Dear President WE write on behalf of the Britain Zimbabwe Society. The BZS was founded in 1981 to represent the interests of the people of Zimbabwe rather than any particular party or regime. In particular it has no affiliation either wit
h the Zimbabwean or the British governments, or with any Zimbabwean political movement or party.
The society circulates accurate information about Zimbabwe and encourages research. It promotes understanding and friendship between the peoples of the two countries, encouraging twinning between Zimbabwean schools and cities and British schools and cities.
It works with Zimbabweans in Britain, many of whom are members. It has raised funds for Zimbabwean NGOs concerned with rural water supplies, the rehabilitation of street children, the education of Aids orphans etc. It has also been supportive of state institutions such as the University of Zimbabwe, National Galleries and National Archives.
The society has not previously made representations about Zimbabwean domestic legislation. But we write to you now to express deep unhappiness about the NGO Bill currently before the parliament of Zimbabwe. This Bill affects all the concerns and activities of the society.
Our commitment is to the interests of the people of Zimbabwe. We welcome the Sadc undertaking to ensure democratic participation by citizens of the region. But the NGO Bill and the limits it proposes on civil society runs counter to the principles set out in the African Union’s Constitutive Act and the Sadc guidelines concerning the role of citizens in political life.
The definition of NGOs proposed in the Bill is far too wide. Human rights groups are its main targets but organisations ranging from medical partnerships to pension funds will have to register under this Bill. So too will charities which we support and which deal with grassroots emergencies.
The Bill bans any external support for human rights and governance activities and it is unclear how widely such activities will be defined. We fear that the ban will affect our own support for Zimbabweans in general and for Zimbabwean NGOs in particular, for twinning programmes, etc.
Moreover, in seeking to provide accurate information about Zimbabwe we have drawn not only on material provided by the Zimbabwean government or the state press, but also upon the regular reports of human rights organisations. (The evidence offered in these reports has recently been confirmed by the report of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights).
Under the provisions of the Bill it will become impossible for anyone to achieve a balanced picture of what is happening in Zimbabwe.
We are disturbed also that the Bill effectively makes Zimbabweans living in Britain foreigners and restricts their capacity to contribute to voluntary work in their own country.
Our experience of these Zimbabweans is that they are very much concerned to devise ways of developing Zimbabwe’s economic, social and political life. It is short-sighted as well as undemocratic to treat them as aliens.
We ask you to use your influence with the Zimbabwe government to have this Bill withdrawn.
Terence Ranger, President of the Britain Zimbabwe Society, and Diana Jeater, Chair of the Britain Zimbabwe Society,