The gazetting of the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill in November 2021 continues to threaten the existence of NGOs. If enacted, all trusts and associations would be required to register and open themselves to scrutiny and the overly broad discretion of a minister. As a result, on December 17, 2021, the United Nations special rapporteurs on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, on the situation of human rights defenders, and on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism offered joint comments on the PVO Bill. According to the special rapporteurs, if adopted into law in its current version, the Bill would have “grave consequences for the exercise of civil and political rights, including the right to freedom of association” of PVOs in Zimbabwe. The key issues of concern include:
- The vague definition of PVOs and restrictions on Trusts and Universitas organizations;
- The ministerial authority to designate certain PVOs as “high-risk”;
- The wide-ranging powers of national authorities to interfere with the governance of PVOs;
- The registrar’s extensive regulatory powers, including to collect fees from PVOs;
- The requirement for PVOs to re-register, with broad discretion for the registrar to reject applications;
- The cancelling of registration of PVOs that are believed to be “supporting or opposing” any political party or candidate in an election; and
- The registrar’s broad discretion to impose civil penalty orders on non-complying PVOs, including for minor infractions.
In March 2022, the government suspended the registration of NGOs altogether, and the Deeds Office stated to the Independent newspaper that it received a directive to stop registering trusts. NGOs have tried to engage the public and the government on the detrimental effect of the passing of the PVO Amendment Bill, which went through a second reading on April 12, 2022. 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. NGO operations in Zimbabwe have been governed by legislation since 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 NGOs focused on humanitarian efforts and operated under the auspices of churches as church-related bodies, training and education institutions. Few NGOs 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 and/or abet the liberation cause. In addition, the Unlawful Organizations Act was used to ban African political and other colonial resistance movements and indeed any others perceived in the same light.
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 NGOs to issues dealing with 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, NGOs became targets of state harassment through increased legislative and administrative interference as they were perceived as extensions of political opposition. The ruling party at that time (President Mugabe’s ZANU PF) routinely declared that NGOs and even churches, or anyone who is 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 came into force with the signing of the Inter-Party Agreement in September 2008. After the recent elections in July 2018, ZANU PF again emerged victorious.
At the inception of the IG there was great public expectation that democratic space would open up for both ordinary Zimbabweans and for NGOs. Both the political opposition and NGOs had equally borne the brunt of state-sponsored brutality and repression, and both civic activists and their progressive allies in the opposition expected a reform agenda would finally be pursued. Some former opposition representatives in the IG relied heavily on NGOs for human resources and technical expertise in attempting to move the reform agenda forward. While there were pledges of a progressive legislative reform agenda to open up democratic space for NGOs and Zimbabweans, these reforms remained outstanding. The human rights situation also did not improve during the lifespan of the IG despite the secondment of a few NGO representatives to top government offices and to new institutions, such as the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and the Zimbabwe Media Commission, among others. These institutions were ineffective, with the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission facing operational constraints. During the last ten months of the IG, between October and July 2013, NGOs and their staff members were repeatedly targeted, with a number of directors charged with operating “illegally,” which essentially means not registered.
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 amendment of restrictive laws governing NGO regulation and association, assembly and expression rights, were unsuccessful. NGO leaders facing charges that they operated illegal organizations continued to face potential court cases.
Between 2013 and 2017, ZANU PF was embroiled in internal factional fights that resulted in the firing of Vice President Joice Mujuru and other senior government officials in 2014 and the rise of the 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.
The change of leadership from Mugabe to the Mnangagwa government has not improved the situation of NGOs. After voting in harmonized elections on July 30, 2018, an inordinate delay in releasing election results led to peaceful protest calling for the presidential election winner to be announced. The military was deployed to disperse protestors on August 1, and as a result, six civilians were shot and killed.
In response, the government established the Mothlanthe Commission of Inquiry, headed by former South African president Kgalema Mothlanthe, to investigate the shootings. The commission released its report on December 18, 2018. Recommendations included compensation for the victims of the atrocities, the bringing to account members of the country’s security forces who killed the civilians, and creation of a platform for dialogue with political opponents. To date none of these recommendations have been implemented despite NGO efforts to engage with government.
