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Decade-long Threat to Civil Society

CIVIL society organisations (CSOs) have been under security threat for the past 10 years as calls for democracy have been met with restrictive laws, socio-economic and targeted political violence, a study by the country’s National Association of Non Governmental Organisations (Nango) has revealed.

The findings of the study titled Civil society security scoping were recently made public by Nango.

“The past decade has seen increased and open harassment of CSOs and their members as calls for democracy were met with socio-economic and political violence,” Nango chief executive officer Cephas Zinhumwe said in the study.

“Through targetted violence and restrictive legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Interception of Communication Act and the Private Voluntary Organisation Act, among others, civil society operating space has  shrunk by the day.”

According to the study, nearly all CSOs in the country were living in fear and insecurity leading to self-censorship, paralysis of programmes, muzzling of free flow of information, brain drain and demobilisation.

The level of risk and insecurity, the study said, varied from sector to sector and also depended on the nature of programmes and activities of a particular organisation and individuals within an organisation.

The study revealed worsening relations between CSOs and government with the former being accused of pursuing a regime change agenda. In June 2008, a blanket ban was imposed  on all NGOs stopping them from conducting fieldwork.

“The ban was interpreted differently with some CSOs closing shop after receiving the ban or being forced to close by Zanu PF youths and war veterans,” reads the study.

Repressive laws and paraphernalia of other draconian laws, the Nango study revealed, were being used to curtail civic activities.

Apart from the repressive legislation, other threats identified included the political impasse occasioned by the disputed March and June 2008 elections, unavailability of funds for programmes, direct attack on individuals, threats to assets and infiltration.

The study also revealed that CSOs had difficulties in accessing their local and foreign currency after the central bank in February 2008 ordered them to open foreign currency accounts with the bank for better monitoring.

“Unbeknown to them, the RBZ intended to put the money to some other use,” the study said. “CSOs found themselves unable to access foreign currency for programmes. Zimbabwe also faced a cash crisis that resulted in the CSOs being unable to access local currency for programmes.”

Physical harm of staffers was also cited by the study.

“Individual staff members and activists face harassment, abduction, arrest and threats of their well being. Activists were abducted without trace in November and December 2008 only for the police who initially denied having them in custody to bring them to court in late December 2008.

Among those abducted was human rights activist and director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project Jestina Mukoko.

“Various court orders granting the activists access to medication or release were ignored. CSOs no longer have faith in the justice system as it is now prone to party politics. Some activists, especially those in the human rights sector, have had to flee to neighbouring countries or go underground for fear of reprisals,” the study read.

The government, Zanu PF, militia, war veterans, civil servants, the army and the police were identified as the greatest threats to CSOs. — Staff Writer.

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