19 February 2012

Zimbabwe: Banning NGOs Is the Height of Lunacy


Masvingo Governor Titus Maluleke's inexplicable ban of 29 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) was the last thing anyone expected from a government official in charge of a province that is in dire need of food assistance.

Maluleke, who is struggling to make a mark in a province once blessed with political greats such as the late Vice-President Simon Muzenda and Eddison Zvobgo, who was the Zanu PF legal supremo, hogged the limelight last week when he suspended aid organisations from operating in his province.

Among these organisations was Care International which has been heavily involved in drought relief programmes.

Nobody in his right senses expected the governor to behave that way. But Maluleke had the guts to do so, throwing the lives of thousands of vulnerable people in jeopardy.

Although he may think he scored some cheap political points, Maluleke's actions exhibited deep-seated paranoia that afflicts many Zanu PF politicians, be they in provinces or at national level.

These officials always fear that the activities of NGOs somehow undermine Zanu PF while at the same time promoting Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC-T. They view the work of NGOs as a strategy by Western countries, bent on regime change, to penetrate rural areas that are seen as the last bastion of Zanu PF's support base.

With talk of possible elections this or next year, the activities of NGOs are now being closely watched by officials like Maluleke who fear that by being left out of NGOs activities, Zanu PF is losing its traditional stranglehold on the grassroots.

Since independence, Zanu PF has enjoyed unequalled forays in rural areas where it doled out drought-relief maize to villagers whenever an election beckoned. Often times this food aid, said to be a gift from President Robert Mugabe, has been used as a tool to get the much needed votes from starving villagers. But now times have changed. The party, which once dominated Zimbabwe's political landscape, no longer enjoys a monopoly over state resources.

Bankrupt both in terms of resources and ideas, Zanu PF can only feed villagers with revolutionary slogans and songs. On the contrary, NGOs do the opposite by bringing the much needed food aid to the elderly, the infirm and orphans in rural areas.

Think about organisations like Care that have provided life-saving beans, cooking oil and maize meal to the needy in Gutu, Chivi, Zaka and Mwenezi districts. Perennially these districts experience poor harvests, and, without such interventions, people risk dying of starvation. Other NGOs have been assisting communities with seed and fertilisers and in the process, promoting food sufficiency.

All this has evidently alarmed Maluleke who has been reduced to a spectator as other people continue to make inroads into Masvingo's districts, thereby winning the hearts and minds of the provincial folk.

It is in this context that Maluleke's unwarranted ban on the operations of NGOs should be considered. It has nothing to do with enforcing the law but is more about Zanu PF trying to regain lost ground.

But the question is: if Maluleke succeeds in kicking NGOs out of Masvingo province, who does he replace them with? All social welfare programmes have all but collapsed across the country and so the consequences of his antics could be too ghastly to contemplate for a province that is facing another poor harvest.

We can only hope that Maluleke's antics are only the work of one uninformed governor rather than the beginning a renewed crackdown on NGOs, ahead of possible elections either this or next year. That would be a recipe for disaster.

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