On January 26, 2021, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, acting on behalf of the victims of the August 1, 2018 violence, served notices of intention to sue on the Minister of Defence, Security and War Veterans, on the Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage, and on Commissioner-General of the Police. The victims notified the officials of their intention to sue them for the actions of the security forces under their control. More recently, on March 26, 2022, by-elections took place in Zimbabwe, with the newly formed Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) winning two-thirds of the seats amid political violence and other repressive responses from the security forces. NGOs were accused of supporting the opposition. The repression, therefore, affects NGOs and their operations. In sum, despite the change in ZANU PF administrations, there is no change in the way ZANU PF operates and relates to NGOs.
|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.
The Deeds Office suspended registration of NGOs, and the PVO Board is not accepting any new applications until further notice.
|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.
Foreign organizations required to conclude memorandum of understanding with Government.
|Barriers to Activities||Selective application of law by governmental authorities resulting in some CSOs being targeted CSOs required to report their workplans and activities to the Provincial Development Coordinators upon request or face an immediate ban on operating. This is evidenced by the actions of the Harare Provincial Development Coordinator Tafadzwa Muguti and the Masvingo Provincial Development Coordinator Jafta Sakupwanya.
CSOs required to pay fees to renew their registration ($100) and for new registrations they are required to pay $200.
|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.
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.|
|Population||14,829,988 (July 2021 est.)|
|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||$1,214 (2020 est. per World Bank)|
Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||150 (2020)||1 – 182|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Partly Free
Political Rights: 11
Civil Liberties: 17 (2021)
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 40
1 – 50
|Transparency International||157 (2021)||1 – 180|
|Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index||10 (2021)||179 – 1|
|World Justice Project Rule of Law Index||127 (2021)||1 – 139|
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
- Constitutional Amendment (No 2) Act
- Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO) Amendment Bill B. 10, 2021
- 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
- Public Order and Security (POSA) Act (repealed and replaced by The Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (Chapter 11:23) (MOPA)
- 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 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 2019.
2. The government continues to threaten NGOs with strict regulations on their operations. Indeed, in March 2022, the government suspended the registration of NGOs, with the Deeds Office stating to the Independent newspaper that it received a directive to stop registering trusts. NGOs have accordingly continued to engage the public and the government on the detrimental effect of the passing of the Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO) Amendment Bill, H.B. 10, 2001, which in November 2021 the Clerk of Parliament gazetted. It seeks to amend the Private Voluntary Organizations Act [Ch 17:05]. The amendments are aimed at complying with recommendations made to Zimbabwe by the multilateral body focused on money laundering and terrorist financing, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The government of Zimbabwe used the recommendations to target and label NGOs as conduits of money laundering and terrorism.
The main amendments include widening the definition of a PVO, removing the exemption provided to trusts to require them to register as PVOs if they are registered with the High Court of Zimbabwe, and providing the Minister the powers to declare any legal person, legal arrangement, body, association of persons or institution as high risk or vulnerable to being misused by terrorist organizations and to criminalize the work of NGOs. The amendments also prohibit PVOs from supporting or opposing a political party or a candidate in the presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections.
Public hearings have been taking place across the country on the amendments. However, these hearings have been marred by ZANU PF violence as its supporters try to intimidate and dominate the proceedings. NGOs have prepared position papers and held meetings with citizens to educate them on the detrimental amendments and on the implications of their enactment.
On March 6, 2022, Midlands Provincial Affairs Minister, Paul Mavima, warned NGOs not to complain about the proposed PVO Amendment Bill, noting that the NGOs should go to war-torn Ukraine to render services and that NGOs would be de-registered because the government no longer saw their relevance due to their “involvement in politics.” Specifically, Mavima stated, “How long should we continue relying on other people? The country is built by its own people. As much as possible we are now able to do a lot of things without NGOs. There was a time when NGOs were necessary. But we have to get out of this mentality. I was serious when I said if there are NGOs which feel that they have something; let them go to Ukraine where there are people in need of their services because there is war. Here we are a peaceful country. No one is bombing us.”
As early as October 2020, President Mnangagwa, in his state of the nation address when opening Parliament also stated, “The conduct of some NGOs and PVOs who operate outside their mandates and out of sync with the government’s humanitarian priority programme, 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.”
