Zimbabwe’s public service minister Nicholas Goche ordered all NGOs to suspend their field operations on June 5, accusing them of violating certain conditions, yet giving no further explanation.
The directive has been slammed by human rights groups, who say that humanitarian aid for the most poor and vulnerable in society will now be severely restricted.
The relief provided by such groups had been keeping many Zimbabweans alive, since the government’s so-called land reform policies of eight years ago left the former breadbasket of Africa a non-productive wreck.
A crackdown on aid agencies first began after Mugabe’s popularity began to dwindle as a result of the skewed economic policies which pushed the country into recession.
In the volatile area of Matabeleland, a province in western Zimbabwe and an opposition stronghold, all aid agencies were purged after war veterans accused them of working with the MDC to destabilise the country.
When he first came to came to power after Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980, Mugabe pledged to work with the many aid agencies which gravitated to Zimbabwe, anxious to assist what was then seen as Africa’s most promising democracy.
The then prime minister identified NGOs as crucial partners in developing and bettering the lives of both urban and rural communities.
A Time magazine story dated September 8, 1980, entitled Mugabe Pleads for Aid, reports that he called for international assistance to help rehabilitate the country, which was suffering the ravages of years of war.
Mugabe received international praise for his impressive strides towards making food, health and education available to all. The rallying cry then was “Food for all by the year 2000, health for all by the year 2000”, and much of this was to be realised through strategic partnerships the government entered into with NGOs.
But Mugabe has over the years fallen out with his development partners, often accusing them of trying to work against him. He now insists despite all evidence to the contrary that the country has sufficient resources.
Addressing the recent United Nations Food Summit in Rome, Mugabe blamed the country’s food woes on a hostile bid by NGOs working with his arch-enemies, the UK and America, to effect what the Southern African strongman terms “illegal regime change”.
The situation in the country continues to deteriorate, making the ban on humanitarian assistance particularly tragic.