Regional civil society organization, Action for Southern Africa (ActSA), has raised concerns about the shrinking space for civil society in Zimbabwe and called for solidarity movements worldwide to support and reinforce the country’s civil society organizations.
ActSA, which collaborates with civil society organizations in southern Africa and the United Kingdom, published a joint report with the University of Liverpool titled “Voices from the Frontline: Repression and Shrinking Space for Civil Society Organizations in Zimbabwe.” The report documents the experiences of civil society leaders in Zimbabwe leading up to the August 23 and 24 elections and highlights the challenges they face.
The report includes personal experiences shared by civil society leaders and human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, who remained anonymous for their safety.
Zimbabwean civil society is described as being under siege and in need of support from global solidarity movements. ActSA hopes the report will reinvigorate dialogue between civil society in the UK, Zimbabwe, and funders and decision-makers to find a way forward.
The report addresses concerns such as the denial of due process under the law, systematic attacks on civil society groups, and intimidation of professional groups to support the regime of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The constrained environment, due to repressive legislation, has led to self-censorship among civil society organizations, resulting in covert mistrust. Many key organizations have closed, putting increased pressure on those that remain operational. Regional solidarity is seen as essential to supporting Zimbabwean civil society.
ActSA recommends that the African diplomatic community as a whole should be invited to address the increasing regression in human rights and democratic governance in Zimbabwe. It also suggests using global commitments, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to highlight regressive policies and practices in Zimbabwe related to democracy, the role of women, vibrant civil society, and partnerships between corporate entities, government, and civil society.
The report points out that since the 2017 military coup, Mnangagwa’s regime has been working to shrink both civic and political spaces through various means, including repressive legislation like the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Act No 10 of 2023, which criminalizes criticism of the government. The Act came into force on July 14, 2023.
The report also highlights reported cases of abduction since 2020, the prolonged incarceration of former Zengeza West legislator Job Sikhala, and unexplained political murders as contentious issues in Zimbabwe.