Churches and aid groups
warned that a proposed law to regulate
non-governmental organisations in Zimbabwe
effectively criminalises aspects of Christian
charity work and deprives millions of impoverished
Zimbabweans of aid. The bill, proposed ahead
of key elections, does not interfere with strictly
spiritual aspects of church work, but it requires
that all charitable organisations register with
the state under stringent conditions and bans
On Monday, the multi-denominational Christians
Together for Justice and Peace joined mounting
protests against the bill, calling it "another
attempt to whittle away our rights and privileges
as Christians, and to restrict or imprison us
within a strictly religious domain.''
"Will churches be allowed to feed the hungry,
care for orphans, educate the poor, empower people
to think for themselves without fear of being
answerable to the government?'' the alliance asked
in a statement.
"Are we now to submit to a man-made
President Robert Mugabe has repeatedly
castigated church groups, charities and human
rights groups for criticising his increasingly
autocratic government, and accused them of
The proposed Non-governmental Organisations
Bill would require that such groups register with
a state-dominated regulatory council and disclose
details of their funding and programmes.
Funding from overseas would be illegal.
Groups that continue to operate after being
denied registration would be closed down and their
officials subject to arrest.
Parliament, dominated by Mugabe's ZANU-PF
party, is expected to approve the bill within
weeks ahead of legislative elections in March.
Aid groups warned that the bill's ban on
foreign funding threatens assistance to millions
of impoverished Zimbabweans, reeling from the
effects of the worst economic crisis since
independence from Britain in 1980.
"The bill criminalises a sector that is
providing social safety nets to a lot of
communities,'' said Jonah Mudehwe, head of the
National Association of Non-Governmental
This in a country where more than 70 percent of
the 12.5 million people live in poverty, a quarter
of the population is infected with HIV and 1
million children are orphans, he said in a
The proposed bill has been likened to sweeping
media laws passed in 2002 that gave the government
the power to shut down independent newspapers,
stifle criticism of its policies and arrest dozens
Non-governmental groups have documented alleged
human rights violations amid the political
violence that has killed 200 people and driven
tens of thousands from their homes since 2000.
Much of the violence has been blamed on ruling
party militants and security forces since the
government launched a program to seize thousands
of white-owned farms for redistribution to black
The land reform program, coupled with erratic
rains, has crippled the country's