Mnangagwa must reject bill

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

Eighteen years ago former president Robert Mugabe refused to sign into law a Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) Bill that was meant to eliminate organisations involved in promoting and defending human rights.

Mugabe, who was described as an autocrat by his own Zanu PF party when he was ousted and replaced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa following a military coup in 2017, never disclosed the reasons for withholding his signature.

We can only speculate that he found the provisions in the Bill too draconian.

At the time the government, without producing any evidence, said that NGOs were abusing donor funds to support the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which was giving Mugabe a hard time on the electoral front.

Zanu PF pushed to have the proposed law passed before the March 2005 elections.

The NGO Bill sought to extend government control over civil society organisations that is provided for in the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Act.

The PVO Act itself had been deemed to limit civil liberties by the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights.

When Mnangagwa swept to power in 2017, he pledged to do away with the infrastructure used by his predecessor to rule with an iron fist.

Such infrastructure included an array of draconian laws that were used to limit people’s freedoms of speech, assembly and association.

It, therefore, came as a surprise to many when Mnanagwa’s administration tabled proposed amendments to the PVO Act that seemed to be a reincarnation of the NGO Bill that even the authoritarian Mugabe found too draconian.

After some haggling, the PVO Act Amendment Bill was passed by the Zanu PF-dominated Senate last week and now awaits Mnangagwa’s signature before it becomes law.

Amnesty International said: “The proposed Bill, if it becomes law, will have dire consequences, including restricting civic space and access to humanitarian support services in Zimbabwe as it will immediately render all NGOs, not registered as PVOs, illegal.”

The international human rights group went on to urge Mnangagwa to refrain from signing the bill into law.

We add our voice and call on the president to put Zimbabwe first and resist the urge to go for political expediency at the expense of the country’s interests.

Mnangagwa has been pushing for Zimbabwe’s re-engagement with the international community after years of isolation because of concerns over the human rights situation in the country and rule of law deficiencies.

If he signs the PVO Amendment Bill into law the country will simply slide back to its pariah state status and the cost of international isolation would be too ghastly to contemplate.

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