Citizens in Action Southern Africa (CIASA) is deeply concerned with utterances by the President of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who characterised non-government organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs) as ‘detractors’ a label which is far from describing the diligent work which these entities and associations are doing. The utterances were made in the context of rapidly closing operating space due to manipulation of COVID-19 pandemic regulations to close democratic space for free expression and assembly. It also comes on the back of several directives having been issued by Provincial Development Coordinators (PDCs) calling on NGOs and CSOs to submit themselves before unlawful processes regarding their operations.
It is clear from the pronouncement by the President and various PDCs that the intention is to firstly divide the NGOs and CSOs sector and secondly to target a few selected organisations, especially those in the human rights and democracy area. From the pronouncement of the President he seems oblivious to the immense contributions of NGOs and CSOs in national development and in reaching communities which are often left behind in national programmes. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognises the work and contribution of CSOs and NGOs in inclusive development of communities and calls for a free and open space for them to work. And we remind the Government of Zimbabwe to respect these international norms and standards instead of seeking to clandestinely criminalise NGOs and CSOs.
It was predominantly the NGOs and CSOs who mobilised towards support for victims of cyclone Idai in 2019. Further, during this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic CSOs and NGOs have played a pivotal role in mobilising and sensitising communities which has contributed toward containment of the deadly pandemic.
NGOs and CSOs have also operated beyond humanitarian responses and have robustly contributed to national policies and law making processes. The improvement in the status of women, child rights, youth representation and even anti-corruption drive owes most of its success to the advocacy work of NGOs and CSOs. It is therefore disingenuous for the Government of Zimbabwe to target entities and organisations which are providing lifeline to some of the most downtrodden and oppressed of society.
As CIASA we urge the Government of Zimbabwe and the ruling party to stop playing politics when it comes to NGOs and CSOs. It is imperative that the government must focus on improving the human rights situation and instead offer support to NGOs and CSOs who are doing tremendous work towards the development of the country under very difficult conditions.