Setback for pro-democracy groups

HARARE - The country’s pro-democratic movement has suffered a huge setback after one of the key funders of civic society groups championing rights and peace-building terminated its funding over noncompliance issues.

United States Agency for International Development (USAid) has terminated its contract with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), Counselling Services Unit (CSU), the Election Resource Centre (ERC) and Bulawayo-based Grace for Peace.

The termination of the contracts coincides with the impending crucial national elections where the affected organisations have been key players.

In a letter seen by the Daily News, USAid said it had withdrawn funding for the affected organisations due to noncompliance issue which were detected during its evaluation of the entities.

However, it did not elaborate or explain in detail the nature of the noncompliance.

Yesterday sources told the Daily News that the timing of the cancellation of the contracts would give the Zanu PF government an opportunity to pooh pooh concerns which had been raised by the four organisations in respect of human rights, political violence and delivery of credible, free and fair elections.

“The timing of the withdrawal of funding fortuitously strengthens government which has historically viewed human rights watchdogs and the general civic society movement as appendages of the opposition.

“While we are not privy to the intricacies of the contract and the findings of the evaluation of these organisations’ work, it is fair to say that they have been at the heart of the democratisation struggle in Zimbabwe.

“Without a doubt, government and Zanu PF in particular could use this to weaken the pro-democracy groups and cast doubts about their commitment to good corporate governance principles,” a source told the Daily News.

ERC and ZimRights have been leading campaigns for the holding of credible, free and fair elections while the CSU offered shelter and counselling services to victims of political violence.

The CSU in particular was a thorn in the flesh of former president Robert Mugabe whose government was accused of violating human rights and torturing his opponents, mainly opposition supporters and human rights defenders.

In October 2016, the CSU brought to the fore the savage attacks by security officers on activists and opposition supporters when it released a damning report detailing their brutal activities against citizens.

It reported 654 cases of political violence in that month alone which included record levels of assault, abduction and torture as opposition to Mugabe’s rule escalated.

This was in contrast to 415 cases of political violence and abuse by the security agents reported for the whole of 2015.

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