Zanu PF has been in overdrive with its attacks of civil society organisations with party spokesperson Christopher Mutsvangwa being the latest top ranking official to launch an unprovoked tirade.
Mutsvangwa, who is also Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association chairperson, last week said: “to hell with those NGOs, they have nothing to offer”.
His diatribe fits into the Zanu PF narrative, which portrays NGOs as hostile entities that are pushing a regime change agenda in Zimbabwe.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently reinforced his government’s determination to eliminate NGOs that it considers “rebellious” and “abusive” to citizens.
As part of the strategy to silence civil society, Mnangagwa’s government is in the process of amending the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVOs) Act.
The PVO Amendment Bill, which has passed through the National Assembly’s committee reading stage, has been widely criticised as oppressive and unconstitutional because its provisions seek to close down the democratic space by eliminating civil society organisations.
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.
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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 are providing the biggest chunk of social protection 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 check an balances.
Zanu PF must revaluate its stance on the PVO Amendment Bill before plunging an entire country into the abyss solely for power retention.
- Evans Mathanda is a journalist and development practitioner who writes in his capacity. For feedback email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0719770038 and Twitter @EvansMathanda19