The NGO Forum has asserted that if the PVO Bill is passed into law there will be massive job losses in the NGO sector, which will threaten livelihoods in an already tough economic environment. Most recently, the Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO) Amendment Bill, H.B. 10, 2001 went through a second reading on April 12, 2022.
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.
Few laws actively enable public participation in Zimbabwe.
The Freedom of Information Act, which was passed on July 2, 2020, is designed to give effect to the right to information enshrined in Section 62 of the Constitution, and replaced the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Chapter 10:27) (AIPPA).
The Constitution of Zimbabwe is progressive regarding women’s public participation. Section 17 of the Constitution mandates that the government ensure equal participation of men and women in government institutions as follows: “the State must promote the full participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean society on the basis of equality with men” and “must take positive measures to rectify gender discrimination and imbalances resulting from past practices and policies.” The Constitution further mandates proportional representation for women in government and protects and enhances female leadership and participation. Article 124 (1)(b) of the Constitution, for example, reserves 60 seats in the House of Assembly for women and Section 120 (a) of the Constitution protects the participation women in the Senate by allocating 60 seats for women, which includes 6 seats from each of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces.
Notably, there are no legal protections for LGBTI people in Zimbabwean law, although Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, which came to power in 2017, has adopted less harsh and discriminatory rhetoric towards sexual minorities compared to the previous Robert Mugabe-led government. Nonetheless, Section 73 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act still criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct between men with up to one year in prison or a fine or both. Furthermore, a transgender woman was arrested while attending a business meeting at a local hotel and charged with a Section 46 “criminal nuisance” offence, which is punishable by up to six months in prison, because she was a man “masquerading as a woman.” The criminal case failed, however, and the transgender woman approached the High Court for relief for violation of her human rights.
In November 2019, in the case Ricky Nathanson v Mteliso & Ors. (HB 176/19, HC 1873/14)  ZWBHC 135 the High Court awarded the transgender woman, Ricky Nathanson, $400,000 in damages for unlawful detention and arrest. The Court ruled that “Transgender citizens are part of the Zimbabwean society. Their rights ought to be recognized like those of other citizens. Our constitution does not provide for their discrimination. It is nothing but delusional thinking to wish away the rights of transgenders.”
It is important to also note that citizens are usually aware of their rights to public participation as provided for in the Constitution and other laws because of work carried out by CSOs, such as Kubatana and Veritas. Both of these CSOs are involved in disseminating information about laws and measures that affect public participation. Similarly, CSOs, such as Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, post online alerts that notify the public of the arrests of human rights defenders and other people exercising their rights to free speech and association.
Most recently, the Constitutional Amendment No. 2 Bill was enacted into law on May 4, 2021. The amendments were adopted, without extensive public consultations, as the parliament cited COVID-19 restrictions as an excuse for not soliciting citizen views on the proposed changes. Civil society organizations criticized the government for disregarding citizen’s right to participate in governance issues.
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).
In March 2022, the government suspended the registration of trusts and PVOs, suggesting that the government was beginning a clampdown on CSOs even before the PVO Amendment Bill is passed. This occurred after the Deeds Office announced it was suspending registration of CSOs and that the PVO Board is not accepting any new applications until further notice. This has affected the operations of all CSOs, including those attempting to register to do purely humanitarian work.
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 barriers to operational activity, including several listed 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.
Other recent cases of harassment are listed below:
On March 19, 2021 the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister, Professor Paul Mavima, announced that the government would de-register dormant CSOs and those not carrying out any activities in line with the terms of their registration. He said that the government has published the names of 450 organizations.
On April 28, 2021, Connect, a family therapy and counselling training organization, was ordered by state authorities to shut its operations in Manicaland province. One day earlier, on April 27, the Herald newspaper published an article attacking the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, accusing it of being a political party and selling false stories about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe to foreign diplomats in exchange for funding. The article also quoted “political analysts,” who said that CSOs are regime change agents and aim to tarnish the work being done by the government.
On June 14, 2021, Alice Kuvheya the director of Chitungwiza Residents Trust (CHITREST),was arrested and charged with incitement to participate in a gathering with intent to promote public violence as defined in section 187 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act as read with section 37(1)(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. She was also charged with incitement to commit violence as defined in section 187(1)(a)(b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act as read with section 36(1)(a)(b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. The charges emanated from a video that Kuvheya recorded and shared on social media platforms to encourage residents and informal traders to resist a government-backed exercise to demolish trading and vending stalls and structures.
