Village Rhapsody: Why Zanu PF must revisit its stance on civil society

Civil society fills the void left by the government and the private sector in a nation blessed with peace and stability.

Zanu PF has been in overdrive with its attacks on civil society organisations with party spokesperson Christopher Mutsvangwa and President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s  spokesperson George Charamba launching unprovoked tirades against critics.

Last year, Mutsvangwa said: “to hell with those NGOs, they have nothing to offer”.

His diatribe fitted  into the Zanu PF’s Varakashi4ED narrative, which portrays NGOs as hostile entities that are pushing a regime change agenda in Zimbabwe.

Zanu PF's current stance on NGOs is harmful to citizens and the Zimbabwean economy.

It is also inconsistent with Zanu PF's own stated commitment to democracy and human rights.

Mnangagwa and his government’s determination to eliminate NGOs shows Zimbabwe’s foreign policy trajectory in a transforming international system.

As part of the strategy to silence civil society before the August 23 harmonised election, Mnangagwa’s government embarked on a process of amending the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Act.

However, it emerged that Mnangagwa never intended to sign the Bill but made noise about it as part of plans to intimidate CSOs ahead of August 23 polls.

Just before the elections, Mnangagwa requested that Parliament revisit the PVOs Bill.

The Bill, which had easily passed both the National Assembly and the Senate but had not yet been signed into law or made public, expired when Parliament was dissolved ahead of the elections.

NGOs play an important role in promoting human rights and democracy, which is a threat to the Zanu PF government despite the fact that this can help to create a more peaceful and stable society.

If the new Bill is signed into law by Mnangagwa as expected, various NGOs in Zimbabwe may be forced to close shop.

Passing the law, however, would be a monumental mistake as NGOs have been at the centre of development in Zimbabwe from as far back as this country came into existence as an independent state in the 1980s.

People are at the centre of human development and capacity building, and civil society cannot be wished away in that regard as it is part of the matrix.

A report titled, “Punching Holes into a Fragile Economy” produced by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and others in February 2022, showed that NGOs have been important drivers of development in Zimbabwe.

This has been achieved through several channels, including employment creation, contribution to tax revenues, foreign currency receipts, provision of social protection and offering humanitarian assistance.

Another significant contribution made by the NGOs is growth in the local tourism industry and overall economic growth.

NGOs rank third in the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s list of foreign currency earners.

Owing to the huge financing gap in productivity enhancement and poverty reducing sectors of the economy such as health, education, social protection, water and sanitation, the country has had to rely on donor financing from international NGOs and development partners.

According to the 2022 national budget, Zimbabwe received an estimated US$130 million in humanitarian assistance in 2021.

This shows that NGOs providing the biggest chunk of social protection money in the country, more than what the government provides.

The United Nations describes development as a multifaceted effort to raise everyone’s standard of living.

The three pillars of sustainable development; economic development, social development, and environmental protection are intertwined and reinforce one another.

NGOs play a significant role in a variety of fields, including those related to water and sanitation, HIV programming, gender and disability mainstreaming, disaster response, democracy and human rights protection, and many others.

CSOs can contribute to increased public discussion on issues related to the formulation and implementation of government budgets as well as support greater transparency of public revenues, which can help to improve transparency and good governance in developing countries in every economy, developed or developing.

The Covid-19 pandemic provides a good example of the critical role played by CSOs as shown by the increased demand for the services they provide to the less fortunate.

It is unjust to cast doubts on CSOs’ contributions to Zimbabwe’s development processes.

Civil society is a crucial pillar of development and societal cohesion, as the current crisis in Zimbabwe shows.

Civil society fills the void left by the government and the private sector in a nation blessed with peace and stability.

In a fragile and conflict-ridden nation, it plays an even more significant role in providing services that are typically the responsibility of the government and business and can serve as the basis for peace.

The only reason Zanu PF is clamping down on civil society and NGOs is that it is averse to criticism, but no government can succeed without checks and balances.

  • Evans Mathanda is a multimedia journalist and development practitioner, who writes in his own capacity. For feedback email: [email protected] or call 0719770038 and X @EvansMathanda19


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