High Court lifts NGO suspension

BY CHARLES LAITON/TATENDA CHITAGU

HIGH Court judge Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo has nullified the suspension of Community Tolerance Reconciliation and Development Trust (Cotrad), a local youth non-governmental organisation (NGO), saying government action was illegal.

Masvingo district administrator (DA) Roy Hove suspended the NGO on March 11, 2019 pending an investigation into its registration.

However, the NGO challenged the decision at the High Court, and Justice Matanda-Moyo yesterday upheld Cotrad’s application.

“The first respondent (DA)’s decision to suspend the first applicant (Cotrad)’s operations is set aside and declared to be null and void and accordingly of no force and effect. The first applicant is not a voluntary organisation as contemplated in terms of the Private Voluntary Organisation Act. The first respondent is not empowered by any law to suspend or stop the operations of the first applicant and the first respondent is ordered to pay the cost of this application on a legal practitioner and client scale,” Justice Matanda-Moyo said.

On Monday last week, the DA wrote a letter instructing Cotrad not to carry out any activities “of any kind” in the jurisdiction of Masvingo district until investigations on the registration and approval issues concerning the organisation had been carried out.

This prompted Cotrad to engage Denford Halimani of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights to file an urgent chamber application at the High Court challenging the DA’s decision to outlaw the NGO’s operations and seeking an order to be allowed to resume full operations in Masvingo without any interference.

In the application, Halimani argued that the DA was not empowered by any law to suspend or stop Cotrad’s operations because it is not registered as a Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO), but as a Trust, created by a Notarial Deed of Donation and Trust, registered at the Deeds Registry.

The order compelling Cotrad, to cease operations had left over 5 000 underprivileged individuals prejudiced and without recourse and this included the organisation’s eight employees, he added.

Speaking to Southern Eye yesterday, Halimani said the judgment had set a legal precedent that will also protect other NGOs that may have been targeted by the authorities.

“This means that Cotrad is free to proceed with operations without any interference. It’s good news to other organisations that were at risk of facing such bans. It makes it clear that authorities cannot stop a legitimately registered trust, it was absurd and unlawful,” he said.

Cotrad programmes officer Brighton Ramusi said they felt elated by the decision and will continue to serve the more than 5 000 beneficiaries of their programmes.

“We welcome the lifting of the suspension. It is not only a relief to us, but also to our beneficiaries in the rural areas, who were prejudiced by the suspension. We are not at war with government, but we are actually complementing it,” Ramusi said.

Government accused Cotrad, formed in 2012 and largely involved in peace-building and national healing activities to mainly victims of political violence, of having a hand in the January bloody protests against a 150% fuel price hike.

The suspension came weeks after President Emmerson Mnangagwa addressed a rally in the province, where he threatened to come hard on lawyers, doctors and NGOs perceived to have backed the January protests over fuel price hikes.

Zanu PF has always accused civic organisations of being agents of opposition parties and perpetrating a regime change agenda.

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