Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: NGOs to discuss restrictions with govt

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JOHANNESBURG, 4 August (IRIN) - Nongovernmental organisations in Zimbabwe are expected to meet with senior government officials at the end of August to focus on the immense challenges facing civil rights groups.

The meeting is being coordinated by the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO), an umbrella body whose 400 members are involved in various activities, including civic and voter education, drought relief operations and HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness programmes.

NANGO spokesman Jonah Mudehwe told IRIN that restrictive regulations contained in the Non-Governmental Organisations Bill of 2004 was a chief concern.

The controversial Bill was passed by parliament late last year but President Robert Mugabe refused to sign it into law and referred it back to parliament for further discussion.

If it comes into force, the legislation will bar NGOs from receiving foreign funding for governance programmes. Most NGOs depend on foreign funding for the majority of their programmes.

However, since 2000 the government has ordered the closure of a number of NGOs and banned others from operating in the country after accusing them of acting as fronts and conduits for Western governments and the main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change.

"Political factors in the form of the harsh NGO Bill of 2004 have also complicated our operations and created a feeling of fear and uncertainty," said Mudehwe. "Some organisations do not know if they will be allowed to operate from the day the Bill becomes law. We therefore seek to interact with the leadership, so that we can bring them to appreciate our operating conditions".

The meeting has been called in the wake of sharp increases in the number of Zimbabweans needing all sorts of assistance. The international community estimates that up to four million people across the country will need food aid this year and NGOs have already taken the lead in assisting over 700,000 people made homeless by the government's controversial urban cleanup operation.

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