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Zimbabwe: Cornered Mnangagwa further tightens screws on voices of dissent

Steven Mahwai

HARARE – The Zimbabwean government’s bid to constrict voices of dissent reached a crescendo this week, as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration announced plans to tighten the registration and operations of non-governmental organisations.

Since the turn of the millennium, the Zanu (PF) government has accused NGOs of being part of a perceived Western plot to unseat it from power and although Mnangagwa had initially promised to allow for freedom of expression “including freedom to criticize government”, his party slid back to default mode in recent months, when the Harare administration began to see and smell the same phantom enemies incessantly blamed for the failures of his predecessor Robert Mugabe.

Briefing the media at a post cabinet meeting Wednesday, Acting Information minister Sekai Nzenza – also responsible for Social Welfare, announced government had begun a process of tightening registration of NGOs, widely believed to be conduits for opposition funding, under the guise the state was trying to prevent money laundering and terrorist activities. Zanu (PF) has always accused those trying to force the hand of democracy into Zimbabwean polity of being either enemies of the state or Western puppets.

Nzenza claimed the latest move was in compliance with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on combating money laundering and financing of terrorism by individuals and institutions regulations.

“More specifically, the amendment seeks to ensure that private voluntary organisations in Zimbabwe are not used as conduits for money laundering and funding of terrorist activities while seeking to bring about efficiency in the registration and regulation of the same,” Nzenza said, without elaborating on why Zimbabwe would be the first Southern African country to be targeted for acts of terrorism.

She admitted there had been no acts of terrorism by any NGO in Zimbabwe, but still justified what she called a move more focused on compliance with FAFT.

Fears abound that the latest stunt is just a desperate bid by Mnangagwa’s administration to further curtail incisive commentary on Zimbabwe, as the Zanu (PF) government continues to clutch at straws to try and deflect blows of blame for its failure to turn around the country’s economy, which has slid further into the abyss since the November 2017 coup that deposed long-serving dictator Robert Mugabe.

Already heads of NGOs such as Heal Zimbabwe are in court facing allegations of treason and plotting to overthrow a constitutionally elected government for their hand in the January protests over an out-of-the-blue fuel price hike of 150%.

Nzenza said the proposed law would demand that the NGOs – at registration, reveal both the targeted beneficiaries of their work and their funders. It would also criminalize an attempt to falsify information.

“Key provision of the principle amendments include that at registration, of the private voluntary organisation, all essential information regarding the beneficial ownership and interest in the PVO be disclosed to authorities,” Nzenza said, adding if such information was not disclosed, the registration of the NGO should be declined.

Finance minister Mthuli Ncube said Zimbabwe risked censure if it did not comply with the FAFT requirements.

“This is a very serious issue, the issue if terrorism is very serious world over and we have to comply,” said Ncube.

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