BRIAN CHITEMBA CANDID COMMENT
THE government is increasingly tightening the democratic space. The latest being the new requirements that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) be cleared by provincial development coordinators.
This came days after Zanu PF acting spokesman Patrick Chinamasa threatened the civil society.
He recently told the media that the government would not hesitate to deregister some of the 3 500 NGOs accused of meddling in politics.
The love-hate relationship between the government and NGOs is not new. It dates back to the days of late former president Robert Mugabe who had no kind words for civil society. Western governments are accused of sponsoring a “regime-change agenda” through millions of United States dollars given to NGOs annually.
These requirements on the NGOs ahead of the 2023 elections are not a surprise. This is the modus operandi of Zanu PF of thwarting dissenting voices.
This also explains why draconian pieces of legislation such as the Patriotic Bill are being crafted ahead of elections. The idea is to maintain a tight leash on democracy — even 41 years after independence.
When the so-called new dispensation came into power, via a military intervention, it promised a raft of changes as its authors posed as reformists. But the firm grip on democratic space including limited access to media by opposition political parties and blocking of civic society voices, speak otherwise.
NGOs are accused of dabbling in opposition politics as they push for voter education and registration.
While some may be found wanting with regards participation in politics, those with well-meaning voter registration and education programmes should be left to do their work without government interference. There is no need for excessive force in dealing with civic societies. Heavy-handedness taints the country’s image at a time President Emmerson Mnangagwa administration is on a re-engagement drive.
It seems democracy is on trial as the nation moves towards 2023. It remains to be seen if the government will be tolerant ahead of the elections.
Inversely, the NGOs must also stick to their mandate. There are many of such organisations who help alleviate poverty in vulnerable communities. Some have provided food during recent recurring droughts and assistance during disasters such as Cyclone Idai in some parts of Manicaland. Those with no business in politics should not overstep and meddle in opposition politics.
Issues of sovereignty cannot be overemphasised as Zimbabwe has to shape its own destiny without unwarranted intervention by outside forces. But when voices call for respect for the rule of law, property rights and an end to disenfranchisement of people considered to be anti-Zanu PF, the government should raise tolerance levels rather than closing the democratic space.
The government and NGOs need to mend relations to ensure organisations doing developmental work are not affected by the toxic politics. It’s time Zimbabwe’s democracy matures!