The Zimbabwean government has expanded its crackdown on opposition elements by threatening to revoke the registration of all nongovernmental organizations and oblige them to submit new applications for approval to continue their operations.
A number of civil society organizations are engaged in the country's broad movement for democratic reform under the banner of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, but others provide critical social services such as distributing food or providing health care.
Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu in an interview with Zimbabwe state radio said the deregistration, which he presented as a step the government had already taken, is intended to allow Harare to weed out what he described as “agents of imperialism” allegedly serving the Western critics of President Robert Mugabe.
But lawyers said the wholesale deregistration of NGO’s is unconstitutional. The move comes just a few days after Harare terminated a program for technical assistance to Zimbabwe's parliament funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Government officials said the USAID program was part and parcel of a U.S. strategy to effect “regime change,” a charge that U.S. officials have denied.
U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell said Tuesday that the USAID-funded program had been launched eight years ago at the request of the Zimbabwean government.
Ndlovu declined to speak at length about the government measure, but told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Harare wants to sift out NGOs that serve Western governments trying to topple President Robert Mugabe.
Speaking for the NGO community, Program Director Bob Muchabayiwa of the National Association of Nongovernmental Organizations said NANGO has received no communications from the government concerning deregistration.
Chairman Lovemore Madhuku of the National Constitutional Assembly, an expert on constitutional law, said the proposed wholesale deregistration is unconstitutional.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...