On June 30, 2021, Tafadzwa Muguti, the Harare Provincial Development Coordinator, ordered all directors of CSOs and private voluntary organizations (PVOs) to pay a courtesy call to his office and claimed that some of them were operating outside their mandates. Muguti ordered the CSOs to submit their workplans for the rest of 2021, including information on workshops and other operations that they would be conducting within the province. If this was not done by July 9, 2021, they faced de-registration.
The Masvingo Provincial Development Coordinator, Jefta Sakupwanya, also ordered all CSOs operating in Masvingo to report to his office for a meeting on July 13, 2021. At the meeting Sakupwanya stated that CSOs operating in the province should revert back to their original roles of helping communities. He explained that “we specified certain boundaries which are no go areas for them” and also indicated they should inform the government of their activities and submit annual reports.
One day later, on July 14, 2021 , President Mnangagwa in addressing the 363rd ordinary session of the ZANU PF Politburo in Harare threatened to de-register CSOs that were allegedly diverting from their mandate. Mnangagwa warned that CSOs are “dwelling into political matters that amount to interference in the internal affairs of our sovereign mother country.” In the same address, he urged that “party structures must be vigilante and expose such elements…”. Mnangagwa further stated, “we know their form, we know their agendas, strategies and their nature; detractors, sell-outs and their appendages must forever be silenced at the 2023 harmonized general elections.”
Two more weeks later, on July 30, 2021, Tafadzwa Muguti stated that CSOs that failed to comply with the request to submit their workplans and details of activities would be immediately stopped from conducting any operations by law enforcement. The nine Harare CSOs facing closure for failing to submit their work plans were: Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, National Association of Youth Organisations, National Transitional Justice Working Group, Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Zimbabwe National Students Union, and Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children. Some of the CSOs filed an urgent court application seeking to stop Muguti, from shutting down organisation which did not comply with his orders to unveil their work plans and programs on August 2, 2021.
Since June and July 2021, the Provincial Development Coordinators have required CSOs to submit their work plans and planned activities for the year to ensure their continued operations. The ZANU PF Secretary for Administration stated that CSOs have been demonizing the government and it was necessary to monitor their activities. This action, however, was challenged in the High Court through an action filed on August 2, 2021 by ZLHR on behalf of nine organizations that were facing a ban on their work. Subsequently, on September 17, 2021, Justice Esther Muremba ruled that Provincial Development Coordinators and all their agents or anyone acting on their behalf were barred from enforcing, interfering with, suspending, or stopping operations of NGOs, trusts, CSOs and faith-based organizations in any way per the press statement dated July 29, 2021 by Tafadzwa Muguti, who is the Provincial Affairs Minister for Harare.
Further, on February 15, 2022, more than 30 CSOs were banned from operating in Makoni district in Manicaland province after they failed to register with the chief executive officer of Manicaland province. CSOs were then required to pay $100 for the renewal of registration fees and $200 for a new registration. The ban came six months after a high court judge, Justice Esther Muremba, ruled that government should stop interfering with or stopping the work of CSOs.
Lastly, in March 2022,the government suspended the registration of CSOs, and the Deeds Office stated to the Independent newspaper that it received a directive to stop registering trusts.
The establishment of government-organized or 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 CSOs
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. 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 that 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. These laws include the insult provisions in section 33 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, which criminalizes insulting the office or person of the President. In addition, 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) and 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 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, to implement their activities. Moreover, the representatives of the President’s Office 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 the 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, stating that it was a violation of the Constitutional right to freedom of expression (section 60) and freedom of the media (section 61). On January 21, 2019, the High Court ruled that the shutdown was illegal. The ruling resulted in the resumption of full internet services by providers.
CSOs led by Crisis Coalition have expressed their concern with the Constitutional Amendment No. 2 Bill, which was passed by the Senate in May 2021. The passing of the Bill is worrying and shows that the government is not committed to democracy and the rule of law because it places too much power in the executive, especially the president, and weakens the mechanisms set up to hold the president accountable. It will also increase the size of the central government and place a greater tax burden on an already overburdened citizenry and undermine the promotion and protection of human rights, especially those of a political nature.
The 2022 election season began with by-elections scheduled for March 26. Voter education, registration, and election campaigns, however, resulted in a rise in political violence and other repressive responses from state security forces. CSOs were accused of supporting the opposition, which led to repression that affected their operations. Examples of some of abuses against CSOs during election season included:
- On February 26, 2022, a political rally held by the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) was violently disrupted by police who used teargas and water cannons to disperse CCC supporters in Gokwe.
- On February 27, 2022, CCC members were attacked during a rally at Mbizvo 4 Shopping Centre in Kwekwe by suspected ZANU PF supporters. 17 people were hospitalized, and one person died. On March 1, five individuals accused of the political violence appeared in court and their cases were remanded to March 15, 2022.
- On February 27, 2022, the Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabawe, Constantino Chiwenga, stated at a ZANU PF rally in Kwekwe that, “I have heard others here saying down with triple C [CCC], let me assure you that there is nothing that it can achieve, you see how we crush lice with a stone. You put it on a flat stone and then flatten it to the extent that even flies will not make a meal out of it. You heard Blessing Chebundo speaking here, that people should not oppose for the sake of opposing. You can’t oppose every time, even the best thing can’t be opposed, you opposing as who, we are as big as Goliath, we will see him when time is ripe.”
- On March 6, 2022, CCC Bindura Ward 18 councillor, Oswell Shambare, had his house attacked and burned by ZANU PF activists after he hosted CCC leader, Nelson Chamisa.
- CCC interim vice-chairperson, Job Sikhala, was placed on remand until April 6, 2022 after being accused of violating Section 31 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which criminalizes “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the State.” Sikhala was arrested on August 21, 2020 after he went into hiding in July 2020 when police issued an alert seeking information leading to the arrest of him and others ahead of anti-government protests scheduled for July 31, 2020.
In addition, Clapton Redi, who is from Harare, appeared in Mbare Magistrates Court and was charged with insulting the president. Redi allegedly insulted the president in a conversation that was overheard by a third party. His case was remanded to March 2, 2022 for trial. Three months later, the body of Moreblessing Ali was discovered in a disused well at the homestead of a well-known ZANU PF member on June 11, 2022. Ali was a CCC activist who had until then been missing for two weeks. The government is denying that the death was politically motivated and alleges that CCC is trying to tarnish the ZANU PF government’s image to the international community.
Barriers to International Contact
Currently, CSOs do not suffer from legal barriers restricting international contact and cooperation either domestically or internationally, but the government is seeking to amend the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act to criminalize CSOs’ 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).
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.
There are, however, a number of constraints that have arisen in practice, including the calls by the president to bar CSOs that receive foreign funding from observing the 2018 elections.
The government 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.
In addition, 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, CSOs 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 CSO. [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 of 2020 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 2021, the local currency was trading at around 81:1 with the US Dollar on the official money market, and 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 was that the situation would 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’s February 2022 monetary statement year-on-year inflation went down from a peak of 837.5% in July 2020 to 60.7% in December 2021. 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 was worsened by macroeconomic instabilities characterized by the depreciation of the ZWL and RTGS value. There are liquidity challenges: the ZWL cash is limited, the withdrawals are also limited, and restrictions have been placed on the use of mobile money. This 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.”
On June 14, 2021, Alice Kuvheya the director of Chitungwiza Residents Trust (CHITREST), was arrested and charged with incitement to participate in a gathering with intent to promote public violence as defined in section 187 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act as read with section 37(1)(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. She was also charged with incitement to commit violence as defined in section 187(1)(a)(b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act as read with section 36(1)(a)(b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. The charges emanated from a video that Kuvheya recorded and shared on social media platforms to encourage residents and informal traders to resist a government-backed exercise to demolish trading and vending stalls and structures.
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.
