HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s Monday threat to NGOs and civil society organisations is disturbing.
If the president makes good his threat that aid agencies “must remain in their countries”, never mind that these groups do not receive any money from the Zimbabwean taxpayer, then the country will have seriously regressed overnight.
Maybe the president is locked in denial about the dire humanitarian crisis confronting this country. With this El-Nino-induced drought, this is one of darkest years in Zimbabwe’s political, social and economic history.
Mugabe’s planned crackdown on dissenting voices risks suffocating much-needed humanitarian interventions. The soon-to-be 92-year-old cannot be allowed to camouflage his intolerance with catch phrases such as “regime change” and vilifying civil society leaders as unelected “sell-outs” serving selfish “foreign” interests.
He and hawks in the governing Zanu PF are frantically trying to whip sections of the citizenry into believing that civil society groups were trying to destabilise the country and therefore banning them was justified.
But we warn him this portends chaos.
Attacks and threats of deregistration are ill-advised. Mugabe cannot continue to hide under the guise of attempting to stop regime change to deregister non-profit organisations.
And in any case, regime change cannot be criminalised, his regime is not a monarch, it’s a democratic dispensation where citizens can effect regime change through elections. And as stated by Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition boss Phillan Zamchiya, regime change can also refer to regime change of institutions that have been blatantly compromised by the governing regime.
Mugabe would rather have some of the leading lights in the civil society movement backing and entrenched in his government. We urge the NGOs to continue being fierce defenders of the citizens’ right to assemble and associate freely and a donor magnet.
Clearly, Mugabe was piqued by the NGOs’ lobby efforts to bring to the attention of the AU the dire humanitarian crisis here that the nonagenarian is wont to paper over. The president’s advisors must tell him to cease and desist from this all-out war on civil society.
Using the tired regime change mantra as an excuse to gag and emasculate civil society is ill-advised.
With Zanu PF’s super-majority, the opposition in Parliament is currently disillusioned and impotent owing to the governing party’s “tyranny of numbers” in both houses. For this reason alone, Zimbabwe needs a vibrant civil society to check the excesses of the government. Further, it is wrong for the government to assume that it has the right to decide how Zimbabweans should think.
Citizens, including non-profit organisations, have the right to hold a different view from the government’s.
Such differences do not constitute sabotage or a crime, please! Therefore, there is no need for the government to go on any fishing expedition.