Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) under police investigation will be barred from observing the referendum.
That is the shocking announcement that was made by acting Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chairperson Joyce Kazembe on Friday.
“We turned down their request [for accreditation] because they are undergoing investigations. We have told them to bring documentation of acquittal if they have any. We will also verify if indeed they would have been acquitted,” said Kazembe.
The announcement is disturbing as it comes at a time when police continue to target organisations perceived to be hostile to President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF.
So far many organisations have been targeted, the latest being the Zimbabwe Peace Project headed by Jestina Mukoko, who was abducted and tortured in 2008.
In a democracy, civil society organisations (CSOs) play a watchdog role by monitoring human rights violations and service provision by the state.
In addition, they are involved in civic education and public outreach programmes. Zec’s ban comes at a time when Copac itself has been begging CSOs to partner it in constitution awareness programmes, as well as the production and distribution of the draft charter.
Unless authorities have something to hide as we go for elections, there is no justification for hounding NGOs and stopping them from checking if our electoral processes are safe and sound.
Zec’s decision to bar them on the basis of unproven charges is deplorable and can be viewed as part of a larger crackdown on organisations like ZPP that have been documenting political violence.
With Western observers ruled out, extending the ban to local organisations perceived to be hostile to Zanu PF will be seen as abetting those who are keen to shrink the democratic space.
Zec already has a credibility problem, especially after the recent resignation of its chairperson, Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe.
The body therefore urgently needs to embrace all legally registered organisations operating in the country as it prepares to hold the referendum on March 16 and elections, expected in June or July, in a transparent manner.