Also on January 13, 2019, the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) called for a national stayaway from January 14 to January 16 to protest the fuel increase which had been announced by President Mnangagwa the night before. The protest was endorsed by the MDC Alliance and other CSOs. On January 14, there was a slow observance of the stayaway as some businesses and schools were open. As the day progressed there were reports of groups of people marching into town, clashes with the police, and barricaded roads. The protesters became agitated by the presence of the police, which led to the deployment of the military to disperse the crowds. By late afternoon and early evening there were reports of battles between the protesters, police and the army. A police station and a toll gate were reportedly burned down and shops were destroyed. In the quelling of protests, five people were reported dead from gunshot wounds and 17 people were shot and killed, and in the aftermath CSO activists, political opposition leaders, and other critics of the government were abducted, arbitrarily arrested and tortured. By the end of January 2021, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) had documented 1803 violations across the country. These violations included 17 extra- judicial killings, 17 cases of rape or other violations of a sexual nature, 26 abductions, 61 displacements, 81 assaults consistent with gunshot attacks, at least 586 assaults and torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, including dog bites, and 954 arrests and detentions, among other violations.
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. More han half a year later, on February 1, 2021, the MDC trio was arrested again for allegedly staging a flash demonstration in front of a government building. They were subsequently charged with undermining police authority and hindering or obstructing a police officer from performing duties during a national lockdown as defined in section 11 of Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 as read with section 177(b) of the Criminal Code. They were released on bail on February 10, 2021.
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.
In July 2020, opposition leaders planned a nationwide protest against alleged government corruption with protests to be held on July 31, 2020. Citizens decided to target the ruling party ZANU PF instead and used the #zanupfmustgo on their social media pages. The government reacted by banning the planned protests, with the police citing COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. On the eve of the July 31 protest, there were reports of military personnel and police forcing people off of public transport and instructing them to go back home with only medical staff allowed in the city centre. An opposition politician behind the protest, Jacob Ngarivhume, was arrested two weeks before the protest and was finally granted bail on his fourth attempt after spending almost eight weeks in prison. President Mnangagwa described the planned protest as “an insurrection to overthrow our democratically elected government.” He warned that security agents “will be vigilant and on high alert.” Despite the ban, on July 31, small groups of people and individuals went ahead with the protests and police arrested scores of people, including prominent author and nominee for the Booker Prize, Tsitsi Dangarembga, and spokeswoman of the main opposition MDC Alliance party, Fadzayi Mahere. Ms. Mahere was charged for contravening section 37(1)(b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act by participating in an gathering with intent to promote public violence, breach of peace, or bigotry. Dangarembga and Mahere’s cases are still before the courts. Ngarivhume, for his part, was 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.”
One day before the planned July 2020 protest, a Midlands State University journalism student Tawanda Muchehiwa was also abducted, and it was later revealed that the car used in the abduction was a rental from Impala Car Rental. Student activists, including the Zimbabwe National Students Union leader, Takudzwa Ngadziore, engaged in protests calling on the ZANU PF government and Impala Car Rental to release details of the client who rented the vehicle. Ngadziore and others picketed peacefully outside the Impala Car Rental business premises. However, on September 10, 2020, Ngadziore was badly beaten, arrested, and kept in custody for four weeks. He was subsequently released on bail on October,16 2020.
Months later, on December 1, 2020, Namatai Kwekweza of WeLead Organization for Young People and Ester Vongai Zimudzi of Section 20 Organization appeared in the Magistrates Court of Harare denying accusations that they had participated in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of the peace, or bigotry as defined in section 37(1)(b) of the Criminal Code. Namatai Kwekweza had first been arrested on June 19, 2020 and then again on July 15, 2020 for staging a protest at Parliament Building against proposed constitutional amendments, and for attempting to hand over a petition to the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
Also on December 7, 2020, Allan Moyo, a University of Zimbabwe student, MDC Alliance youth member, and pro-democracy campaigner, was arrested and charged with inciting people to commit public violence after staging a one man protest against the Mnangagwa administration. He remained in pre-trial detention in Chikurubi Maximum Security prison after his request for bail was denied by the High Court of Zimbabwe on January 28, 2021.
