CIVIC society organisations (CSOs) yesterday said government was closing the democratic space in Zimbabwe targeting critics of its failure to address the deepening economic challenges.

This followed government’s plan through the State security apparatus to ban workshops it fears were meant to cause anarchy in the country, claiming the workshops were being funded by foreigners pursuing a regime change agenda.

Organisations that spoke to NewsDay yesterday said the shrinking of democratic space by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration was a clear sign of paranoia on their part and were now treating people as enemies.

ZimRights director Okay Machisa said government must not view the people as enemies and must allow non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to operate freely.

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“The bottom line is NGOs in Zimbabwe have never been enemies of the State, it is a perception. What we have always done is to compliment the work of government and where we actually see where the government is doing wrong, we are blamed for telling them the correct thing that you are wrong, you are killing people, you are beating up people and so on,” he said.

“NGOs have been labelled enemies of the State because (they) expose some of the bad sides of government and I don’t see why we can wait to be sponsored by the US or anybody to tell the system that this is wrong, this is right. You don’t need to be sponsored to say that.

“We don’t fight government unless they are saying our calls to say don’t beat up people, don’t burn people’s houses and don’t kill people (are wrong). If that is the crime, so let it be.”

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) chairperson Rashid Mahiya said the timing of the crackdown was worrying and accused government of wanting to silence citizens.

Mahiya, who was arrested earlier this year and accused of wanting to subvert a constitutional government, charged that the State fears its citizens and covering up for their failures.

“They realise they have failed, they have no answers and their policies are not sustainable and have provided solutions that are devoid of a sustainable plan,” he said.

“Every effort now is to criminalise citizens. Government isn’t taking responsibility of their failures. They are running away from responsibility.”

Mahiya accused the Mnangagwa administration of being paranoid, saying the only way out of this crisis was to institute dialogue with the opposition and other stakeholders.

“They must sit down with the opposition, they should just negotiate and come out with a clear plan. This will end this fear of the people.”

CiCZ regional co-ordinator Blessing Vava said: “It is sheer paranoia by the government. We are worried that the democratic space has shrunk to unimaginable levels, making the work of civic society organisations difficult.

“CSOs are peace-loving and law-abiding citizens who, at no point, have an agenda to cause anarchy.”

There were claims over the weekend that the US was sponsoring a workshop in Harare meant to promote unrests that will ultimately subvert a constitutional government.

In a terse response to the claims, the US embassy public affairs section said: “This is a fabrication and has no basis in fact.”

The US was accused of organising a week-long workshop in Harare from December 2 to 10 to train civil society organisations on strategies of sustaining demonstrations and was working with an organisation called Frontline Defenders.

Supposedly leaked intelligence correspondence claimed that the agenda of the workshop included training civil society organisations on “ways to sustain demonstrations” and how to outsmart the police and banning the planned workshop in the process.