Government puts squeeze on NGOs.


The government was putting a squeeze on non-governmental organisations insisting that all NGOs must register with the state.

A proposed bill was also expected to prohibit “foreign” NGOs from operating in the areas of human rights and governance.

It would also bar local NGOs from operating in those areas with “foreign funds”.

“Foreign” NGOs were any organisation not entirely composed of permanent residents or citizens of Zimbabwe who were also physically domiciled in Zimbabwe.

To be considered local, all funding had to be from persons who were permanent residents or citizens of Zimbabwe also domiciled in Zimbabwe or a company that was both registered and operating in Zimbabwe.

This practically made almost all NGOs operating in the country “foreign” as they were funded from foreign sources.


Full cable:


Viewing cable 04HARARE1250, CRACKDOWN ON NGOS?

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Reference ID






2004-07-26 15:12

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 001250










E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2009




REF: A. (A) HARARE 1206

B. (B) HARARE 1179

C. (C) HARARE 1067

D. (D) HARARE 720

E. (E) HARARE 461

F. (F) HARARE 409


Classified By: Political Officer Bianca Menendez for reason 1.5 d


1. (C) SUMMARY: The Government of Zimbabwe is putting the

squeeze on non-governmental organizations. GOZ officials have

said NGOs will be required to operate with the permission of

provincial governments and in accordance with conditions set

out in a proposed restrictive new NGO bill. The draft bill

would require all NGOs to register with the government, would

outlaw activities in human rights and governance by foreign

NGOs or local NGOs with foreign funding, and would permit

government micromanagement of organizations–all purportedly

to ensure that NGOs do not interfere with the government.

These measures permit further politicization of food and seek

to counter possible positive effects of any electoral reform.



The NGO Bill



2. (U) Under the existing Private Voluntary Organizations

Act, NGOs are required to register with the government. The

government issued a notice in September 2002 alerting NGOs

that they would be closed down if they did not register. A

June 28 article in the Chronicle newspaper reported Minister

of Local Government Ignatius Chombo as saying that the

government would be enforcing the existing law and also

requiring NGOs to get permission from provincial governments

for their activities, because those officials are best placed

to direct NGOs to areas of need and to prohibit activities

that “meddle in internal affairs.” According to Lancester

Museka, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Public

Service, Labour, and Social Welfare, who was quoted in the

July 18 Sunday Mail newspaper, NGOs must register to ensure

they are working toward their stated purpose and are not

helping the opposition to destabilize the countrys. He said

NGOs who are not registered would be closed down.


3. (U) President Mugabe’s address to the opening of the fifth

session of the fifth Parliament (ref A) echoed comments of

the Public Service Ministry. He confirmed that the government

would be introducing the bill to Parliament and stated that

NGOs must work for the betterment of the country and not as a

means for foreign influences to interfere in internal affairs.


4. (U) According to an unofficial copy of highlights of the

bill that the government plans to propose in Parliament, all

NGOs must register with the government. The bill would also

create an NGO Council, which would establish a code of

conduct for all NGOs and oversee the management of NGOs. The

bill prohibits “foreign” NGOs from operating in the areas of

human rights and governance or local NGOs from operating in

those areas with “foreign funds.” The bill defines a

“foreign” NGO as any organization not entirely composed of

permanent residents or citizens of Zimbabwe who are also

physically domiciled in Zimbabwe. Similarly, to be considered

local, all funding must be from persons who are permanent

residents or citizens of Zimbabwe also domiciled in Zimbabwe

or a company that is both registered and operating in

Zimbabwe. Given these restrictive definitions, the vast

majority of NGOs would be considered foreign or funded from

foreign sources. Under the bill, the Minister of Public

Service, Labour, and Social Welfare would oversee the

financial books of each NGO and would be able to separate

branches of NGOs and establish them as independent

organizations. The Minister of Public Service could also

suspend any NGO for “maladministration.”


NGO and Donor Responses to the Bill

——————————————— –


5. (C) Comments from Democracy and Human Rights Fund from

grantees indicate that many are not seriously concerned about

the bill, because, despite the prior warnings from the GOZ

that the PVO Act would be enforced, it has been enforced only

rarely. The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace plans

on holding meetings to deal with these issues many months

from now. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, another DHRF

partner, commented that the new law would not apply to it

because the organization is not really an NGO, but rather a

membership organization.


6. (U) Other NGOs have shown more concern. Brian Kagoro,

co-chair of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition was quoted in

the UK Daily Telegraph newspaper July 19 expressing concern

that NGOs that are currently registered as trusts–the

majority of human rights NGOs–would be illegal under the new

law. Trusts do not register under the current PVO law, and

any organization not already registered would have to

completely cease activities while it applies for registration

under the new law.


