By Sij Ncube
Harare, March 22, 2016 – THE future of Zimbabwe’s mainstream civic groups involved in political and human rights advocacy looks uncertain amid indications their traditional sponsors were not keen on renewing their contracts.
It has emerged some of the contracts expire during the first quarter of 2016 with no prospects for further extension.
Most civil society organisations have been left battling to pay salaries let alone finance their operations.
This has seen some local non-governmental organisations cut staff or revising contracts in some instances as the struggle to survive gets tougher.
There are fears the flight of donors would have an adverse impact on a majority of donor-funded programmes, particularly those involved in human rights and the general democratisation struggle in a country known for rampant rights abuses.
Some international donors reportedly wrote to local NGOs advising them of discontinuation of funding end of 2015, allegedly citing lack of interest in the Zimbabwe situation.
Most European donor funding is understood to be now going towards dealing with the migrant crisis sparked by the civil war in Syria and some unstable world countries which has seen shiploads cross the Mediterranean in recent months for better life abroad.
It emerged at a weekend meeting of the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, a loose grouping of CSOs dedicated to media freedom, all was not well in the sector.
Maz members comprise Misa Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations, the Media Centre, the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists and the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum, among others.
Representatives bemoaned donor flight and change of priorities from a recurrent human rights crisis in Zimbabwe to migration issues across the seas.
“It calls on the sector to think outside the box. There is need for innovation,” said Barnabas Thondhlana, the secretary general of the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum.
Foster Dongozi, the secretary general of Zuj, concurred.
Nhlanhla Ngwenya, the director of Misa-Zimbabwe, said lack of funding was a great concern for most CSOs in Zimbabwe, a situation he feared could dissuade players particularly in the media NGO sector from keeping a watch on media issues.
Apart from the crippling lack of funding, players in the industry fear that in the next two years ahead of 2018 polls, the government will dictate the pace of media reforms and roles of stakeholders, leading to fragmentation of media stakeholders, among other anomalies.
Media polarisation is seen continuing ahead of the 2018 polls and so is advocacy or activist journalism, delegates agreed.
In the absence of funding, Dongozi sees lack of investment as well as safety of journalists being compromised.
“There are a lot of issues which the media has to grapple with ahead of the elections,” he said.
Loughty Dube, the executive director of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, urged media players to adopt new business models or face extinction in the next two years.
Media experts believe the issue affecting NGOs in Zimbabwe was not limited to donor fatigue, but that CSOs in Zimbabwe are being operated in a financially unsustainable manner.
Maxwell Saungweme, a development expert and analyst, had no kind words for local CSOs which he said lacked innovation during trying times.
He said it was known the world over that donors change their priorities and CSOs, like business ventures need to adapt to the changing environment.
“They need to broaden their sources of income away from the single source of donor funding,” he said.
“CSOs can generate own income through social entrepreneurship, charging nominal fees for services, partnering with churches, philanthropists, private corporates, minimise operational costs and negotiating with donors to support not only programmes but invest part of the donor funds in financial sustainability of the institutional structure of the CSOs.
“Sadly there is lack of capacity in most CSOs to diversify funding bases.
“In my thesis, done in 2014, I found out that most CSOs in Zimbabwe would close shop in 22 days soon after donor funding pulls out.
“I also found out that most CSOs only depend on donor funding and lack capacity to maintain good relations with donors, have poor financial management and can’t diversify income sources.
“Also most CSOs have been doing the same thing for 20 years and expect a different result. Why would donors continue funding them? Donors need innovative CSOs that adapt their structures, modus operandi and programming to changing times.”