THE Senate approved the Private Voluntary Organisations (Amendment) Bill on February 1, 2023. The passing of the Bill will sound the death knell to the livelihoods of thousands of people working for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and those dependent (service users) on NGOs work.
While conducting my undergraduate studies, l was required to do a mandatory industrial work-related learning attachment. I was attached to the Diocese of Mutare Community Care Programme — an NGO in Mutare supporting orphans and vulnerable children in education as well as people living with HIV, with livelihoods projects.
After completing my undergraduate studies, l started working with the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Mutare — which focusses on social inclusion, peace building, community resilience building and civic education. Later in my career, l started working for GOAL Zimbabwe — an NGO which provides life-saving nutrition emergency products and services to under-five children suffering from acute malnutrition.
Currently, l am working for a leading national human rights NGO. NGOs are not rogue agents of the West as echoed by propaganda. Behind NGOs, are human beings, law-abiding citizens, politically conscious to speak against unjust laws like the PVOs Bill. The contribution of NGOs to the socio-economic, political, legal, environmental and technological fabric of this country is a public secret. NGOs are a source of employment, provide livelihoods support, educate the nation, complement government development programmes and are at the forefront of pushing the nation towards meeting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all United Nations member States (including Zimbabwe) in 2015. Intellectually bankrupt to these facts, Senate proceeded to pass the PVOs Bill against the citizens’ will expressed during the PVOs Amendment Bill public hearings across the country in February last year.
NGOs are not regime change agents as propagandised by the government and the deep State — they are agents of development. NGOs offer a broad range of services that include health, education, social protection, humanitarian assistance, livelihood interventions, emergency response, conflict resolution, democracy building, environmental management, human rights education, election monitoring and policy analysis and advocacy.
Let us use numbers a bit. The 2022 national budget posited that Zimbabwe received approximately US$130 million in humanitarian assistance in 2021. On the other hand, the 2022 monetary policy statement, aptly pointed out that NGOs are the third biggest earners of foreign currency in the country after export proceeds. Further, the total foreign currency revenues from NGOs increased from US$647,78 million in 2020 to US$975,16 million in 2021 — a 51% increase. Numbers do not lie and the numbers confirm and affirm that if the PVOs Bill becomes law, it will be disastrous to the livelihoods of citizens.
Further, NGOs support key populations and marginalised socio-economic groups like women, the elderly, orphans and vulnerable children, people with disabilities, people living with HIV, and other minority groups. If the President signs the Bill into Law — he will be signing a death warrant for over a million people.
According to section 131(6) of the Constitution, the President must assent to the Bill within 21 days and have it published in the Government Gazette. However, if the President has reservations about the Bill, he must within that period either assent to the Bill and sign it, despite those reservations; or refer the Bill to the Constitutional Court for advice on its constitutionality. The latter is least likely to happen.
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By signing the Bill into law, the President will be further shrinking civic space, suffocating development aid, smothering humanitarian support, and outlawing targeted NGOs. In essence, the Bill places all NGOs registered under different laws under one law. This is deliberate lawfare targeting pro-human rights and pro-democracy civil society organisations.
Weaponisation of the law is not a new phenomenon in the Zimbabwean legal and political landscape. The genesis was the NGO Bill which was almost passed in 2004 until the then President Robert Mugabe refused to sign the Bill into law on the eleventh hour. History is repeating itself.
Contrary to 2004, in 2023, proximal to the harmonised elections, the current President and the “patriots” around him seem eager to pass the Bill.
It is imperative to reiterate that, by assenting to the PVOs Bill, the President will be signing a death warrant for over one million vulnerable Zimbabweans. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration will not achieve the country’s Vision 2030: Towards a Prosperous and Empowered Upper Middle-Income Society” by 2030 without NGOs. Without NGOs, vision 2030 is utopian.
- Phillip Nyasha Fungurai is a human rights advocate. Opinions expressed in this article are his own views. He can be contacted at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.