7. (C) ZLHR and the National Association for NGOs (NANGO) are

both forming a response to the new bill. ZLHR is working on a

legal opinion of the proposed legislation and is

contemplating litigation to overturn it if enacted. NANGO has

also formed a legal committee and a negotiating committee in

the hopes that the proposed legislation is the GOZ’s opening

position in a negotiation. According to comments made to

USAID, ZLHR plans to meet with NANGO representatives to

coordinate activities.


8. (C) USAID Democracy and Governance program partners have

indicated that, if the bill becomes law, they plan on

registering first then challenging the requirement to

register in court to avoid the problems the Daily News

encountered in its legal challenge to the requirement for

newspapers to register under the Access to Information and

Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). In that case, the Supreme

Court declined to rule on the Daily News’ claim that AIPPA

was unconstitutional, finding that the Daily News had unclean

hands because it had not registered, and the GOZ subsequently

closed the Daily News for failing to register (ref F).


9. (SBU) Mission officers are scheduled to attend a general

meeting July 27 with representatives of donors to governance

programs to discuss the new bill and possible responses.


Problems for NGOs



10. (C) Some NGOs are already experiencing problems. One

USAID partner, Victory Tabernacle, experienced difficulties

with the launch of their Mutare Tertiary Students for Peace

program. Student organizers of peace clubs had planned a

public launch and peace concert and were interrupted by

police who asked for their registration papers. Police

permitted the function but warned organizers that they would

be arrested if they mentioned politics, and police set up

roadblocks to prevent students from being ferried to the

event from schools.


11. (C) At a World Food Program food aid coordination meeting

attended by USAID, several NGOs indicated they were having

problems in the countryside. As mentioned above, some are

being told to stop general food distribution although they

may be asked to continue feeding programs to targeted,

vulnerable populations. Police stopped one NGO, Feed the

Hungry, from carrying out its activities and told staff to

get a letter of approval from the local MP. Some NGOs

reported that they are denied access to targeted populations,

such as displaced farm workers. CSAFE said it has written

letters to officials at the district levels with planned

activities and asked for a stamp of approval from each. Many

of the NGOs said they were planning to schedule a meeting

between NGOs and Permanent Secretary Museka from the Public

Service Ministry.


12. (SBU) Other NGOs have experienced other types of

harassment for their activities. For example, 48 members of

Women of Zimbabwe Arise!, a human rights group, are on trial

for demonstrating against the Public Order Security Act. The

trial has been continued several times, and a delayed

resolution distracts the group from its activities (ref B).




13. (C) In a worst-case scenario, if the bill is gazetted and

passed as the unofficial copy describes, all of USAID’s

democracy and governance partners would be affected and most

likely would not be able to continue if funded by USAID. This

could spell the end of many USAID activities in Zimbabwe.


14. (C) The attempt to limit and monitor NGO activity appears

to be a further tactic in the GOZ,s strategy of limiting

international presence in the run-up to the March 2005

parliamentary elections (ref E). The GOZ continues to insist

that there will be a bumper harvest of maize this year and

that Zimbabwe needs no food aid. Comments from USAID NGO

partners indicate that they have been asked to cease general

feeding programs and instead focus on programs to targeted

groups, such as school feeding programs or areas that have

had particular problems with diseased farm animals. The new

NGO legislation would significantly enhance GOZ capacity to

manipulate food politically by cutting access to the

countryside by donors and by further securing its control of

food distribution throughout the country.


15. (C) A more direct and obvious attempt to limit the impact

of NGOs on the elections is with electoral reform. The

electoral amendment bill gazetted in April 2004 and

subsequently withdrawn contained a provision to bar NGOs with

foreign funding from conducting voter education (ref D). It

is unclear if the current electoral reforms proposed by the

government (ref C) will contain this measure since the NGO

bill would bring under the direct control of the GOZ

governance-related work by NGOs, if not eliminate it

altogether, in any event.


16. (C) As elections approach, the government will probably

make it increasingly difficult for all NGOs to operate,

whether this bill is enacted or not. The GOZ wants to keep

international elements from interacting with local

constituencies or reporting on local conditions to the

outside world. The proposed new NGO legislation may be just

an intimidation tactic or, if passed, may represent the

latest tangible tool with which to asphyxiate voices of

debate and to perpetuate ruling party control. The unofficial

bill is also an indication of the government’s likely

intention to counter the impact of proposed election reform

by further limiting access to information and politicizing

food aid to an even greater extent. END COMMENT.



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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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