Zimbabwean civil society must stand together

“If we loose our credibility as civil society we are gone. And much of civil society in Zimbabwe has failed to pressure ZANU-PF”. Cephas Zinumwe, NANGO‘s Chief Executive Officer, is talking to Africa Contact on a cold November morning in Copenhagen. He is in Denmark to discuss and highlight the decreased political space in vulnerable states such as Zimbabwe.

Cephas is worried that parts of civil society in Zimbabwe are failing to live up to their role as society’s political watchdog. The mission of civil society is after all to take the moral high ground and leave the compromises to the politicians. But the distinction between civil society and party-politics is becoming increasingly muddled in Zimbabwe, as it tends to do in countries such as Zimbabwe where most of the money flows through the top echelons of the state, and where the state and government are entwined.

“It is unfortunate that some of our members have gotten their hands dirty. It is difficult to see a difference between these civil society representatives and politicians. It is dangerous to have too many links to political parties such as MDC”, Cephas says. The problem is that there is no credible political alternative. “MDC is the only political alternative to Mugabe”, he says, “and people blindly support MDC even if they make mistakes.”

Cephas is worried that any genuine transformation of power from ZANU-PF to the MDC will be very difficult indeed, however. “If elections are won by the MDC, will power be transformed? Because Mugabe and his entourage know that if this happens, they will be transferred to prison or to the Hague.”

But even if the MDC was to somehow succeed in ousting Mugabe and ZANU-PF, all will not be well. Firstly, Tsvangirai is surrounded by people who seem more in line with IMF and the World Bank neo-liberalism than with the masses of poor people in Zimbabwe who are most in need of a change of government. Secondly, simply changing the name of the party in power will not solve Zimbabwe’s problems. And Cephas acknowledges that a new, broadly-founded constitution that does away with the almost unlimited powers that the executive president in Zimbabwe has, is a pre-condition for any real change.

There is also a problem of infighting within civil society, however, that needs to be solved for any such transformation of power will materialise – an infighting that has made it far too easy for Mugabe and ZANU-PF to disregard and intimidate the MDC and Zimbabwe’s civil society, according to Cephas Zinumwe. “Us as NANGO, looking at our membership, we are fighting each other. We need strong voices. As it is now they are fighting each other and they are weak.”

Another important reason for civil society’s lack of impact in Zimbabwe, he says, is an increasingly business-like mindset within civil society organisations. “Civil society is changing a lot. Out focus is like that of business, we are no longer thinking as civil society. We need to think about ‘what is the reason for our existence?’ But our values are changing every day and we are focusing too much on creating an income.”

Cephas admits that this business-mentality is probably also connected to the recent financial turmoil and mass-unemployment in Zimbabwe, and that people therefore have had to worry about putting bread on the table. “People end up fighting for their jobs instead of the causes they should be fighting for.” We must not only blame Zimbabwean civil society for this mentality however, he insists, but also Zimbabwe’s donors. “The challenge that some of our civil society is facing comes from our friends, the donors. If they do not agree they pull the plug like they did with the NCA.”

The National Association of NGOs (NANGO) is an umbrella organisation of over 1000 NGOs in Zimbabwe. NANGO is committed to “strengthen, represent and coordinate the work of NGOs in Zimbabwe by creating space, promoting networking, dialogue and engagement to enable the fulfilment of members’ visions and missions”. NANGOs vision is “a proactive community of NGOs responsive and committed to the sustainable development needs of all people in Zimbabwe and the full realisation of human rights, democracy, good governance and poverty alleviation.”

Links:

Zimbabwe: Statement On The Human Rights Situation In Zimbabwe – African Commission On Human And Peoples’ Rights

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