Three prominent people were arrested in a crackdown on freedom of expression in 2021. On January 8, for example, police arrested Hopewell Chin’ono from his home in Harare for tweeting a viral video showing police brutality. This was the third time he had been arrested in the previous six months. MDC Alliance Vice Chairperson and MP Job Sikhala were also arrested on the same day and MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzai Mahere was arrested on January 11 all for social media posts about the same police brutality story. The three were accordingly charged with the same offense, S. 31 (a) (iii) of the Criminal Code relating to “publishing a false statement prejudicial to the state” for sharing and commenting on the video. However, legal experts argue that s. 31(a)(iii) of the Criminal Code is void as it was struck off from the statute by the Constitutional Court in 2014 in the Chimakure case SC14-13. In May 2021, the High Court quashed criminal proceedings against Chin’ono.
Makomborero Haruzivishe, a political activist and former student leader, was convicted in April 2021 for inciting public violence and resisting arrest, and was sentenced to 14 months in jail. He appealed his conviction and sentencing and was granted bail on July 15, 2021, but he remained in prison as of September 2021, as there was a separate matter for which his bail was revoked.
Lastly, on August 5, 2021, pro-democracy activist and MDC Alliance official, Job Sikhala, and Jacob Ngarivhume, who were both responsible for #July31 protests in 2020, indicated they had been receiving threatening messages from suspected state security agents. The messages were sent using South African numbers to warn them not to plan similar protests.
More recently, after the death of pro-democracy lawyer, Dr. Alex Magaisa, on June 5, 2022, the police banned two memorial services organized by CSOs. Further, the police arrested Bishop A Magaya as he was praying for peace in Harare on June 10, 2022. Magaya had spoken at a memorial service organized by the Constitutional Law Centre on June 9, 2022.
COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, which have been relaxed since their initial implementation, 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 stay at home orders, with letters required to travel beyond a 5km radius of one’s home. The restrictions violated section 58 and 59 of the Zimbabwe Constitution.
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.”
The COVID-19 related government lockdown restrictions have also resulted in repression, eroding citizens’ civic and political rights. In the midst of the lockdown, politicians, journalists, civil society activists, and ordinary citizens protested and exposed corruption in the public sector. The protests were met by a heavy-handed state response, with abductions and arrests of dissenting voices. One example is Hopewell Chin’ono, a journalist who has been vocal about exposing corruption in the procurement of COVID-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical materials. Instead of being praised for his whistle-blowing, Chin’ono was been vilified by the state because he implicated the Minister of Health and the President’s family. He was arrested and denied bail countless times and remained in prison for more than 40 days. He was also denied legal counsel of his choice in accordance with the constitution as the State removed his counsel, Beatrice Mtetwa, stating that she was scandalizing the courts.
Civil society was involved in the online #Zimbabweanlivesmatter campaign, which highlighted human rights abuses by the Zimbabwe government and went viral and received support from prominent international personalities. This campaign resulted in the South African government sending special envoys to look into the issue. The first visit was on August 10, 2020, where the South African officials met only with ZANU PF and the second visit was on September 8, 2020. The purpose of the visits was assessing the political situation following reports of a crackdown on civic society leaders and opposition supporters after the squashed July 31, 2020 protest.
Lastly, the political activist Hon. Joana Mamombe was abducted and sexually assaulted together with two other MDC Alliance activists in May 2020 after holding a peaceful demonstration to protest the government’s handling of subsidies for the underprivileged during the pandemic. The trio were arrested for violating the stay at home order and charged with breaching section 37 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and for contravening section 5(3) (a) as read with section 5(1) of Statutory Instrument 99 of 2020 of Public Health (Covid-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) Order, 2020. The trio was later charged with faking their abduction, and they were arrested.
On February 1, 2021, the same trio was arrested again for allegedly staging a flash demonstration in front of a government building. They were subsequently charged with undermining police authority or hindering or obstructing a police officer from performing duties during a national lockdown as defined in section 11 of Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 as read with section 177(b) of the Criminal Code. They were released on bail on February 10, 2021. Hon. Joana Mamombe and Cecilia Chimbiri were arrested again in on March 6, 2021 because they allegedly violated COVID-19 regulations when they gathered for a press briefing at the Harare Magistrates Court. The two were granted bail in May 2021 after have spent two months in custody.
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports||National Report (February 2022)
Civil Society Submission (February 2022)
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs||Zimbabwe|
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes||Not available|
|U.S. State Department||2020 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 email@example.com.
