On March 30, 2020, an order imposed a national lockdown for 21 days and prohibited all public gatherings of more than two people, with very limited exceptions, on account of the coronavirus pandemic. Anyone who violated the lockdown could be punished with a Level 12 fine and one year’s imprisonment. A person found further than 5km from his or her home could be arrested without a warrant and put in detention, isolation, or quarantine. Any person who published or communicated “false news” about any official involved with enforcing the national lockdown, or about any private individual with the effect of harming the state’s enforcement of the lockdown, was liable to a penalty of up to a Level 14 fine or 20 years in prison or both. For more details, see the ECNL-ICNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker’s entry for Zimbabwe.
The President in his State of the Nation Address on October 22, 2020 provided indications that the government continues to mull the idea of restricting and increasing the monitoring of NGO work. Subsequently, on October 28, the Zimbabwean cabinet approved an amendment to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act that would criminalize political and human rights activism. This amendment is yet to be debated in Parliament and passed into law. Please see the Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives section below in this report for more details.
The legal system in Zimbabwe is a hybrid system, consisting of influences from Dutch civil law, English common law, and customary laws and traditions. Civil society organization (CSOs) operations in Zimbabwe have been governed by legislation from the colonial era. The colonial-era Welfare Organizations Act (1967) was aimed at controlling entities believed to be linked to the liberation movement and spreading information about the human rights situation in then Rhodesia. While the Welfare Organizations Act remained in force, most CSOs focused on humanitarian efforts and operated under the auspices of churches as church-related bodies, training and education institutions. Few CSOs dared to tread into the political rights arena, as this attracted the wrath of the colonial government, which condemned any such activity, especially to the extent it was perceived to support, aid or abet the liberation cause. In addition, the Unlawful Organizations Act was used to ban African political and other colonial resistance movements.
Following independence, as the socio-political situation in post-independent Zimbabwe deteriorated in the late 1990s, there was a huge shift of emphasis by both old and new CSOs toward issues concerning democracy and governance. Indeed most of Zimbabwe’s opposition was born and bred from civil society. With the increased demand for democratic space and reforms in Zimbabwe, CSOs became targets of state harassment through increased legislative and administrative interference because they were perceived as extensions of the political opposition. The ruling party at that time, President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF, routinely declared that CSOs and even churches, or anyone who was not a politician, had no place in the politics of the country. These sentiments continued beyond the conclusion of July 2013 elections, which led to an outright win by the ZANU PF and brought an end to the transitional Inclusive Government (IG) of February 2009 that had come into force with the signing of the Inter-Party Agreement in September 2008. After the elections in July 2018, ZANU PF again emerged victorious.
At the inception of the IG in February 2009, there was a public expectation that democratic space would open up for both ordinary Zimbabweans and or CSOs. While there were pledges of a progressive legislative reform agenda to open up democratic space for CSOs and Zimbabweans, these reforms were not fulfilled. The human rights situation also did not improve during the term of the IG despite the secondment of several CSO representatives to top government offices and to new institutions, such. During the last ten months of the IG, between October and July 2013, CSOs and their staff were repeatedly targeted and a number of directors were charged with operating “illegally”, which essentially meant being unregistered.
Following ZANU PF’s overwhelming victory in the 2013 elections, civil society continued to prioritize the harmonization of laws with the new Constitution. However, with ZANU PF’s dominance in parliament, efforts at amending restrictive laws governing CSOs were unsuccessful. CSO leaders also continued to face charges that they operated illegal organizations.
Between 2013 and 2017, ZANU PF was embroiled in internal factional struggles that resulted in the firing of Vice President Joice Mujuru and other senior government officials in 2014 and the rise of then First Lady Grace Mugabe. In 2017 Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa was fired and fled the country only to return after the military intervention (coup) in November 2017 to take over the party and government from Robert Mugabe.
The change of leadership from Mugabe to Mnangagwa has not improved the situation of CSOs. First of all, after voting in harmonized elections on July 30, 2018, an inordinate delay in releasing election results led to peaceful protests calling for the presidential election winner to be announced. The military was deployed to disperse protesters on August 1, 2018 and as a result, six civilians were shot and killed. Moreover, in December 2018, the government threatened to de-register CSOs accused of dabbling in opposition politics. In October 2020, President Mnangagwa threatened CSOs during his State of the Nation address. This occurred just over one year after the Minister of Home Affairs threatened to ban CSOs deemed as failing to adhere to regulations and pursuing a regime-change agenda. There have been numerous human rights abuses, which were criticized by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Assembly and Peaceful Association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, in a statement in September 2019 after a mission in Zimbabwe.
|Organizational Forms||Private Voluntary Organizations, Trusts, and Unincorporated Associations (“Universitas”)|
|Registration Body||For PVOs: The Registrar and the PVO Board, a body made up of representatives from 6 ministries and 3 PVO representatives.|
For Trusts: The Registrar of Deeds.
|Barriers to Entry||Mandatory registration under the PVO Act, with penalties (fines and imprisonment) for carrying out activities or seeking financial assistance as an unregistered group.|
Complex registration procedures for PVOs, including requirement to publish notice in local paper, calling for persons to lodge objections with Registrar.
No fixed time period for government review of PVO registration applications.
Vague grounds for denial of PVO registration, including where the applicant “appears unable to abide by the objectives” stated in its application.
Foreign organizations required to conclude memorandum of understanding with Government.
|Barriers to Activities||Ministry authority to interfere in internal affairs, through suspension of all or any of the members of the PVO’s executive committee where “it is necessary or desirable to do so in the public interest.”|
Ministry authority to inspect “any aspect of the affairs or activities” of any PVO.
Severe sanctions available, including fines and imprisonment, against PVO for failing to abide by provisions of PVO Act.
Establishment of government-owned non-government organizations (GONGOs).
CSOs not required to submit letters of notification of intent to hold meetings in public spaces (unlike political parties), but police have continuously banned CSO activities, and interpreted “notification” to mean actual application even though CSOs are not required to do neither.
Selective application of law by governmental authorities resulting is some CSOs being targeted
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||Prohibition against insulting the office or person of the President, uttering words which are likely to undermine police authority, or communicating falsehoods prejudicial to the state. (The Constitutional court has yet to deliver a substantive ruling on whether the insult provisions must be declared unconstitutional as violating the right to freedom of expression.)|
|Barriers to International Contact||No legal barriers. In practice, however, immigration authorities have denied entry to foreigners, or confiscated passports from CSO representatives. At times, district administrators and police have required CSOs to agree to Memoranda of Understanding with them that in practice restrict their meetings with local communities. Limited access to cash (foreign currency) or funds held in accounts using Visa or Mastercard..|
|Barriers to Resources||Foreign funding for conducting voter education prohibited.|
There have been calls by the president to bar CSOs that receive foreign funding from observing the 2018 elections.
Hostile environment created by government accusations against PVOs that receive foreign funding.
Regular changes in monetary policies result in uncertainty in the market and questioning of the government’s motives. The Zimbabwean dollar (ZWL) was introduced in October 2019 and multi-currency system established during the Inclusive Government was scrapped. The US dollar was reintroduced as legal tender in April 2020 to make transactions easier during the COVID-19 lockdown.
|Barriers to Assembly||Police interpret “notification” to mean “submit an application” even when organizers are not required to do so. This especially affects CSOs.|
|Type of Government||Parliamentary Democracy|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||Male: 59.5 years|
Female: 62.6 years
|Literacy Rate||Male: 88.5%|
|Religious Groups||Syncretic (part Christian, part indigenous beliefs): 50%; Christian: 25%; indigenous beliefs: 24%; Muslim and other: 1%|
|Ethnic Groups||African: 98% (Shona 82%, Ndebele 14%, other 2%); mixed and Asian: 1%; white: less than 1%|
|GDP per capita||$2,147 (2018 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale|
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||150 (2019)||1 – 182|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||8 (2016)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||20 (2016)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||158 (2019)||1 – 180|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Partly Free|
Political Rights: 12
Civil Liberties: 17 (2020)
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free|
1 – 40
1 – 50
|Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index||Rank: 10 (2020)||178 – 1|
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1991|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||No||—|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1991|
|Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)||No||—|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||1991|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1991|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women||No||—|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1990|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||No||—|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2013|
|African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights||Yes||1986|
|African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child||Yes||1995|
|Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community||Yes||2001|
|Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa||Yes||2003|
|Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights||Yes||1998|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
On May 22, 2013, a new Constitution came into force in Zimbabwe following an overwhelming national referendum in favour of the new law. The Constitution was a product of the reform agenda under the IG and was designed to usher in democratic free and fair elections. The 2013 Constitution replaced the Lancaster House Constitution. The key sections are the following:
58 Freedom of assembly and association
(1) Every person has the right to freedom of assembly and association, and the right not to assemble or associate with others.
(2) No person may be compelled to belong to an association or to attend a meeting or gathering.
59 Freedom to demonstrate and petition
Every person has the right to demonstrate and to present petitions, but these rights must be exercised peacefully.
60 Freedom of conscience
(1) Every person has the right to freedom of conscience, which includes—
(a) freedom of thought, opinion, religion or belief; and
(b) freedom to practise and propagate and give expression to their thought, opinion, religion or belief, whether in public or in private and whether alone or together with others.
(2) No person may be compelled to take an oath that is contrary to their religion or belief or to take an oath in a manner that is contrary to their religion or belief.
(3) Parents and guardians of minor children have the right to determine, in accordance with their beliefs, the moral and religious upbringing of their children, provided they do not prejudice the rights to which their children are entitled under this Constitution, including their rights to education, health, safety and welfare.
(4) Any religious community may establish institutions where religious instruction may be given, even if the institution receives a subsidy or other financial assistance from the State.
61 Freedom of expression and freedom of the media
(1) Every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes—
(a) freedom to seek, receive and communicate ideas and other information;
(b) freedom of artistic expression and scientific research and creativity; and
(c) academic freedom.
(2) Every person is entitled to freedom of the media, which freedom includes protection of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources of information.
(3) Broadcasting and other electronic media of communication have freedom of establishment, subject only to State licensing procedures that—
(a) are necessary to regulate the airwaves and other forms of signal distribution; and
(b) are independent of control by government or by political or commercial interests.
(4) All State-owned media of communication must—
(a) be free to determine independently the editorial content of their broadcasts or other communications;
(b) be impartial; and
(c) afford fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions.
(5) Freedom of expression and freedom of the media exclude—
(a) incitement to violence;
(b) advocacy of hatred or hate speech;
(c) malicious injury to a person’s reputation or dignity; or
(d) malicious or unwarranted breach of a person’s right to privacy.
62 Access to information
(1) Every Zimbabwean citizen or permanent resident, including juristic persons and the Zimbabwean media, has the right of access to any information held by the State or by any institution or agency of government at every level, in so far as the information is required in the interests of public accountability.
(2) Every person, including the Zimbabwean media, has the right of access to any information held by any person, including the State, in so far as the information is required for the exercise or protection of a right.
(3) Every person has a right to the correction of information, or the deletion of untrue, erroneous or misleading information, which is held by the State or any institution or agency of the government at any level, and which relates to that person.
(4) Legislation must be enacted to give effect to this right, but may restrict access to information in the interests of defence, public security or professional confidentiality, to the extent that the restriction is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Relevant national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include:
- Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Act, 2013
- Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO)Act [Chapter 17:05]
- Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO) Act [Chapter 17:05] General Notice 99 of 2007 – Code of Procedure for the Registration and Operations of Non-Governmental Organizations in Zimbabwe
- The Cooperative Societies Act [Chapter 24:05]
- Emergency Powers Act [Chapter 11:04]
- Foreign Subversive Organizations Act [Chapter 11:05]
- Unlawful Organizations Act [Chapter 11:13] 
- Suppression of Foreign and International Terrorism Act [Chapter 11:21] (Not yet in force)
- Prevention of Discrimination Act [Chapter 8:16]
- Labour Act [Chapter 28:04]
- Income Tax Act [Chapter 23:06]
- Indigenisation and Empowerment Act [Chapter 14:33]
- Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment (General) Regulations, 2010 (Statutory Instrument 21 of 2010)
- Deeds Registries Act [Chapter 20:05] (Act No 10 of 1959)
- Deeds Registries Regulations, 1977 (RGN 249 of 1977)
- Public Order Security Act [Chapter 11:17] (Act No.1 of 2002 as amended most recently by Act 18 of 2007
- Immigration Act [Chapter 4:02]
- Immigration Regulations, 1998 (Statutory Instrument 195 of 1998)
- Standard Scale of Fines as substituted by the Finance Act, 2009 (No. 3 of 2009) with effect from 23rd April 2009
- Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act
- Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (Chapter 11:23) (MOPA) (this repealed and replaced Public Order and Security Act)
- Protected Areas and Places Act
- The Cyber Security and Data Protection Act
- Interception of Communication Act
- Official Secrets Act
- Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act repealed and replaced by the Freedom of Information Act
- Flag of Zimbabwe Act, 2001
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
1. The President in his State of the Nation Address on October 22, 2020 provided an indication that the government continues to mull the idea of restricting and monitoring NGO work. Subsequently, on October 28, the Zimbabwean cabinet approved an amendment to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act that would criminalize political and human rights activism. This amendment is yet to be debated in parliament and passed into law. The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act would specifically criminalize:
(i) making “unsubstantiated claims” of human rights abuses;
(ii) holding anti-government protests that could draw international attention; and
(iii) speaking with foreign governments without state approval.
The President had stated in his State of the Nation Address that “the conduct of some NGOs and PVOs who operate outside their mandates and out of sync with the government’s humanitarian priority programmes, remains a cause for concern.…This august House will therefore consider the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill to revamp the administration of NGOs and PVOs and correct the current anomalies.”
2. The Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill was been presented to the National Assembly. The President is keen to have this Bill sped up “given the importance of a robust and secure information systems to drive digital services in all sectors of our economy.” It remains on the legislative agenda for 2021.
CSOs have voiced their concerns about technicalities in the Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill, which was gazetted in July 2020. The proposed method of gathering information through the use of forensic tools, such as the key stroke logger, potentially violates the right to privacy and ability of internet users to freely share information. The key stroke logger opens a floodgate of snooping into each and every internet user’s private communications, which may lead to arrest of whistle-blowers or those perceived to be sharing information that casts the government in a negative light or reveals corruption. It is not clear in the Bill how and under what circumstances the method would be applied. The Bill also does not provide for judicial oversight or other accountability measures for monitoring and reviewing potential abuses of such intrusive technologies. The Bill must have an independent data protection authority, which will be answerable to Parliament and have its appointment processes publicly conducted.
The bill has an impact on freedom of expression and access to information and is particularly harmful to whistle-blowers of bad governance and corruption.
Section 164 of the Bill states, “Any person who unlawfully by means of a computer or information system makes available, transmits, broadcasts or distributes a data message to any person, group of persons or to the public with intend to incite such persons to commit acts of violence against any person or persons or to cause damage to any property shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 10 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.” This provision is problematic given the historical attitude of the Zimbabwe government to peaceful protests against bad governance and other issues of public importance. The provision is also problematic because rather than criminalizing messages that directly call for violence, it gives a wider interpretation that could allow a court to on its own decide that a particular message is “intended” to incite violence, even if that was not the clear intent of its author.
Section 164 C of the Bill states, “Any person who unlawfully and intentionally by means of a computer or information system makes available, broadcasts or distributes data to any other person concerning an identified or identifiable person knowing it to be false with intend to cause psychological or economic harm shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 10 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.” This is problematic for whistle-blowers who may be criminalized for exposing government corruption, particularly where the guilty parties enjoy the protection of the president of Zimbabwe. For example, the First Lady of Zimbabwe and her son have been implicated in two corruption scandals, including one involving personal protective equipment (PPE) for COVID-19 and the other concerning a gold smuggling case.
3. The Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill Number 2 H.B. 2, 2019would reserve 10 proportional representation seats in the National Assembly for youth and expand the reserved seats for women. If approved, the amendment to Article 124 of the Constitution would read as follows:
“11 Amendment of section 124 of Constitution 5 Section 124
(“Composition of National Assembly”) of the Constitution is amended in subsection (1)—
(a) in paragraph
(b) by the deletion of “first two Parliaments” and the substitution of “first four Parliaments”;
(b) by the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (b)—
“(c) a further additional ten youth members, that is, persons aged from twenty-one to thirty-five years of age, one from each of the provinces into which Zimbabwe is divided, elected under a party-list system of proportional representation—”
4. The Zimbabwe Media Commissions Bill was tabled before Parliament in August 2020, and amendments were made by the relevant Minister. The Zimbabwe Media Commission is established by Section 248 and 249 of the Zimbabwe Constitution. Section 249 states the functions of the Zimbabwe Media Commission include:
(a) to uphold, promote and develop freedom of the media;
(b) to promote and enforce good practices and ethics in the media…
(f) to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe have fair and wide access to information…”
The Bill is perceived as a direct response to the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter movement and other peaceful protests, as well as the lobbying for sanctions in response to the Mnangagwa administration’s human rights abuses. While cabinet has approved the amendment, it is yet to be debated in parliament and passed into law.
5. The government intends to introduce a Cooperative Societies Amendment Bill to strengthen the regulation of cooperatives in the country. This has been on the legislative agenda since 2018.
6. In October 2020, the Zimbabwean cabinet approved the draft of a proposed law that punishes Zimbabweans outside and inside the country who campaign for the continued imposition of sanctions with intent to harm the nation. Conditions and definitions are incorporated in the proposals, including requiring proof of intent to harm Zimbabwe and its people. According to the proposed law, which was expected be tabled before Parliament, protests deliberately meant to coincide with major international or regional events or visits by foreign dignitaries to tarnish the country’s image would also be criminalized.
7. There are pending court cases that seek to hold organizers of protests accountable for damage caused during protests even if they were not negligent or responsible for such damage. Cases from 2017 are still pending as of November 2020, and there were cases relating to post-election protests following the polls on July 31, 2018. Most of those latter cases resulted in acquittals or were thrown out.
The three primary forms of civil society organization (CSO) in Zimbabwe are private voluntary organizations (PVOs), trusts and the associational form known as “universitas”. The characteristics and governing framework are described below.
Unconfirmed statements by government officials put the number of CSOs operating in Zimbabwe at over 20,000. The reports are unconfirmed since there is no publicly available record or database of registered legal entities. The multiple organizational forms that CSOs may and indeed do assume adds to the uncertainty.
Private Voluntary Organizations
A private voluntary organization (PVO) is defined as “any body or association of persons, corporate or unincorporate, or any institution, the objects of which include or are one or more of the following:
- the provision of all or any of the material, mental, physical or social needs of persons or families;
- the rendering of charity to persons or families in distress;
- the prevention of social distress or destitution of persons or families;
- the provision of assistance in, or promotion of, activities aimed at uplifting the standard of living of persons or families;
- the provision of funds for legal aid;
- the prevention of cruelty to, or the promotion of the welfare of, animals;
- such other objects as may be prescribed;
- the collection of contributions for any of the foregoing.”
[Private Voluntary Organizations Act, Section 2]
Trusts are regulated under the Deeds Registries Act, which allows the Registrar of Deeds to register notarial deeds in donation or in trust. Trusts typically have unlimited objectives which are often intended to benefit an identifiable constituency. The trust form, however, has also been used as a way of registering organizations that have faced difficulties in registering under the PVO Act. The PVO Act excludes trusts in its definition of what constitutes a PVO. [PVO Act, Section 2(1)(h)(iii)]
The use of the membership form known as “universitas” springs from the practice of recognizing an entity which has members, a constitution and activities that are entirely for the benefit of its members. It can be viewed as a common law persona; this form was recognized by the Zimbabwean Supreme Court in Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights & Anor v. The President of the Republic of Zimbabwe & Anor. Such an entity is excluded from registering under the PVO Act and is therefore not viewed as a PVO, but as the corporate form “universitas”.
Public Benefit Status
Zimbabwean law does not provide for any special “public benefit” or tax-exempt” status that is available only to certain CSOs, based on the purposes which they pursue.
According to the Income Tax Law, all CSOs are generally exempt from taxation on donations and grants received, as well as membership dues.
Barriers to Entry
The legal framework applicable to trusts and to “universitas” are generally permissive, but the PVO Act contains several legal barriers relating to establishment and registration.
The PVO Act makes registration mandatory, in that any organization that seeks to carry out work as defined under section 2 of the PVO Act must be registered. Section 6(1)(a) and (b) of the PVO Act reinforce this mandate by providing that “no private voluntary organization shall commence or continue to carry on its activities or seek financial assistance from any source unless it has been registered in respect of a particular object or objects in furtherance of which it is being conducted.” Section 6(2) and (3) of the PVO Act prohibit any individual from serving in the management or control of such an organization with the knowledge that such institution is not registered. For contravening section 6(2) on collection of funds from the public, one is subject to six months imprisonment or a fine not exceeding level five (approximately USD 200) or both; for contravening section 6(3) on managing or controlling an unregistered entity, one is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 months or a fine not exceeding level four (approximately USD 100) or both.
The PVO Act provides for complex registration procedures. Once an application has been lodged, the PVO in question must publish in a local paper, at its own expense, a notice as prescribed by the PVO Act calling for persons with objections to lodge them with the Registrar of PVOs within the prescribed time limit (within 21 days of the date of publication). Once the registration papers are lodged with the Registrar of PVOs, who is ordinarily the Director of Social Welfare in the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, the application forms are then submitted to the Private Voluntary Organizations Board (PVOB).
Time period for government review
The Act is silent regarding a time period for the review process.
Grounds for denial
The legal grounds for denial include vague language that is subject to abuse. Specifically, the PVOB may grant or deny the application for registration, if the organization appears unable to abide by the objectives stated in its application or if the constitution and management of the organization fail to comply with the PVO Act. (emphasis added)
Foreign organizations that seek to carry out work in Zimbabwe, and in particular work of a humanitarian nature or whose objectives are covered under the PVO Act, are required to register as such. Most international organizations operate as PVOs and are supposed to have a direct memorandum of understanding (MoU) or cooperation with the Government (usually at both national and local levels.) Section 3 of the General Notice 99/2007 requires an international organization to file its application with the Registrar of PVOs. The application documents must include curriculum vitae and an Interpol or local police clearance certificate for the country representative, among other requirements.
Barriers to Operational Activity
The PVO Act contains a number of barriers to operational activity, as detailed below.
Interference in Internal Governance
If the Minister believes that a PVO has failed to comply with its objectives or constitution, has been subject to maladministration, or has engaged in illegal activities, or that “it is necessary or desirable to do so in the public interest,” the Minister through notice in a government gazette may suspend all or any of the members of the Executive Committee of the PVO. The Minister may also amend or revoke any suspension. [PVO Act, Section 21] The suspension shall of course result in a vacancy on the Executive Committee of the PVO; if thirty days expire and the suspension is not lifted, an election will be called based on the constitution of the PVO. [PVO Act, Section 21(3)] If the entire executive committee has been suspended, a trustee (curator) may be appointed to manage the PVO for sixty days (60) or upon filling of the vacancies of the Executive Committee, whichever comes first. [PVO Act, Section 22] According to Section 7 of GN99/2007, the Registrar is the supervising authority of all PVOs in terms of the developmental impact of programs and monitoring of the organizations’ corporate governance. The monitoring entails field visits by social service officers to project areas, analysis of submitted annual narrative reports and audited financial statements.
The Minister is authorized to send inspectors to examine the accounts and any documents of any PVO. Once a notice has been delivered to the PVO, the PVO is expected to comply by providing all required information. The documents that are effectively seized by virtue of the notice can be kept for a “reasonable period”. [PVO Act, Section 20] The reports that should be submitted to the State inspector include “any aspect of the affairs or activities of any private voluntary organization,” and the inspector has the right “to examine books, accounts and any other documents that relate to the financial affairs.” The reports must be submitted to the Registrar; in the past, however, few organizations have complied with this requirement and there has been no enforcement against PVOs per se, but rather against organizations deemed to be political (even if not PVOs).
In addition, on January 19, 2018 the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare issued a notice, by way of an advertisement in a local state-controlled newspaper (The Herald), calling on private voluntary organizations (PVOs) to submit their 2017 returns (activity reports and audited financial statements). The notice also advises organizations described as “operating outside the law” to regularize their operations by approaching the nearest Social Welfare Offices to register as PVOs. Registration requirements include providing: (i) the organization’s constitution; (ii) a curriculum vitae for executive committees (which should comprise at least seven people); (iii) police clearance for these members; (iv) various completed forms; and (v) an advertisement in local newspapers. The notice goes further to warn that “many organisations are registering as Trusts but operating as PVOs. This anomaly need [sic] to be regularized.” No further information has been provided at this time. This is not the first time that trusts have been identified for particular scrutiny, although they are lawfully permitted to operate in terms of alternative laws.
The PVO Act provides for sanctions in the event of the PVO failing to abide by provisions of the Act. Offences under the PVO Act include raising funds as an unregistered organisation; being an office bearer despite having been convicted for more than 5 years for a crime involving dishonesty; and the failure to provide information as requested by an inspection officer. Available sanctions include fines, imprisonment or both, cancellation of the registration, suspension of board members and/or dismissal.
It is not uncommon in Zimbabwe for the Government to disrupt the activity of CSOs, especially in the lead up to elections or during humanitarian crises. State interference may take the form of repeated requests for information or threatened suspension of activity. For example, in June 2008, the Government sought a blanket suspension of all PVOs engaged in humanitarian work, causing disruption of food aid and assistance to persons in need, including people living with HIV/AIDs (PLWHA) and orphans. In addition, in 2011, a provincial governor summoned field monitors to a meeting at his offices where he said that “the environment has to be cleared” before national elections can be held. Later in February 2012, when CSOs did not sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the governor or hand in copies of their trust deeds and constitutions to the governor’s office, the governor suspended 29 international and local CSOs in the province. Some foreign organizations operating in Zimbabwe have had their operations suspended by the Government of Zimbabwe under the guise of rooting out organizations involved in political activity through partisan distribution of relief.
The establishment of government sponsored CSOs, or GONGOs, has become prevalent since 2000. Such entities include associations of workers, students, doctors, teachers, and CSOs. These government-sponsored CSOs have contributed to mixed messaging in respect to the operating environment of CSOs and the general human rights situation in the country.
Arbitrary Requirements and Fees Imposed on NGOs
Some CSOs are forced to pay exorbitant fees by local authorities in order to carry out their work. Local authorities charge CSOs amounts ranging from US$100, US$300 and up to US$1,000 per year in order to conclude a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the local authorities. Where an organization refuses to pay the amount, no MoU is granted and the CSO’s activities are not allowed to proceed. This practice is alleged to have the approval of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development. Significantly, however, there is no legal requirement for CSOs to conclude MoUs with local authorities.
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
The Constitution of Zimbabwe has progressive provisions that uphold the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media. However, in practice laws that are subordinate to the Constitution have been used to restrict free speech. Laws have also been selectively applied, placing severe restrictions on speech and advocacy activity, especially where the speech or advocacy is critical of government policy or focused on politically unpopular causes.
Organizations that engage in advocacy are subject to numerous laws that hinder free expression. Section 31 of the Criminal Law Act makes it a crime to communicate falsehoods that are prejudicial to the state, which can be interpreted broadly, and section 177 criminalizes uttering words which are likely to undermine policing authority. Other troubling provisions include section 40 F of the Electoral Act, which prohibits the channeling of foreign funds or donations for voter education to any entity other than the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission(ZEC). It also bars CSOs from using their donor funds to engage in educating potential voters.
At the end of October 2017, President Mugabe made public statements that any CSO funded by sources from Western countries would not be allowed to observe the 2018 elections. In an attempt to portray a departure from the Mugabe regime, the new Mnangagwa administration permitted Western countries to observe the harmonized elections, however, and opened up access to communities for CSOs. However, CSOs were still required to sign Memoranda of Understanding with local authorities, such as the district administrators and police, in order for them to implement their activities. In an act of suppressing freedom of expression and association, the representatives of the President’s Office also insisted on attending civil society workshops and often demanded lunch and transport reimbursements from the CSOs.
In January 2019, the government shut down the internet during the protests called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) after a fuel hike announcement. The shutdown was to hinder the spread of information via social media about the protests. On January 16, 2019, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) filed an urgent application challenging the internet shutdown. They stated that it was a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of expression (Section 60) and freedom of the media (Section 61). The High Court on January 21 , 2019 ruled that the internet shutdown was illegal. The ruling resulted in the resumption of full internet services by providers.
Lastly, according to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), around 20 Zimbabweans have been arrested and brought to court for insulting Mnangagwa since 2018.
Barriers to International Contact
Currently, CSOs do not suffer from legal barriers restricting contact and cooperation either domestically or internationally, however the government is seeking to amend the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act to criminalize CSO’s speaking with foreign governments without state approval. Many CSOs cooperate through networks, associations and unions, both within and outside the country. There are no legal restrictions relating to Internet access, although the law does allow the State to intercept such communications (through the Interception of Communications Act).
The State has in some instances used the immigration authorities at the various ports of entry to bar or restrict CSO’s foreign contacts. Notable examples are the systematic arrests and deportations of human rights defenders. Indeed, in 2005, the State considered the idea of introducing ‘exit visas’; this proposal has since been shelved. The idea then was to give the state the power to bar certain individuals it accused of going beyond borders to spread falsehoods about the socio-political situation of the country. This was mainly targeted at CSOs and members of the then-opposition MDC. Although the ‘exist visa’ plan was not carried out, there have been instances where targeted politicians and members of CSOs have had their passports confiscated or where the State simply refused to issue new passports or renew expired ones in order to ensure that the targeted individuals did not leave Zimbabwe.
At the end of October 2017, the President made public statements that any CSO funded by sources from Western coutnries will not be allowed to observe the 2018 elections. Access to communities for international CSOs has continued to be restricted as the 2018 elections approach. For example, local authorities, such as the district administrators and police, have sought to impose administrative requirements by requesting that certain CSOs sign Memoranda of Understanding with their offices if they wish to implement activities in the communities.
Barriers to Resources
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act (ZEC Act) prohibits the receipt of foreign funding for conducting voter education. Section 16 provides that “No foreign contribution or donation for the purposes of voter education shall be made except to the Commission, which may allocate such contribution or donation to any person referred to in section 14(3) or subsection 15(1).” Other than this specific prohibition, there are no legal limitations more broadly limiting the ability of CSOs to obtain funding from any particular source. But there are a number of constraints that have arisen in practice, including the calls by the then president to bar CSOs that receive foreign funding from observing the 2018 elections.
First, and most commonly, the Government of Zimbabwe has attacked PVOs that receive foreign funding as instruments used by the West to undermine the State. Government criticism of such PVOs has created a hostile atmosphere surrounding civil society, and especially those organizations that receive foreign funding.
Second, the Government has effectively ‘stolen’ funding from CSOs – that is, funds from CSOs, located in the Reserve Bank, and allocated for the Global Fund for HIV/AIDs and Tuberculosis – and used those funds for governmental purposes.
The PVO Act is silent on investment and on generating income through economic activity. In practice, NGOs generate income in a variety of ways, such as selling publications at nominal costs and through consultancies for fees. It is expected, however, that funds generated from economic activity be used for the non-profit purposes of the NGO. [PVO Act, Section 10]
In 2019, the Mnangagwa administration reintroduced the use of the Zimbabwe dollar (ZWL) into the economy. This and other changes in the monetary policy caused instability in the market, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, the government gazetted Statutory Instrument 85 called the Exchange Control (Exclusive Use of Zimbabwe Dollar for Domestic Transactions) (Amendment) Regulations, 2020 (No. 2). The Statutory Instrument legalized the use of foreign currency for domestic financial transactions within Zimbabwe. This move was intended to make transactions easier for Zimbabweans during the COVID-19 crisis. As of November 2020, the local currency is trading at about 81:1 with the US Dollar on the official money market, but at 100:1 on the parallel market. The government did not state how long the US dollar would remain as legal tender but the indication is that the situation will be continuously assessed as the country deals with the ongoing crisis. This change in policy has made it easier for CSOs to fund their operations.
According to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe the annual inflation rate fell to 471.3% in October 2020 from 659.4% in the previous month. It was the lowest inflation rate since January 2020, as a stabilizing exchange rate is easing price pressures. This high rate of inflation results in the erosion of citizens’ disposable incomes. Currently, many Zimbabweans are struggling to access basics like food, shelter, medicine, and clothing. The situation is worsened by macroeconomic instabilities characterized by the depreciation of the ZWL and RTGS value. There are liquidity challenges, as ZWL cash and withdrawals are limited and restrictions were placed on the use of mobile money, which impairs the ability of CSOs to conduct important activities related to their work.
Barriers to Assembly
Section 58 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides that:
(1) Every person has the right to freedom of assembly and association, and the right not to assemble and associate with others.
(2) No person may be compelled to belong to an association or to attend a meeting or gathering.
Section 59 of the Constitution also states that “Every person has the right to demonstrate and to present petitions, but these rights must be exercised peacefully.”
Other laws regulating assemblies include:
- Public Order and Security Act (POSA), which regulates public gatherings, demonstrations, and marches;
- Section 37 of Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which criminalizes public gatherings that cause or are likely to cause the breach of peace; and
- Protected Areas and Places Act.
COVID-19 lockdown restrictions limited the right to freedom of assembly and association as citizens were ordered to stay at home, with only essential travel to buy food or seek medical attention permitted. Only essential workers, such as medical personnel and supermarket staff, were allowed to travel. Security checkpoints manned by both the police and the military were set up on major roads into the cities to enforce the stay-at-home order, with letters required to travel beyond a 5km radius of one’s home. The restrictions violated section 58 and 59 of the Zimbabwe Constitution.
Notification is required in cases of “public gatherings” but not private meetings. Section 2 of MOPA defines a public gathering as being composed of more than 15 people and conducted in a public place or involving a meeting where the public is allowed to attend. Meetings that are held in a private place do not qualify as “public gatherings.” Section 7 of MOPA provides that if there is a public gathering, written notice must be provided to the police five days in advance or seven days for a demonstration or procession. During election season, the period of notice is reduced to three days.
The police, however, often misinterpret these provisions as giving them the right to either approve or deny the holding of gatherings. This leads to harassment of members of opposition political parties and civil society activists, who are then dispersed if they hold private meetings without notifying the police.
In addition, although the authorities must respond to a notification request, there are no clear timeframes to respond written in the law. It is never clear whether or not the police will invoke the provisions of MOPA to prohibit assemblies.
Section 10 of MOPA prohibits assemblies within 20 meters of Parliament, 100 meters from the vicinity of the Supreme Court, and 100 meters from areas that are protected under the Protected Areas and Places Act.
MOPA replaced POSA but essentially the two impose the same restrictions.
According to Section 37(c)(ii) of the Criminal Code, “any person participating in a public gathering who performs any action, utters any words, distributes any writing, sign or other visible representation that is obscene, threatening or abusive or breaching the peace may be found guilty and liable to a fine or a prison term of 5 years.”
Lack of Police Protection and Excessive Police Force
Only participants that are affiliated with the ruling ZANU PF party normally receive police protection during assemblies. Participants in assemblies that are viewed as not being sympathetic to the ruling party are not guaranteed protection from the police.
Excessive police force is commonly used against assemblies that are considered unsympathetic to the ruling party.
There have been a number of examples of the state using the law to crack down on peaceful protest in violation of the Constitution since Emmerson Mnangagwa‘s administration came to power in 2017. For example, on February 26, 2019, Rashid Mahiya, the chairperson of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, was arrested for subverting the government under Section 22 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act. The charges stemmed from a meeting attended by several CSOs and organized by Mahiya in December 2018. The government believed that the meeting culminated in the January 2019 anti-government protests.
In addition, on October 21, 2019, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) political party activist, Makomborero Haruzivishe, and Ward 16 Councilor, Denford Ngadziore, were arrested for protesting the arrest of vendors outside the Magistrates court in Harare. They were charged with disorderly conduct in a public place under Section 41 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act.
In the following year, on May 13, 2020, three female activists, Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri, and Netsai Marova, were abducted by suspected state security agents after staging a peaceful protest against restrictive COVID-19 stay-at-home measures. They were found tortured on May 15, 2020 . After they were found, they were arrested and charged with contravening Section 31 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act for publishing falsehoods prejudicial to the state. The state also accused the activists of faking their abduction and torture. The case is still ongoing as of November 2020.
On July 20, 2020, journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested and charged with incitement to commit public violence under Section 187 (1) (a) as read with Section 37 (1) (a) of the Criminal Code. Hopewell was arrested after he exposed high level and systemic corruption in Zimbabwe related to a COVID-19 supplies scandal involving members of the first family in Zimbabwe. After six weeks in jail, Chin’ono was granted bail at the High Court of Zimbabwe on September 3, 2020. Chin’ono was arrested again on November 3, 2020 and charged with Section 182 (1) (a) and (b) of the Criminal Code for contempt of court. The charge emanated from a tweet published by Chin’ono on his personal Twitter account, where he noted that a judge in Zimbabwe may have had a hand in denying him bail at the Magistrates Court for an earlier arrest.
Also, on July 20, 2020, Jacob Ngarivhume, president of the political party Transform Zimbabwe, was arrested after he called for national peaceful protests against bad governance and corruption. Ngarivhume was also charged under Section 187 (1) (a) as read with section 37 (1) (a) (i) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Chapter 9:23, “incitement to participate in public violence.”
In addition, on July 31, 2020, peaceful protesters were arrested for engaging in anti-government and anti-corruption protests countrywide. Fadzai Mahere and author Tsitsi Dangarembga, who staged low key protests, were among those arrested and charged with participating in an unlawful gathering under Section 37 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act.
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports||Not available|
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs||Zimbabwe|
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes||Not available|
|U.S. State Department||2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Zimbabwe|
|Fragile States Index Reports||Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index|
|IMF Country Reports||Zimbabwe and the IMF|
|International Commission of Jurists||ICJ: Zimbabwe|
|Human Rights Watch Report||Sleight of Hand: Repression of the Media and the Illusion of Reform in Zimbabwe 2010|
|International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library||Zimbabwe|
While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cabinet Approves Sanctions Law (October 2020)
Cabinet approved the draft of a proposed law that punishes Zimbabweans outside and inside the country who campaign for the continued imposition of sanctions with intent to harm the nation. Strict conditions and definitions are incorporated in the proposals, basically requiring proof of intent to harm Zimbabwe and its people.
Cyber Security Bill: New Monster in the Room (July 2020)
The recently gazetted Cyber Security Bill has ruffled feathers in Zimbabwe and across the continent. It is its obscurity which makes it a dangerous piece of legislation, particularly in a situation where authorities take pleasure in abusing such nebulous pieces of law to suppress the citizenry’s freedoms.
Don’t Beat Up Civilians: Court (April 2020)
The High Court ordered state security agents to respect human rights and the dignity of people as they enforce the 21-day national lockdown to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. The court made the order after Karoi resident Lucia Masvondo, represented by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, challenged the police and army’s use of brute force in enforcing the restrictions, which became effective on March 30. Masvondo claimed that on April 6, members of the police and army, without provocation, set a dog on her while she was at her Karoi home. Several videos have gone viral exposing the police and the military brutalizing citizens found violating lockdown regulations.
Zimbabwe arrests Mnangagwa critic over Facebook post (August 2018)
Zimbabwean police have arrested a critic of Emmerson Mnangagwa on charges of insulting the president in a Facebook post, lawyers have said, highlighting allegations of a crackdown on government opponents. Munyaradzi Shoko, a well-known critic of Mnangagwa, was held after he posted statements on Facebook saying the president’s name was “generally associated with evil and devilish deeds.”
Zimbabwean Civil Society Remain Cautious Over Upcoming Elections (June 2018)
On June 28, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition held a press briefing in Johannesburg. The briefing was on the upcoming Zimbabwean elections set to take place on July 31. The Coalition said while there have been changes made since the military coup and a change in the presidency, many issues remain in the lead up to the elections. The chairperson of the Crisis Coalition, Rashid Mahiye said this includes the violence in Zimbabwe, court orders not being obeyed and the latest threat to the life of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. A bomb went off a rally during the weekend in Bulawayo, with two fatalities.
Man arrested for ‘insulting’ Zimbabwean flag by not standing still (March 2017)
Zimbabwean police in the northern city of Kariba have arrested a man on allegations of insulting and disrespecting the country’s national flag when he did not stand still. Courage Mushunje has been charged with contravening the Flag of Zimbabwe Act after he allegedly kept on walking when the national flag was being hoisted down at Kariba Border Post. In Zimbabwe, during an official flag hoisting or lowering ceremony citizens must come to a halt and stand respectfully to attention for the duration. Mushunje’s arrest comes amid a crackdown by police on civilians allegedly denigrating the flag. The flag has been a symbol of growing protests against the government
Government Proposes Tighter Controls over Social Media (August 2016)
In response to plans by the government of Zimbabwe to introduce legislation to tightly restrict access to social media and monitor private communications, with stiff criminal penalties for violators, Freedom House issued the following statement: “The government of Zimbabwe’s Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill would severely limit citizens’ access to information, as the government tries to stifle calls for economic and political reform.” The government’s planned legislation would allow authorities to arbitrarily seize mobile phones, tablets and laptops; monitor private communications; interrupt broadband service; and sentence violators to imprisonment.The legislation, which would supplement the National ICT Policy, is part of the government’s response to recent anti-government protests that have largely been organized and shared via social media. Hashtags such as #ThisFlag have attracted large numbers of followers.
Statement On the Disappearance of Civil Society Activist Itai Dzamara (March 2016)
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of civil society activist Itai Dzamara. The United States urges the government of Zimbabwe to ensure that the constitutionally-guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms are honored and enjoyed by all Zimbabweans, regardless of political affiliation. We also encourage the government of Zimbabwe to fully investigate cases of politically motivated violence and abductions to ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and victims receive justice.
Human rights lawyers concerned about Dzamara’s continued disappearance (March 2015)
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) expressed concern over the mystery surrounding Itai Dzamara’s whereabouts. Dzamara, a former journalist who turned civil rights activist, was abducted by unknown men from a Harare suburb in early March while having a haircut. ZLHR recently applied to the High Court for the state to avail Dzamara. The court granted an order that obliges the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to work closely with lawyers appointed by ZLHR to search for Dzamara and to report progress of the search to the Registrar of the High Court by 1600hours every other Friday up to the time he is found.
Group Remembers Victims of Chiadzwa Crackdown (November 2014)
The Centre for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG) says the government should set up a commission of inquiry to probe human rights abuses perpetrated by state security agents in Chiadzwa. Farai Maguwu, the director of CNRG, said President Robert Mugabe’s government should not pretend that nothing happened during Operation Hakudzokwi which was meant to flush out illegal diamond diggers. At least 200 people are estimated to have died during the violent crackdown on the diamond diggers in 2008. The government has never acknowledged the rights violations.
Zimbabwe court says Robert Mugabe ‘insult law’ invalid (October 2013)
Demonstrators Assaulted during International Day of Peace Event (September 2013)
Uncomfortable Questions For Zimbabwe Civil Society (September 2013)
Zimbabwe elections ‘must be held by 31 July’ (June 2013)
Zimbabwe ‘bars’ EU and US from observing polls (March 2013)
Masvingo governor threatens NGOs (February 2013)
Police raid NGO offices (January 2013)
Leading Rights Activists Arrested in Zimbabwe (January 2013)
Zimbabwe targets human rights activists (November 2012)
Government discusses funding “hostile” NGOs (November 2012)
Civil society in save Constitution campaign (November 2012)
EU: Zimbabwe sanctions stay until elections (July 2012)
Reports say EU planning Zimbabwe sanctions lift (July 2012)
Zimbabwe’s constitutional process drags on(June 2012)
Violations persist as UN Chief visits (May 2012)
Government fails Human Rights test (October 2011)
West Using NGOs to Fan Instability, Says Minister (October 2011)
Zimbabwe’s CSO’s launch advocacy charter at UN human rights council (September 2011)
Chiefs want NGOs back (July 2011)
Zimbabwe rights groups protest crackdown (May 2011)
Zimbabwe: The Road to Reform or Another Dead End? (April 2011)
Free Activists Charged for Viewing Mideast Video (February 2011)
Government to Summon NGOs (July 2010)
Copac Slams NGOs (July 2010)
VP Mujuru Warns NGOs(May 2010)
EU imposes another year of sanctions(February 2010)
The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL Civic Freedom Monitor partner in Zimbabwe (email@example.com).