|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
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Comment from ZWNEWS, 23 October
Charity to become a crime
By Michael Hartnack
In new legislation being put before Parliament, Robert Mugabe's regime plans to make it a crime, punishable by up to six months' imprisonment, for anyone to undertake any act of organised charity - even on an entirely informal basis. The hurried revision of Zimbabwe's Voluntary Organisations Act follows denunciations by Mugabe of non-governmental organisations as "hatcheries of political opposition"; the seizure of U.N. food supplies by militants of the ruling Zanu PF party; and a ban on two major international charities, Oxfam and Save the Children (UK) from distributing relief in the Binga area bordering Lake Kariba, where 29 people are already reported to have died from malnutrition- related illnesses. Earlier, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bulawayo and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace were barred by Mugabe's self-styled "war veterans" from distributing relief, because they refused to do so under the aegis of Zanu PF party. The legislation aimed at aid agencies, NGOs and, indeed, the whole of civil society is being accompanied by the drafting of a "Code of Ethics" by the state-sponsored National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations which, according to official sources, will prevent relief organisations "interfering in our internal politics." The proposed legislation and the ethics code is so wide-ranging that a group of drinking pals at a sports club who have an occasional whip round to buy groceries for a destitute old friend, or for an AIDS orphans, will be criminals.
The United Nations' World Food Programme last week withdrew "until further notice" from distributing relief in the Insiza constituency, near Bulawayo, after staff of a voluntary organisation were intimidated into surrendering three tonnes of WFP aid to Zanu PF party officials. A parliamentary by-election is due there October 26-27. The stolen food was distributed by Zanu PF to persons "who may not be intended beneficiaries", said a WFP spokesman. In other words, the food was handed out as part of the Zanu PF campaign. Welshman Ncube, secretary general of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, gives his party slim chances of retaining the constituency, left vacant by the mysterious death of one of its members of Parliament. Every time the MDC tries to hold a rally in Insiza, officials organise either for a charity or for government agencies to start distributing relief to starving rural people nearby. Voters naturally "serve their stomachs", said Ncube, and rush off to queue, where they are vetted for party cards and required to chant slogans. Ncube said hungry and frightened voters tell the MDC a by-election loss for Mugabe will not weaken his grip on power but will simply bring more misery on Insiza. Information Minister Jonathan Moyo blamed the events in Insiza on British High Commissioner Brian Donnelly who, he claimed, had been exerting sinister influence on the WFP and charities to deny food to Zanu PF members.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says, country-wide, 6.7 million people are in danger of starvation. When, as feared, food shortages become critical in December - March, "major death" must be expected, predicts Tony Hall, U.S. ambassador to the Food and Agricultural Organisation. Yet Mugabe's regime has maintained the strict state monopoly on importing or dealing in grain. Violent reprisals continue against opposition supporters involved in contesting recent local government elections, and Amani Trust, a major human rights organisation here, is now accused by the regime of "sponsoring violence" at the instigation of Britain. Some 200 suspected opponents of Mugabe have died violently in the past two years, the killers having complete immunity from prosecution.
As ever, Mugabe set the tone for the latest crackdown. Accusing NGOs of hatching political opposition, he added ominously in an address to the Zanu PF central committee on October 11, "Political opponents will be dealt with politically. Moneys continue to pour in variously: through individuals, through Trojan horses, among them NGOs, trade unions, select private media, embassies, private companies and selected banks, through trusts, through the so-called international development agencies, through foundations and even through drought relief structures - all to be used against us," said Mugabe. He added that these organisations "no longer regard themselves as our guests. Well, we will soon remind them who they are, where they belong, and what their accredited mission is." In a legal opinion for a consortium of welfare groups, Professor Brian Kagoro has denounced the proposed legislation and "Code of Ethics" as a gross infringement of constitutional rights of free association. "It is tantamount to saying that - faced with the incapacity of the state and registered private voluntary organisations to respond to the current food crisis due to its magnitude - all other bona fide efforts to assist are criminal," he said.