- The Washington Times - Friday, January 28, 2005

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is trying to quash a last bastion of opposition with harsh legislation targeting private humanitarian and charity groups, a leading democracy activist said.

Lovemore Madhuku, founder and president of the Harare-based National Constitutional Assembly, said the bill awaiting Mr. Mugabe’s signature was an “unprecedented maneuver to undermine the case for democracy” just two months before expected parliamentary elections in March.

In Harare this week, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, announced plans for a legal challenge to the bill, calling it an unconstitutional attempt to suppress dissent.

“Such a law has no place in a democratic society,” Mr. Madhuku said during a visit to Washington this week. He was in the United States to accept an award for his efforts to propel constitutional reform in Zimbabwe in the face of increasing political repression by the Mugabe regime.

The government has jailed Mr. Madhuku repeatedly for his criticism and for demanding an overhaul of the constitution. In February, police beat him so savagely that it was feared he had died.

Mr. Madhuku told a gathering at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Thursday that he opposed new economic or political sanctions against the government.

Mr. Mugabe, in power for a quarter-century, has successfully labeled sanctions as foreign interference in the country’s affairs, he said.

Mr. Madhuku praised Condoleezza Rice’s statement in her Senate confirmation hearings for secretary of state last week that named Zimbabwe as one of six global “outposts of tyranny” to be opposed under U.S. foreign policy.

“Such support for basic democratic rights inspires us,” he said.

The Herald, Zimbabwe’s state-run daily newspaper, bitterly denounced Miss Rice’s comments, calling her “a black who washes away the sins of white power as it bludgeons non-white states.”

Zimbabwe’s often-divided opposition, including the Movement for Democratic Change, the main nongovernmental party in parliament, will need to regroup after the March elections, Mr. Madhuku said. He predicted Mr. Mugabe’s governing Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party would manipulate the vote to secure an even larger majority.

The NGO bill would require private groups to register with the government, identify their leaders and funding sources, and describe in detail their planned areas of work for the next three years.

It was introduced after the enactment of legislation to crack down on press freedoms and on the right of Zimbabweans to hold political rallies.

A government position paper said the NGO law was needed because the private humanitarian and charity groups were “deviating from their core business” to criticize the government, often using foreign funds.

“Some NGOs were now being used as conduits by external forces bent on destabilizing the country,” the paper charged.

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