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More NGO bannings feared

A baby, held by his mother, cries as he receives a vaccine injection at a mobile outreach point in Zimbabwe's Masvingo District during the country's 2009 measles immunization drive
(UNICEF/Kun Li)

Twenty-nine NGOs providing services ranging from alleviating food insecurity to assisting the disabled in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo Province have been banned, sparking fears that this could be the start of a new wave of restrictions like the blanket ban placed on the activities of civil society organizations during the violent and disputed parliamentary and presidential elections in 2008.

Titus Maluleke, Governor of Masvingo Province and member of President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, announced the immediate banning of the NGOs on 14 February, claiming that they had failed to register with his office.

‘‘What has happened in Masvingo can easily spread to other provinces, with undesirable consequences,’’ Abel Chikomo, director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, said at a hastily convened media briefing in the capital, Harare, on 16 February.

A joint statement on behalf of various civil society organizations - including the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), the Crisis In Zimbabwe Coalition, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, the National Association of Non Governmental Organizations (NANGO), the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights - said Maluleke’s actions were “blatantly illegal…and are a nullity at law.”

“The law in this country clearly shows that he has no regulatory authority; nor does he have the power to register or de-register NGOs. Even the Provincial Council that he heads in terms of the Provincial Councils and Administration Act does not have regulatory powers over NGOs. The council exists solely to foster developmental projects initiated and carried out by central government and local government,” the joint statement said.

‘‘The governor’s rash and ill-advised utterances merely seek to confuse matters and are regrettably likely to worsen the humanitarian crisis in Masvingo Province. This is because the list of organizations he seeks to ban includes NGOs that are currently providing food, medication, water and other social and economic support [services] to the community.’’

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The civil society organizations urged the affected NGOs to “ignore the [banning] order by the governor”.

Maluleke’s banning order - made in the presence of senior army and police officials - was accompanied by what has become a repeated claim by ZANU-PF that civil society is collaborating with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, which in turn is a front for Western governments.

Operating in fear

Harassment, detention and arrests of NGO workers are common, even when they are not banned. NGOs were outlawed in the weeks leading up to the disputed 2008 elections when there was widescale food insecurity. Civil society organizations claimed the ban was instituted to prevent documentation of the political violence during the election period.

In the aftermath of the 2008 poll, Mugabe and Tsvangirai formed an uneasy government of national unity in 2009. Recently there have been growing calls by ZANU-PF for fresh elections, but the MDC wants certain guarantees, such as an overhaul of the voters’ roll and adoption of a new constitution, before assenting.

''It is clear that the move by the governor is linked to talk within ZANU-PF about holding elections this year''

Machinda Marongwe, of NANGO, said there was ‘‘a tense environment’’ in Masvingo. ‘‘Pronouncement of the ban has limited our movement in Masvingo." An official of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), which monitors human rights abuses, told IRIN: “There is so much fear among the NGOs.’’

“It is clear that the move by the governor is linked to talk within ZANU-PF about holding elections this year,” said the official, who declined to be named

“The party wants to monitor our movements but communities are the ones that will suffer most. ZANU-PF has used the tactic before, and soon other governors aligned to the [ZANU-PF] party will follow suit.”

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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