecting the country. Criminalising the work of CSOs in nothing short of desperate propaganda to justify misrule, rampant corruption and a spiralling economy.

If the President is genuine and sincere about his commitment to listen to voice of the people then he should be willing to listen to the NGOs which are a voice for the voiceless. The work of NGOs is legitimate and provides the necessary checks on public leadership and their work must be embraced as a positive contribution to transparency and accountability. In times of natural disasters, NGOs have risen to the call by communities even doing more than the State in assisting the vulnerable. In times of state brutality, NGOs  offer apolitical protection to all  citizens in distress.

We, therefore, call the President and the government of Zimbabwe to respect the work of the NGOs in Zimbabwe and give them operating space to do their work without hindrance.

Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum