Zimbabwe’s revised PVO Amendment Bill will restrict efforts to relieve hunger

 

Andrew Mambondiyani

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In a typical summer farming season in Zimbabwe, many small-scale farmers can grow enough food to feed their families for a whole year.

And they can even sell their surplus farm produce. It was not the case this year as the country was ravaged by a devastating El Niño induced drought, the worst drought in over 40 years. Crops—especially the staple maize— were completely wiped out leaving millions of people with no food. Now, up to half of Zimbabwe’s population is looking to philanthropic organisations for food aid.

Early this year, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared the El Niño drought a national disaster; at the same time appealing for US$2 billion from aid agencies to feed the starving population. By May this year the number of people who needed urgent food assistance in the country’s rural and urban areas had ballooned to nearly 8 million, according to Zimbabwe Livelihoods Assessment Committee (ZimLAC).

‘We did not harvest anything this year. We are hoping for food aid from donors until the next harvest around June next year,’ said Veronica Mabvumbe, a farmer in eastern Zimbabwe’s Mutare district told Alliance magazine. ‘The rivers we used to get water to irrigate our vegetable gardens have long dried up.’

While the Zimbabwe government is now seeking aid from philanthropic organisations to feed the hungry population, it is ironically re-tabling a controversial Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill.

Experts warned that the Bill would restrict efforts by philanthropic organisations to marshal resources to avert a famine in the country. The revised PVO Amendment Bill will accommodate reservations by President Mnangagwa who last year withheld his assent to the proposed law after it had been passed by parliament. In March this year, the government gazetted the revised Bill saying it would curb money-laundering and financing of terrorism as well as ensuring that NGOs do not undertake political lobbying. Following President Mnangagwa’s refusal to sign the PVO Amendment Bill last year, Amnesty International said there was hope that he had considered the submissions made by civil society organisations.

‘However, the new bill reflects that most of the issues raised were not addressed and it still contains provisions which will negatively impact civic space and threaten the continued existence and operations of Civil Society Organisations,’ said Amnesty International in a statement.

Public hearings on the PVO Amendment Bill in May this year were disrupted by acts of violence and intimidation by suspected ruling party, Zanu PF members.  Zimbabwe human rights and environmental campaigner, Farai Maguwu has since written to the Parliament of Zimbabwe to reconvene the public hearings on the PVO Amendment Bill following the chaotic and flawed public consultation process.

James Mupfumi, the director of the Centre for Research and Development (CRD), a Zimbabwe-based NGO told Alliance magazine that the PVO Amendment Bill was an attempt by political elites in government to close democratic space in the country. He added the political patronage system was the major reason why Zimbabwe’s land reform programme had failed and as a result, the country has nothing in its grain reserves to sustain the nation during this drought period.

‘This draconian law [PVO Amendment Bill] will restrict donor funding and leave helpless drought-stricken communities at the hands of politically weaponised food supplementary programmes by the government that are erratic and unsustainable,’ Mupfumi said. ‘The net effect is starvation, increased malnutrition in vulnerable rural communities and loss of lives.’

Former Zimbabwe opposition party —MDC Alliance—senator, Morgen Komichi said that the PVO Amendment Bill was an evil that cannot be part of the laws in a democratic country. Komichi said Zimbabwe was not under any threats from external forces except the constitutional general elections which are designed for people to elect the leadership of their choice.

‘We have the ruling party which is obsessed with power to govern at any cost and hence it comes up with diabolic laws which are oppressive. The government wants to run everything including NGOs. In a democratic country people and organizations should have some freedom,’ Komichi commented.

He said many private voluntary organisations in Zimbabwe were going to shut down resulting in a lot of suffering for ordinary people in the country.

‘With a serious drought in our country this year, passing such a draconian law only means that the government focuses on power retention rather than the lives of its people. People must reject this bill and the President should never assent to this diabolic bill,’ he said.

However, as for the current drought, President Mnangagwa has maintained that no Zimbabwean will die of starvation. Addressing thousands of people gathered of the memorial service of his grandson in Masvingo province in May this year, President Mnangagwa said the government had launched a nationwide initiative to establish business units in all 35 000 villages across the country. The initiative, President Mnangagwa said, was meant to support rural women to enhance food security through solar-powered boreholes to irrigate one hectare of land and facilities for fish farming.

‘Yes, this year there is drought, but we want to assure you that, as your government, we are doing everything in our power and capacity so that there is no family in Zimbabwe that succumbs to hunger because of lack of food,’  President Mnangagwa said.

Andrew Mambondiyani is a freelance journalist who has written for BBC, VICE News, The Daily Beast, YES Magazine and ZAM Magazine among others.


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