PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has been sent into a panic mode after American billionaire George Soros pledged US$1 billion for a new university network project to fight the erosion of civil society activism in a world increasingly ruled by “would-be and actual dictators”.

Speaking in Davos at the World Economic Forum last week, the philanthropist said he was donating $1 billion to fund a new global network of universities designed to promote liberal values and his vision of an open society.

Soros said humanity was at a turning point and the coming years would determine the fate of some rulers.

“We live at a transformational moment in history. The survival of open societies is endangered and we face an even greater crisis: Climate change,” Soros was quoted as saying, describing his plan of the Open Society University Network (OSUN) as “the most important project of my life”.

- Advertisement -

He said the initiative will be an international platform for teaching and research that existing universities all over the world would be able to join.

“To demonstrate our commitment to OSUN, we are contributing $1 billion to it,” said Soros in his traditional annual Davos address in which he also took a swipe at US President Donald Trump who he described as the “ultimate narcissist”.

Soros said his project was more needed now at a time open society was at more risk than ever.

But the gesture irked Zimbabwean authorities with presidential spokesperson George Charamba yesterday saying this was targeting to influence regime change in Zimbabwe and other countries perceived as anti-democratic.

“Soros gives $1 billion to fund universities and stop drift towards authoritarianism. This huge amount is meant to subvert world sovereignties, Zimbabwe included. The Hungarian born American has been meddling in Zimbabwean politics at multiple levels,” Charamba said.

He added: “Has he (Soros) ever been a friend of Zimbabwe? Don’t you know the works of (Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa) Osisa? Who funds Osisa? Has it ever contributed to our liberation as a people? So to us it is a war chest.

“He is only criticising America as a way of trying to confuse the gullible. They know essentially that this is a fund for regime change and after all that is why they started. It is there in the records. There is nowhere Soros can be related to any transformation which is meant for global underdogs.

“His altercations with America are just a false dramatisation, (but) in reality he is actually pushing their agenda.”

However, political analysts dismissed government’s paranoia over Soros’ offer.

“George Soros is a well-known global philanthropist who has supported issues of democratisation throughout the world. His foundation has supported human rights and victims of rights abuses, rape and has supported environmental programmes and development programmes. So instead of looking at such initiatives as a threat, I think the Zanu PF government must actually look at such initiatives as an opportunity and find ways to work with such foundations to strengthen the democratisation processes in Zimbabwe,” analyst Rashweat Mukundu said.

“The challenge with such statements (by Charamba) is that he falls within the Zanu PF narrative of always identifying enemies to justify their repression of human rights defenders.
If anyone is then to be associated with the foundation Soros has set up throughout the world, then the labelling has already started on what they call regime change activists who are sponsored by outsiders. But, for me, the world has already moved away from such dichotomy of them and us which Charamba seeks to promote. The world is now multi-faceted and people have to find ways of interacting.”