HARARE – Government’s stern warning to Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) accused of meddling in politics should not be taken lightly.
Acting Social Welfare minister Kazembe Kazembe said his office had received several reports that can lead to the withdrawal of licences from NGOs in the country, a development that will further strain the relationship between government and the Western world.
We hope government realises some of these organisations’ area of work revolves around advocating the public’s rights and wishes of the people, including but not limited to health, environment, economic and political rights.
They fulfil important duties of checks and balances in democracies, hence free and active civil societies are an indicator of a healthy participatory democracy.
Hopefully, Zimbabwe is not being taken back to the dark, oppressive era of dictator Robert Mugabe when NGOs were viewed as enemies of the state.
We recognise the important role NGOs play in our communities as partners in promoting and supporting our values and principles.
And when the minister talks of NGOs who meddle in politics, he is not being clear and sincere because these organisations have a vital role to play in monitoring the conduct of government and elections.
During election time, a broad coalition of organisations — unconnected to political parties — are deployed as neutral monitors to ensure voting is entirely free, fair, peaceful, and transparent.
Surely, this cannot be considered meddling in politics.
It is not a secret that NGOs play an important role in enhancing transparency and good governance by contributing to increased public debate on issues around the formulation and implementation of government budgets as well as in supporting greater transparency of public revenues.
The problem is that government doesn’t want to be monitored and be accountable to the people. Always when a country is emerging from decades of dictatorship, it needs to find ways to check, monitor, and restrain the power of political leaders and state officials.
NGOs may establish ties with political parties and the state, but they must retain their independence since they do not seek political power for themselves.
Over the years, NGOs and interest groups have presented their views to Parliament and established dialogue with relevant government ministries to lobby for their interests and concerns.
Government must be reminded that civil society organisations help to develop values of democratic life: tolerance, moderation, compromise, and respect for opposing points of view.