|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
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LETTER FROM KUTAMA: MTHULISI MATHUTHU
The reasons are not hard to find.
Just as the NGOs and civil society braved the counter-insurgency terror of the early 1980s in defence of human rights, they have remained resolute to this date in exposing official violence and repression. These organisations have been branded "megaphones for their foreign masters" and "enemies of the state". Already, two British organisations - Oxfam and Save the Children - have been stopped from distributing food to the hungry.
Commentators this week described the ongoing campaign against the public interest groups as part of a wider plan to sweep away all political liberties, emasculate civil society and entrench the government's totalitarian hold on every facet of life. While the government's intolerance of NGOs is not new, the current hype against them has shown renewed determination to eliminate dissent and destroy their capacity to function. Like the press, the NGOs remain the vital medium for self-expression and public awareness, hence the official hostility.
Since the official announcement last month that the NGOs should register under the Private Voluntary Organisations Act there has been a concentrated effort to single out as "imperialist agents" specific groups such as the Amani Trust, Transparency International, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Legal Resources Foundation and Crisis Zimbabwe -all of whom have helped expose the government's appalling human rights record and its involvement in dubious privatisation deals.
Brian Kagoro, a lawyer and human rights activist, said the government was determined to mount a sustained programme to emasculate civil society and pull the rug from under the feet of the established independent organisations and create its own groups. Already, a disturbing trend is evident with the emergence of state-sponsored groups who pose as civil society while extolling President Mugabe's ideas. "The issue is not about the NGOs having done anything wrong but about control," Kagoro said. "They are aiming at clearing the space for their own pliant organisations who will praise the government in the name of nationalism. When people say there is no associational life in Zimbabwe they will simply point to the ones they have created," he said.
Commentators say these groups are at times led by academics concocting eulogies for Mugabe under the pretext of political analysis - imagining themselves as the liberated scholars espousing the ideals of a misunderstood African patriot. Davira Mhere, a London-based group led by Chinondidyachii Mararike, the Gaddafi Sisters Foundation, and the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions are a case in point. So is Africa Strategy led by David Nyekorach-Matsanga, a wanted fugitive spokesperson for the Ugandan terrorist group, Lord's Resistance Arm.
Feeding from the totalitarian mindset, the plot also involves a heavy propaganda drumbeat and ultra-nationalist rhetoric, deceit and patronage. Analysts said this was evident in organisations such as Heritage-Zimbabwe whose garrulous leader, Jocelyn Chiwenga, has repeatedly exhibited a paranoid disposition imagining white foreigners as the enemies of the state. So has Zim-Alliances led by Bright Matonga who has been sucked into the Mugabe regime's makeover kit. It is through such organisations that the government hopes to limit civic and voter education and counter those which have shown inclination towards exposing political brutality and lawlessness.
Generally, the NGOs are an inconvenience to any totalitarian state as they mobilise a plurality of views and make complex issues comprehensible to the general public.
A piece of history may be in order. Malaysian authoritarian ruler, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, has trodden the same course. After his 1986 re-election, Mahathir decided to mount an attack on the NGOs whom he saw as "negative" and anti-government. These organisations had, before and after the election, helped focus national attention on Mahathir's own misrule and hence the crackdown and their labelling as the "enemies of the state" and "tools of foreign powers".
Federal Territory minister Abu Hassan Omar led the crackdown on organisations like the Consumers'Association of Penang (CAP), the Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia (EPSM), the Selangor Graduates Society and the Malaysian Bar Council all of whom he described as being the "thorns in the flesh" of the country.
These organisations had mobilised attention on unjust laws such as the Official Secrets Act and other fundamentally flawed measures designed to stifle dissent and muzzle the free press. Mahathir's antipathy towards them also stemmed from their earlier involvement in the public protests and sharp criticisms of the government's nursing of graft. The judiciary also came under sustained assault leading to the removal of the Chief Justice.
Mahathir's soul mate, President Mugabe, has embraced the same tactic. In addition to blocking Oxfam and Save the Children the government has threatened measures to restrict the operations of civic groups perceived as anti-government. Analysts said by using colonial and fascist tactics in controlling the NGOs the government was missing the opportunity to create conditions for the growth of a fair and balanced civil society.
The proliferation of new government-funded organisations - some of which are single member entities - is seen as a disservice to the democratic cause.
At a workshop organised by the University of Zimbabwe's faculty of law in September 1992, then political science lecturer Jonathan Moyo gave an insightful warning:
"It is true that there is a noticeable proliferation of local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other voluntary associations in Southern Africa". He added: "But this proliferation does not necessarily spell good news for democracy and human rights. Far from it - most of the mushrooming NGOs and voluntary associations are in fact a danger to the prospects of democracy and human rights because they seek a type of particularism, fundamentalism and ethno-nationalism which is based on intolerance of other groups." Ironically today, he is at the centre of the campaign to dislodge the civil society and replace it with fundamentalist and "ethno-nationalist" bodies.
The government today is evidently involved in
creating and sponsoring bogus organisations to extol Mugabe's spurious values
and mount a propaganda drive, locally and abroad, on behalf of their master who
is facing isolation and an ever-deepening legitimacy crisis.