HomeOpinionNew NGO law: doomsday for Zimbabwe

New NGO law: doomsday for Zimbabwe

By Rejoice Ngwenya

IF there was any doubt in my mind about Zanu PF being synonymous with destruction, it was quashed a few days ago by an e-mail message received from Nango’s information department.

Nango is the umbrella body whose core business is to advance the cause of Zimbabwe’s non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Part of the message read: “Immediately after the presidential address, the House passed the NGO Bill through its third and final reading, signalling the start of a gloomy future full of uncertainties for NGOs, the communities they serve and of course for the entire nation . . .”

For us liberal democrats who hallucinate on separation of powers between African ruling political parties and the governments they dominate, this message comes as sharp as a double-edged sword. Never in the history of humankind has a government been so busy at chasing political trivia at the expense of pressing national issues.

Real governments for the people must be preoccupied with protecting the rights and liberties of citizens, the environment, national defence, infrastructure, enforcement of contracts and maintenance of stable monetary policies. Ours is on the extreme end of corporate insanity.

However, given the history of Zimbabwe’s liberation, one can understand the propensity for destruction endemic in the ruling party. Both Zipra and Zanla were “entitled” to a culture of destruction — that is striking at the very core of Rhodesian economic interests. This translated into burning bridges, shooting down passenger airlines and bombing fuel depots.

We citizens understood, legitimised and accepted this strategy. But the irony is that the nucleus of these liberating acts was Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe, whose political careers were credited with the humanitarian benevolence of largely Nordic NGOs.

While the two hid in Lusaka and Maputo, conniving and conspiring on the annihilation of the Rhodesian Front, their lieutenants, children, dependants, sympathisers and admirers were whisked away to expensive colleges in Canada, the US, Nigeria, England, Sierra Leone, Australia, Russia and India via global NGO scholarship networks.

These agencies had no interest in political science per se — only freedom, liberty, good governance, human rights and justice for the oppressed people of Zimbabwe. Besides, the essence of true post-revolutionary good governance is to shed off the mentality of destruction and transform oneself into a mode of reconstruction and civic decency.

But now we see that faced with a choice of survival and justice. Zanu PF has opted for survival — sacrificing enlightenment on the altar of political greed. They would rather burn the house than track down the snake, in fact not even a real snake for that matter, but a large harmless worm that is vital for the country’s delicate eco-political balance.

“The start of a gloomy future full of uncertainties for NGOs, the communities they serve and of course for the entire nation…” is a shrill cry of a citizen writhing in pain under the merciless foot of a vicious monster — the dragon that consumes even its children, just to survive. Kana nyadzi havana!

But what does this circus mean to the entities that Nango cries so much for?

Firstly, Mr “Paul, Saul, why art thou persecuting us” Mangwana, minister of (hard) labour and (anti) social welfare is a lawyer who has refused to see the light. He claims that Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate is a mere 9% because the land “deformation” programme, flea marketing, vegetable vending, cross-border trading and home industries have absorbed every adult spewed from formal commerce and industry. In the same breath, he is said to be tormented by the very act of signing retrenchment, rather than employment packages, since this contradicts his natural wish to see Zimbabweans gainfully employed.

“Very soon”, Paul evangelises, “we will be trekking to Malawi in search of farm labourers…” Now, this is the man who is at the centre of a piece of legislative trash that is about to send 300 000 employed Zimbabwean souls onto the streets.

Just like his colleague, Joseph Made who condemned 300 000 commercial farm workers to lifelong poverty, Mangwana chooses to hide his head in the sand of political naivety. Yet what we know is that one of the glaring results of Zimbabwe’s meteoric fall from grace is not just the landslide emigration of intellectuals, but their absorption into local civic society organisations.

Political, public planning and economy professionals who have laboured to bring alternative survival to citizens whose government has faltered are at the helm of most NGOs. These unsung heroes, according to Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa are part of a sophisticated conspiracy to destroy Zimbabwe’s credibility by undermining a “legitimate” government.

So Zanu PF’s fear is not really about sovereignty — for that is beyond doubt — but alternative opinions propagated by citizens in the mould of Lovemore Madhuku, Brian Kagoro, Tony Reeler, Reginald Matchaba-Hove, Eileen Sawyer, Munyaradzi Bidi et al. By destroying civic society organisations, Mangwana and Chinamasa are demolishing their competitors in the electoral game.

But it is not a game any more, because it now involves death due to hunger, malnutrition and ignorance. Here lies my second point. Zanu PF MPs dominate rural constituencies and yet in most of those areas, education, health and economic infrastructure has not received a single dime from central government since 1980.

Accolades relating to service delivery in these forgotten zones have been festooned upon moribund MPs who ride the wave of NGO superiority. At political gatherings, they dish out books, computers, farm inputs and projects bankrolled by NGOs committed to the upliftment of communities they work with.

The word donor is a refrain in praise of people whose selfless commitment to the poor cannot be matched by any known civil servant. At the helm of this symphony, you will see MPs and government officials swinging and dancing to the beat of popular gratitude as if they care — now we know they really don’t.

Their double-faced, mumbled disapproval of the NGO law in parliament was a death knell of the demise of these poor rural people who are at the twilight of civilisation. Now that the game balls of their so-called parliamentary representatives have been deflated, the peasants can only wait and hope that the chief of political deliverance, Zanu PF, will not pass them by as they starve, cross flooded rivers or study under trees.

Finally, I want to cry for my beloved country. I was once proud to be a citizen of this country — green passport and all. I have laboured, cried, laughed, worshipped and played on the soils bound by the great rivers of Limpopo and Zambezi.

Wherever I went, fellow Africans would salivate while I gloated over my country’s sophisticated road network, high literacy rate, stable population growth, holiday resorts and food supplies. My eyes would sparkle when I talked about political tolerance, civic harmony, the rule of law, respect of property rights and racial pluralism.

The number of international organisations — some of them with headquarters in my country — Unesco, WHO, Aripo and others was sweet music to my conscience. Who would dare vilify me for waving nonchalantly at my country’s UN, OAU or Sadc representative as they extol the values of being simply Zimbabwean on international television? That was my country then.

Enter Chinamasa, Moyo, Made and Mangwana, the four musketeers in a drama where hero, villain and the audience are meant to burn in a shower of brimstone — and my country’s reputation is shredded. Even Nango can never predict the holocaust that will befall the nation from these control freaks.

Apart from cementing our status as truly a pariah state, Zanu PF’s aversion to political and civic competition sends a strong signal to the world that we are no longer part of a civilisation that magnifies the virtues of free association. By legislating against civic society — no matter how sensible it may seem to the party — the government has proved beyond reasonable doubt that it has a skewed opinion of real liberal democracy.

Research shows empirical evidence of a correlation between a healthy civic society, free political competition and economic prosperity. Just take a ride across to Botswana.

Yet for the past few months, Zimbabweans have been force-fed a diet of political propaganda that the country is on the brink of an economic turnaround. Now, this turnaround, without political and civic pluralism, is not only an illusion, but also a right about-turn into an abyss of economic desolation.

What kind of children will we breed who have a distorted view of free, fair elections and choice? What is the implication to cultural creativity when our children are exposed to monotonous radio and television programmes that only point to the superiority of one man, one party? Uku kusakwana chaiko!

My only hope is that we will wake up from this nightmare and send the culprits to where they really belong — solitary confinement.

*Rejoice Ngwenya is a Harare-based marketing executive.

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