Zimbabwe: New regulations for NGOs as some suspend aid

By Regerai Marwezu

MASVINGO - The Zimbabwean government has announced a set of new tough regulations for the registration of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that were deregistered about two weeks ago.

Under the new regulations, all NGOs must first sign an agreement with President Robert Mugabe's government regulating their operations in Zimbabwe.

The NGOs will also be required to submit a letter of clearance from Interpol, the international police organisation. It was however not clear why the NGOs would need this clearance from the Interpol.

The government could also cancel the registration certificate and ban any group that violates the conditions of registration.

Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu threw the NGO sector into chaos after he announced two weeks ago that the government had deregistered all NGOs operating in Zimbabwe accusing most of them of pushing a "regime change" agenda against the government.

Several NGOs involved in food relief operations had reacted to the deregistration by suspending operations in the country demanding clarification from the government over their deregistration.

In a letter dated 19 April 2007, which was addressed to Social Welfare Minister Nicholas Goche, the NGOs advised the government that they were suspending operations as they could not continue to operate in an environment of uncertainty.

"We note with great concern that the government has announced that all NGOs have been deregistered without giving any details. It has become unsafe for us to operate in such an environment.

"It is with regret that we inform you that we have suspended operations until all sticking points have been addressed," read part of the letter.

Goche confirmed receiving the letter but added that the government would continue to feed the people with or without assistance from NGOs.

"With or without NGOs, we will continue to feed our people, but I am still to find out if the letter delivered to the ministry came from genuine NGOs," said Goche.

Officials from several NGOs that spoke to ZimOnline confirmed that they had suspended operations pending clarification from government over their deregistration.

"We have advised government as well as beneficiaries of this development. The decision is not political but we feel if the government deregisters an organization, it means it no longer recognises its existence," said one official with a local NGO that has been involved in food relief operations since 2002.

At least four million Zimbabweans, a quarter of the country's 12 million people, have relied on food handouts from NGOs over the past seven years after Mugabe disrupted the agriculture sector through his violent land reforms seven years ago.

The government accuses the NGOs of dabbling in politics by campaigning for the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party. The NGOs deny the charge.