Last week, Kubatana held a Twitter Space discussing the PVO Amendment Bill. Yassin Nhara, Amanda Ndlovu and McDonald Lewanika helped us understand what is in the Bill, why we should care, and what we can do about it.
Nhara explained that the Bill would give the Minister of Social Welfare extensive powers to arbitrarily interfere with the activities of PVOs. For example, by identifying entities as “high risk” and then subjecting them to additional measures of scrutiny and control, including appointing acting Trustees who could make binding decisions on behalf of the organisation, with no court oversight. The Bill would also criminalise “political lobbying,” which includes supporting or opposing political actors. This is broadly and vaguely defined, and could be applied to constrain what PVOs can discuss and act on. And, as Nhara noted, the Bill would also require PVOs to re-register periodically – and this re-registration could be denied at the discretion of the Minister.
Amanda Ndlovu observed that if you don’t run an NGO, it is easy to feel removed from the PVO Amendment Bill and its implications, and to think that this doesn’t matter for you. But once laws are made, we are all bound by them – now and into the future. Martin Niemöller’s poem First They Came reminds us of how important it is to speak out for anyone and everyone under threat – because what affects one of us affects all of us. Ndlovu also questioned the relevance, rationality and reasonableness of the Amendment Bill. With the other issues facing Zimbabwe at the moment, she asked whether there is even a legitimate purpose for this Bill.
McDonald Lewanika described the Bill as a “stalking horse,” saying the Financial Action Task Force recommendations regarding terrorism financing and money laundering are being used to cover up very clear political objectives to enable (and legalize!) attacks on civil society organisations. Lewanika said he had a sense of déjà vu reading the bill, and reminded the audience that this is not the first time Zimbabwe has faced such draft legislation. He mused that the purpose of the Bill is to distract civil society from doing the work it does to serve the people of Zimbabwe; so instead of demanding accountability from the state, Zimbabweans are now debating this Bill and its implications. Lewanika issued a strong call for action, urging Zimbabweans to work together to fight (legally and non-violently) what is unconstitutional and undemocratic. Lewanika said: “We must coordinate together – without gatekeeping. Collective action is the solution. Even if we act in different locations, in different ways, but together with all Zimbabweans. This is not a battle for NGOs. This is a battle for all Zimbabweans.”
Action: Get involved. Zimbabwe’s laws affect all of us, and they need to be made with all of us. We’ll be using this space to keep you informed about the Bill, and how to engage in Parliament’s public consultations and submit your comments about the Bill.