18 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Civil Society Criticized for Failing to Act

Leaders of civil society organisations (CSOs) held a press conference in Harare on Friday, in reaction to what they say is a rising crackdown by the police on rights defenders, as the country prepares for elections. This follows the arrests of Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) officials, including director Okay Machisa on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, publishing falsehoods and forgery.

Abel Chikomo, the Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, said the CSOs condemned "the arbitrary arrests, detentions and continued persecution" saying it is an "onslaught meant to criminalize the work of civil society, discredit it and showcase CSOs as unpatriotic and devoid of national interest."

But the CSOs themselves are being criticized for failing to respond in a practical and cohesive manner to "government abuse".

Raymond Majongwe, who participated in the press conference on behalf of the Concerned Affiliates of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, told SW Radio Africa that it was time for less talk and more action.

"This is the challenge that I threw to the CSOs leaders. That we cannot continue holding press conferences and ZANU PF knows that we are very predictable. They arrest people, we have a press conference and after that we go and enjoy Macheso and Oliver Mtukudzi in the night clubs in the evenings.

"But the moment we grow as civic groups and say -if they arrest one they must arrest all of us - then we would have come out of the woods," Majongwe said.

The civic leader said CSOs, which are supposed to be action oriented, have failed as a collective to make the authorities in Zimbabwe accountable.

He said the MDC formation led by Prime Minister Tsvangirai, which has a minister in the Home Affairs ministry which is in charge of the police, is also "equally to blame" for failing to protect the citizenry.

The outspoken unionist said the lack of action by civil society will continue, until the "right leadership is there to lead the civic movement," saying that at present "many of us are there for other reasons."

Asked what he himself has done to lead by example he said it was difficult to deal with the challenges on your own. He added: "And we are taking instructions from so many people. It's not like the civic movement is independent. If the civic movement was independent and was driving its own agenda we would obviously get a lot of things right."

This is a reference to the fact that some observers criticise the donor community for unnecessarily interfering in NGO projects.

Meanwhile, the civil society organizations said on Friday that they will be presenting their grievances to SADC and the AU, the guarantors of the Zimbabwe political agreement. They also called upon the government to respect the separation of power between the executive and the judiciary, by allowing courts to do their work without any undue influence. They also called upon the international community to picket at Zimbabwean Embassies in solidarity with human rights defenders under attack back home.

Social commentator Rejoice Ngwenya said there is too much "posturing" by the CSOs who are failing to fulfill their mandate to defend and protect Zimbabweans from harassment from central government.

He said: "The causes of this lethargy are because of petty jealousies and competition. Civil society entities and leaders are very glad to see some of their competitors being subdued."

"I really feel there are hypocrites in this sector that take pride in the demise of their colleagues," Ngwenya added.

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