Not all Zim aid agencies can get back to work

Not all Zimbabwean aid agencies can get back to work in the impoverished country, despite a government announcement that a ban had been lifted, a spokesperson for an umbrella organisation said on Monday.

“The state effectively wants to increase control over” independent aid groups, said Fambai Ngirande, spokesperson for the National Association of NGOs, after a day-long meeting with government welfare officials. He said security officials were also at the meeting.

The government had called the aid groups to the meeting after announcing on Friday that it was lifting a ban imposed almost three months ago when accusing independent aid groups of supporting opposition activists.

“The state will only recognise the more welfare-oriented NGOs, which are registered as private voluntary organisations. Other NGOs will remain under suspension,” Ngirande said.

He said groups allowed to resume work had been asked to resubmit registration information, including details about their staff and the amount of food they were importing to distribute, and would have to work closely with local authorities.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Adam Berthoud, a programme manager for international aid group Oxfam, said he also understood that some groups would not be able to resume work in Zimbabwe. But he said Oxfam was registered and was making plans “to start our humanitarian scale-up”.

Aid groups have denied the government’s accusations of supporting opposition activists, accusations levelled when it imposed the ban shortly before a June presidential run-off. The ban had been widely condemned.

A month ago, the governing party agreed to lift the ban to help open the way to power-sharing talks with the opposition, but those talks have stalled over how much power President Robert Mugabe should surrender. Negotiators met briefly last week in South Africa, but no progress was reported.

United Nations humanitarian agencies predict the number of Zimbabweans who will need help to stave off hunger will rise to more than five million by early next year.

Zimbabwe’s government routinely blames the country’s economic collapse on European and United States sanctions that target people and companies linked to Mugabe with travel bans and asset freezes.

While they are meant to spare ordinary Zimbabweans, already suffering from chronic shortages of food, medication, electricity and water, Zimbabwean officials say the sanctions help discourage foreign investment, loans and aid.

The opposition blames Zimbabwe’s crisis on Mugabe’s increasingly autocratic and corrupt rule. Zimbabwe began unravelling after Mugabe ordered the often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms.

Mugabe says the campaign was meant to help landless black Zimbabweans, but most farms went to his generals and Cabinet ministers.—Sapa-AP

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