HARARE - International charities working to stem chronic disease and hunger in crisis-torn Zimbabwe are facing increased threats of expulsion from the country for allegedly promoting “regime change”, with charities insisting they are here to advance development.
This comes amid an increasing trend of harassment and interference targeting NGOs that is marked by increased hostility and threats from top officials.
President Robert Mugabe told his supporters at the Harare International Airport on Monday soon after his arrival from the African Union summit in Addis Ababa that NGOs were regime change agents of the West, with a mandate to overthrow his regime.
This comes as Zimbabwe has been blighted by crises that have caused widespread hunger, leaving about 1,5 million in need of food aid, according to the UN.
“You can’t even begin to count the NGOs in all of these African countries. Here in Zimbabwe we have over 3 000, and it’s like that in other countries, what for?” Mugabe thundered.
“What do they want to analyse? So I said they should remain in their countries, if they come here they should come under our terms.”
Phillan Zamchiya, executive director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a conglomeration of more than 350 civic society organisations, said NGOs have been working in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, helping in the development and democratisation processes of the country.
“The president is offside,” he said.
“Zimbabwe faces hunger, and it’s the NGOs who are running around trying to rescue the situation. I for one think that the definition of regime change has been misplaced to only refer to a removal of government, but it can also mean change of institutions. His advisors need to school him on this.”
Zimrights director Okay Machisa said in the absence of good governance and democracy, NGOs will continue to flood the country, to fill in the gap left by government.
“Zimbabwe suffers from a lack of democracy and good governance. Its youths, women, people living with disability, and people living with HIV are demanding their space. And we also have humanitarian organisations who respond to the humanitarian crisis.
“There’s no way the head of State would be saying that if his government was catering for its citizens in the way it should. Actually, he should be grateful and thanking the NGOs for filling in the gap.”
Machisa said Zimbabwe should declare the hunger crisis a national emergency for humanitarian organisations to respond.
“It’s madness that Zimbabwe has not declared a national crisis like Mozambique has already done,” Machisa said.
“There are humanitarian organisations that can only intervene after there has been that declaration. Government is not with the people who are in desperate need of assistance, and with this hunger situation, it’s more than a crisis, as even people in the city are going hungry.”
Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko said without NGOs, certain processes in the country such as the Global Political Agreement, which gave birth to the government of national unity, would not have taken place.
“I would dispute that. For example, the work that the Zimbabwe Peace Project has done, especially looking at the Global Political Agreement and how capturing violence incidents helped the process, we have been bringing out that information and until there is no more violence in the country, then our organisation might not be needed.”