PVO Amendment Bill will hit hard (March 2022)
Economist Prosper Chitambara has warned that the proposed Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill will hit the economy hard. “In many countries, NGOs are filling the gaps in public programmes and services that States have failed to perform or provide owing to limited fiscal space among others. It is evident that a successful NGO community is essential for effective and efficient civil society that organises local participation which is essential for sustainable development,” Chitambara said. He added that “the Bill had provisions that went beyond FATF recommendations and had the potential to disrupt financing of activities in the country, which will have adverse effects on the economy as NGOs contribute to tax revenues, foreign currency generation and social protection.”
The balancing act on the PVO Bill (March 2022)
The tug-of-war between government and NGOs over the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill demonstrates how the Zanu PF administration is determined to go beyond regulation to stifle everything that stands against its transgressions. The problem is, while on paper, intentions around the Bill appear good, the government’s penchant to criminalize NGOs is evident.
Go to war-torn Ukraine, govt tells NGOs (March 2022)
Midlands Provincial Affairs minister Larry Mavima has said NGOs operating in the country should not cry foul over the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill which threatens to shut down their operations, but should go and render their services to war-torn Ukraine. Mavima said NGOs would be de-registered as the government no longer saw their relevance due to their “involvement in politics”.
Suspected ZANU PF Activists Torch CCC Bindura Councillor’s Homestead (March 2022)
Suspected ZANU PF activists set on fire Bindura ward 18 councillor Oswell Shambare’s house. Shambare had hosted an opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) meeting at his home earlier that day. The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum suggested that Shambare was being punished for hosting a party meeting at his homestead.
Makomborero Haruzivishe finally released on bail after 9 months in jail (January 2022)
The High Court has finally released MDC Alliance youth activist Makomborero Haruzivishe, ending his nearly 10-month pre-trial incarceration. Haruzivishe was granted ZWL 20,000 bail on the last of his pending criminal cases for which he is charged for kidnapping with intent to promote public violence.
Court reserves judgment in NGOs case (August 2021)
Justice Esther Muremba reserved judgment in the matter of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) which defied Harare provincial development co-ordinator (PDC) Tafadzwa Muguti’s directive to report to him. The NGOs had challenged Muguti’s directive. In the arguments presented before the judge, state lawyers failed to prove where the authority of the PDC was derived from, as defined by the law.
Govt onslaught on NGOs starts (July 2021)
The government has made the first move in its clampdown on non-governmental organisations (NGOs), with the Harare metropolitan provincial development co-ordinator (PDC) Tafadzwa Muguti ordering civic organisations operating in the capital to report to him. Muguti has summoned all directors of NGOs and private voluntary organisations (PVOs) to pay a courtesy call to his office, claiming that some of them were operating outside their mandates.
NGO warned against meddling in politics (July 2021)
Provincial Development Coordinators from across the country have come out guns blazing echoing President Emmerson Mnangagwa who took a swipe at Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) which continue to meddle in the country’s political affairs while advancing the interests of western countries. Speaking during a meeting with NGOs in Masvingo this week, Provincial Development Coordinator, Dr Jefter Sakupwanya, warned NGOs against politicising their programs by meddling in the internal affairs of this country.
Zimbabwean authorities order NGO to close its doors (May 2021)
Zimbabwean authorities have ordered a non-governmental organisation to shut shop, resurfacing fears that the state is targeting NGOs it believes are pushing a political agenda. Connect, a family therapy and counselling training organisation based in the Mutasa district in Manicaland, was told to close its doors. It was not immediately clear what Connect had done for its operations to be suspended in the Mutasa district.
Mnangagwa threatens to crack whip on NGOs (October 2020)
President Emmerson Mnangagwa vowed to crack down on NGOs for criticising his government over escalating incidents of human rights abuse. Mnangagwa revealed that a law will be crafted to NGOs, which he accused of operating outside their mandate, and not in sync with government priorities, a move widely seen as a mechanism to silence NGOs that have been vocal critics.
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)
Government urged to harness CSOs and private partnerships for development (May 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)
Human rights NGO shut down for running ‘illegal’ organization (July 2012)
Zimbabwe’s constitutional process drags on (June 2012)
Violations persist as UN Chief visits (May 2012)
15 members of opposition political party arrested under Public Order and Security Act (March 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).