'Shrinking civic space': Mnangagwa to sign law effectively banning NGOs in Zimbabwe

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Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
PHOTO: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP
  • President Emmerson Mnangwana is to enact a law effectively banning NGOs in his country.
  • Almost 300 NGOs were deregistered in Zimbabwe in January.
  • UN experts say the new law will restrict "civic space", a violation of international law.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa says he will, without delay, sign into law the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Bill that will restrict civic space.

The law will result in the closure of almost 100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), most of which are engaged in humanitarian, peace, and democratic accountability work.

Already, 291 NGOs were deregistered in January this year.

Some failed to present their audited statements to the public service and social welfare ministry.

In his weekly column in the state-run Sunday Mail, Mnangagwa said the PVO Bill would "protect and defend our sovereignty from foreign interests which seek to take advantage of the genuine need in our society, to infiltrate and destabilise us".

This will be the second time that NGOs have effectively been banned before elections in Zimbabwe.

On 4 June 2008, a few weeks before the presidential run-off, having lost the first round of polls to Morgan Tsvangirai, then-president Robert Mugabe banned all NGO operations. 

However, he later excluded organisations involved with HIV/Aids, children, the disabled, and the care of the elderly.

The ban was lifted on 29 August 2009 after Mugabe was re-elected unopposed to the presidency. The embargo interfered with the donor community's plans to provide roughly seven million Zimbabweans with essential food aid.

For years, Mugabe would continue to threatening NGOs with bans, accusing them of supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T).

This time, his successor Mnangagwa has come up with a law that allows him to force foreign nations to deal with the government directly if they claim to be "genuine partners".

He said:

Why would foreign sovereigns seek to relate to another sovereign state through NGOs?

Clement Voule, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly, said in a joint statement with other UN experts that while there were some genuine concerns, the umbrella law was restrictive of freedom of expression and association.

"While one of the stated aims of the Bill is to counter terrorism and money laundering in Zimbabwe, the restrictions contained therein will have a chilling effect on civil society organisations – particularly dissenting voices.

"By enacting this legislation, authorities would effectively be closing an already shrinking civic space," the UN experts said.

Last year the UN experts, upon reading the proposed law, noted that it was incompatible with international human rights obligations.

The law will come into effect in Zimbabwe at a time when there are moves by the Eswatini monarchy to introduce similar legislation to curb dissenting voices.


The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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