International church groups call for end of Zimbabwe NGO ban

By Agencies
July 24, 2008

A coalition of church organizations that includes the World Council of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, has called for the lifting of a ban by Zimbabwe that has prevented humanitarian aid agencies and non-governmental organizations from working in the country.

In a 24 July 2008 letter, leaders of the WCC, the World Student Christian Federation, WARC, the World Alliance of YWCAs and the World Alliance of YMCAs congratulated both Zimbabwe's former ruling Zanu-PF party and the Movement for Democratic Change, which now holds the majority of seats in the country's parliament, for signing a memorandum of understanding on 21 July that commits the two sides to more talks.

But it also says that the ban on international NGOs is hitting the poorest and should go, reports Ecumenical News International.

The ban on non-governmental organisation activities was instituted by President Mugabe in the lead-up to the second round of voting in the presidential ballot.

Now Zimbabwe's communal farmers, who are weathering the worst food shortages in living memory, say it is biting hard, says the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Alleging political bias, the government suspended all NGO activities, but the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) claims the ban was instituted to try and hide the political violence unleashed against its supporters after the 29 March general elections, in which President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF lost control of parliament for the first time since the country gained independence from Britain in 1980.

Neither Mugabe nor MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was able to win 50 per cent plus one vote in the first round of voting to elect Zimbabwe's president, necessitating a second round of voting on 27 June, from which Tsvangirai withdrew after more than 80 MDC supporters were murdered and tens of thousands of people displaced by violence, allegedly by ZANU-PF militia.

Hansen Chipembere, aged 60, a small-scale farmer in the Zvinyaningwe area of Masvingo Province, about 60 kilometres from the provincial capital, Masvingo, told IRIN: "We are an unlucky lot. This year has been the worst ever for us, and that is when authorities decide our benefactors (NGOs) should stop assisting. You can smell the hunger as you move around."

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