President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party has banned 30 non-governmental organisations operating in Masvingo, ostensibly for failing to register with central and local authorities.
The province is a political hot spot with a history of clashes between Zanu-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. In political circles, the ban is widely regarded as a Zanu-PF tactic to stem the MDC’s apparently growing support and is the strongest signal to date that Zanu-PF is gearing up for elections, predicted to take place this year.
The party banned foreign NGOs before the March 2008 presidential elections at a time when there was a drought and severe food shortages and the move sparked a humanitarian crisis. There was also a similar ban in 2005.
The latest ban, which includes Care International, the Zimbabwe Peace Project and the Community Development Programme, has fuelled speculation about widespread intimidatory campaigns to follow.
The NGOs must register with the authorities in Harare and in the provinces in which they operate.
Justifying the ban, Titus Maluleke, Masvingo’s Zanu-PF-linked governor, said: “These organisations have left us with no choice except to suspend them from operating in the province with immediate effect, because they have twice failed to submit to the requirements of our laws.”
Initially, the NGOs had to register by October last year, but the deadline was extended to December.
The Coalition of Civil Society Organisations condemned the crackdown.
“The actions of the governor are irresponsible considering that the government and NGOs should be coming together to fight the socioeconomic ills bedevilling Zimbabwe, rather than him frustrating the efforts of individuals and organisations trying their best to help out fellow Zimbabweans,” it said.
Irene Petras, executive director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said: “At this stage we cannot take legal action because this ban is a nullity. What we want to encourage people to do is to continue with their lawful activities. But we need to ensure that people are not intimidated.”