NON-governmental organisations under the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition banner yesterday reacted angrily to the proposed amendment of the Private Voluntary Organisations Act, describing the move as an attempt to muzzle their operations, but vowed to resist the government machinations.
Cabinet on Tuesday approved the amendments of laws governing operations of PVOs to make it a punishable offence for NGOs to engage in political activities.
But the NGOs said the development was part of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government’s broader strategies to silence civic activities ahead of the 2023 harmonised elections.
Cabinet sought to justify the amendments saying they were parts of efforts to deal with money laundering and financing of terrorism.
“We implore the government to desist from muzzling the operations of civil society organisations and further shrinking the democratic space ahead of the 2023 elections,” Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director Blessing Vava said.
The amendments will give the government powers to monitor registration and activities of PVOs and punish them for “non-compliance”.
“The coalition is disturbed by the fact that the amendments to the PVO Act are part of efforts to entrench authoritarian rule and weaponise the law and this has far-reaching implications on democracy in Zimbabwe,” Vava said.
The latest move follows claims by the government and the ruling Zanu PF party that PVOs were working with the opposition MDC Alliance to effect regime change.
“It is mere politicking to label CSOs involved in democracy and development work as terrorists,” Vava said.
“If anything, acts of terror that have been witnessed in Zimbabwe include the Gukurahundi massacres which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 20 000 civilians when the government unleashed the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade against unarmed civilians in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in the 1980s.”
He said after Gukurahundi, Zimbabwe continued to witness acts of State-sponsored terror as the government clamped down on dissent.
“It is quite clear where the threat of terror in Zimbabwe comes from and the amendments to the PVO Act are simply meant to silence pro-democracy forces as a way by the government to avoid checks and balances,” he added.
“We implore the State to desist from persecution of pro-democracy forces and live up to its pledge of a new dispensation.
“As it stands, the current Zimbabwean government is simply perfecting the art of persecuting pro-democracy forces and closing the democratic space as was the case during the era of the late Robert Mugabe’s administration.”
He said it was unfortunate that after decimating the opposition and ensuring recalls of parliamentarians aligned to the MDC Alliance, Zanu PF was now abusing its parliamentary majority to introduce draconian legislation.
“As Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, we shall continue to use our convening role to mobilise CSOs in the country to challenge clampdowns on rights defenders and the continued closure of the democratic space by the government.”
Last month, Harare provincial co-ordinator Tafadzwa Muguti ordered CSOs operating in the province to submit their workplans to his office, an order that was challenged in the courts by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.