MASVINGO – The Zimbabwean government has given non-governmental organisations operating in the southern parts of the country a two-week ultimatum to shut down or face unspecified action, as President Emmerson Mnangagwa makes good his threat to silence voices of dissent, African Voice Global learnt this week.
During one of his party’s “Thank you” rallies in Masvingo’s Mwenezi district last month, Mnangagwa, who admitted he deployed the army to carry out a brutal crackdown against opposition and civil society activists, which allegedly left 17 people dead and saw several women being allegedly raped, threatened more heavy-handedness against those opposed to his governance, accusing them of being regime change agents sent by whites.
Apparently falling back to the iron fist-rule of his predecessor and former boss, Robert Mugabe, the Zanu (PF) leader has continued to tighten his screws on the civil society, as government this week served dozens of NGOs with letters ordering them to stop operations.
This comes as part of the government’s ongoing threats to shut down all NGOs perceived to be abdicating their core business to dabble with national politics. Zanu (PF) officials in the province have insisted that all NGOs that engage in political activities should be shut down immediately.
The latest move comes barely a week after the high court declared null and void the closure of COTRAD – an NGO operating in the province.
In utter contempt, Masvingo district administrator Ray Hove said this week government was not worried about the high court order, threatening to instead crack the whip on all NGOs perceived to have delved into politics with the aim of removing Mnangagwa’s government from power.
“We are going to make sure that we shut down all NGOs that are operating in the country with a regime change agenda,” said Mr Hove.
“We do not mind what the people will say because our duty is to ensure that NGOs stick to their core businesses. Those that abandon their area of operation and engage in denigrating the state will be closed and we have the powers to do that.”
An official with a big NGO in Masvingo confirmed several NGOs had been given the ultimatum to wind up their operations.
“Dozens of NGOs have received threats while others have been ordered to stop operations while their status is being investigated,” said the official speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We are operating under a very hostile environment and our future remains very uncertain.”
Some of the NGOs that have reportedly been served with the letters while under investigations include Concern Zimbabwe, Oxfam, Rural Unity and Development Organisation (RUDO) and Dutchcare.
The letters, signed by Masvingo provincial administrator Fungai Mbetsa and seen by African Voice Global read: “You are hereby advised to stop operations while government is investigating your registration status as well as your core business. Our aim is to ascertain your activities and area of operation and once this has been done in two weeks’ time you will be advised to continue with your activities.”
If carried through, the move would cast deeper into the mire thousands of aid-reliant people, especially rural women, the elderly and children, who survive on relief food aid in southern Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, COTRAD has resumed its operations, following the high court order which declared the district administrator had no legal power to ban any organisation.
During the run up to the 2008 elections the government through the then Masvingo provincial governor Titus Maluleke, banned at least 29 NGOs operating in Masvingo province, on accusations they were trying to unseat Mugabe.