Citizens in Action Southern Africa in partnership with NANGO facilitated Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) movement building meetings in the Western, Southern and central regions of Zimbabwe under the theme “Towards an enhanced CSOs operating Environment in Zimbabwe. The platform created by CIASA/NANGO through these movement building meetings was meant to create an ongoing discussion on the state of affairs, identifying gaps and challenges in the CSO operations within the Central, Southern and Western Regions and to have insights on CSOs needs and build sectorial collaborative frameworks for the region in confronting the PVO amendment bill and other legislatives framework and policies that are aimed at shrinking the civic space. The same meetings also sought to map advocacy strategies which suit the context and operating environment of the CSOs in the regions. Lastly, the objective of these movement building meetings was for CSOs to undertake scenario mapping on operationalization in the event of the bill passing into law.
A total number of sixty Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) attended the movement building meetings in the three regions. CSOs who attended the movement building raised serious concerns over the way in which activists and Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) were being arrested. CSOs in the Southern region indicated that nine human rights defenders who were all members of the Masvingo Residents Forum (MRF) (Admire Mufamba, Kudzai Chamunorwa, Matter Zigwata, Prosper Tiringindi etc) on 23 April 2021 were arrested by Masvingo Zimbabwe Republic Police for protesting about the two month water shortage affecting Masvingo and they were being charged under the section 37 of the Criminal Law codification for participating in unlawful gathering with intent to promote public violence. CSOs indicated that this was worrisome and evoked fear among them to operate and conduct activities as state agents were politicizing activities conducted by CSOs. CSOs also reiterated that paying attention to such events it means the operating space was no longer safe and was continuously shrinking making it difficult for humanitarian actors to implement their activities and even conduct meetings. In the Western region, CSOs highlighted that suspected ruling party members were hijacking and disrupting meetings conducted by CSOs for in December 2021 Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiCZ) annual general meeting (AGM) that was being held at a Bulawayo hotel was hijacked by a group of suspected ruling party youths who assaulted participants and vandalized property.
CSOs noted the importance of social movement building in confronting the structural challenges which included lack of cooperation by regulatory officials who took time to sign MOU, the demand of exorbitant registration fees by regulatory authorities from CSOs, and surveillance by state security agents. They went on to call for capacitation on structuring social movement building and the cycles involved which include sharing the idea of change, catalyzing event, gaining the tide and the change event in the event that the civic space continue to shrink and the bill is passed into law.
CSOs also highlighted that it was crucial for the sector to engage executives and stakeholders like grassroots leaders, international humanitarian players and the business community on the PVO bill. Emphasis was also placed on advocacy and lobbying initiatives such as engaging the church and international humanitarian actors in the PVO bill discourse. CSOs recommended each other to strengthen advocacy and lobbying initiatives for the sake of avoiding the passing into law of the PVO bill.