Reflecting the election fever mounting within Zimbabwe's ZANU-PF which is demanding a ballot be held this year, the Masvingo provincial government has suspended operations of some non-governmental organizations charging that they failed to meet registration requirements and were engaging in political activities.
In a move reminiscent of the run-up to the 2008 elections, Masvingo Governor Titus Maluleke this week read the riot act to NGOs operating in the province before indefinitely suspending 29 of them from conducting further operations.
This crackdown has left thousands of beneficiaries without services which were provided by suspended NGOs. Suspended organizations included the Zimbabwe Peace Project, Bikita Care International and providers of services to people living with HIV and AIDS.
Maluleke made the announcement after meeting with members of the Joint Operations Command in Masvingo including the head of the army, police, and prison services in the province. Flanked by Joint Operations Command members, the governor said he had given the NGOs until last December to register, but they failed to do so.
He said he was left with no option but to suspend the organizations from operating in Masvingo province because they were outside the law.
“Given the foregoing, I am left with no option but to immediately suspend your organization from doing any operations in my province until all the requirements of the law are met,” Maluleke said.
The governor said NGOs seeking to operate in the province should not only inform his office but seek authority from him to do so.
The move has cast a cloud of uncertainty over thousands of hungry villagers who depended on the NGOs to obtain relief food assistance.
HIV-positive Masvingo resident Nyeverai Ngwirizi said he has been receiving help from NGOs for years, but the suspensions cut him off from free medicine and food.
“This action which the governor took is very, very disturbing to our lives, especially me, because I really depend on these NGOs. I hope he will reverse his decision," he said.
National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations Provincial Chairman Sylvester Chin’anga said the affected NGOs must comply with the governor’s requirements. But he said many people will suffer as the flow of services has been disrupted.
President Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF have often accused NGOs of engaging in politics, but NGOs say they are just performing their duties.
Cephas Zinhumwe, chief executive of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, said the NGOs may not have registered their organizations because they were challenging the legality of recent demands by the governor.