Independant On-line, Zim civic groups vow to fight tough new law, 16 August 2004

Harare - Civic and non-governmental groups in Zimbabwe have vowed to fight a tough new law proposed by the government, which could see them de-registered and cut off from much-needed foreign funding.

The proposed Non-Governmental Organisation Bill seeks to tighten regulations around NGOs in the crisis-hit Zimbabwe, whom President Robert Mugabe's ruling party is accusing of being embroiled in politics aimed at overthrowing his government.

Mugabe has in the past accused Britain, the United States and other western countries of working to oust him and has vowed he would not allow NGOs "to be conduits or instruments of foreign interference in our national affairs".

The bill also seeks to cut off foreign funding for organisations involved in the promotion of human rights and governance issues.

'They are dropping the 'N' from the NGOs. NGOs will become government organisations'
Civic groups gathered at a public debate in the capital Harare this week, however, say the proposed law is aimed at closing them down, because they are critical of the government.

Zimbabwe has been grappling with runaway inflation of just under 400 percent, 70 percent unemployment and capital flight since Mugabe launched a controversial land reform programme that saw thousands of white-owned farms seized and redistributed to landless black people.

The bill is expected to sail through parliament, but civic groups have vowed to protest it.

"The regime is desperate to reduce democratic space to a minimum and to totally silence all other voices that are not (ruling) Zanu-PF voices," said John Makumbe, a rights activist and political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.

Nokuthula Moyo, of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said the proposed law is "purely intended to tighten state control... to make NGOs entities which can be run by a minister".

"A minister's controls are now (going to be) tightened around the day-to-day activities of our lives," Moyo said, adding that even sports or social clubs are going to be affected.

Makumbe said: "They are dropping the 'N' from the NGOs. NGOs will become government organisations."

Moyo added however: "We can do something. We have to resurrect the (street) demonstrations. We have to lobby locally, we have to lobby regionally."

"We should litigate, somebody has to be courageous enough to take this to the Supreme Court."

Makumbe added the "bill is intended to wreak havoc upon our society", saying the government was determined to starve NGOs of "any meaningful resources... (so) they will eventually collapse and preferably before the (2005) elections."

An umbrella body of all NGOs in the the country, the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (Nango) believes the proposed law will hit hard the ordinary Zimbabweans who benefit from the work of the civic groups.

It said "unfortunately the bill criminalises a sector that is providing social safety nets to a lot of communities throughout the country".

Up to 80 percent of Zimbabweans live under the poverty line, unemployment is estimated at between 60 and 80 percent and a quarter of the 12,6 million-strong population are infected with HIV and Aids.

Nango says the "NGO sector is a safety net and hope for the nation".

Zimbabwe has an estimated 5 000 NGOs operating in the southern African country, the majority of them providing relief for HIV and Aids. - Sapa-AFP




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