Kudzayi Savious Tarisayi


This conceptual paper is based on the desktop research carried out on the contemporary challenges curtailing NGOs in Zimbabwe in general and during the humanitarian crisis in the Tokwe-Mukosi basin in particular. The humanitarian emergency that followed the Tokwe-Mukosi flooding in Zimbabwe has been widely covered in the media. The humanitarian crisis that always follow natural hazards such as floods have been subjected to various researches, however they have been mainly assessing the impact of floods on livelihoods. This study revealed that a plethora of challenges face NGOs at Chingwizi in their endeavour to ameliorate the humanitarian emergency.

Keywords: Non-governmental Organisations, challenges, disaster-induced relocations, Chingwizi, Zimbabwe.

 1.0 Introduction

There is always apparently extensive media coverage of humanitarian crisis that follow any disaster, be it earthquake, floods, cyclones amongst others around the world. This has been the case for the Tokwe-Mukosi floods in Masvingo province, Zimbabwe. International trends indicate that disasters are increasing in intensity, complexity and magnitude and Zimbabwe has not been spared from this trend (Allardce, 2009). Gwimbi (2009:71) states, “The increasing occurrence of disastrous flooding events and the mounting losses in both life and property values in Zimbabwe have drawn attention to the flooding situation in the country, especially the rural areas.” Hardly, a month passes without media reports of a disaster in Zimbabwe or around the world (Allardce, 2009). Fundamentally, all these disasters are human-made, for, a catastrophic event, whether triggered by natural phenomena or human activities, adopts the status of a disaster when the community or society affected fails to cope. Thus, it can be argue that a tropical cyclone is not a disaster in and of itself. Hewitt (1997) argues that natural hazards such as tropical cyclones, floods, earthquakes and droughts tend to spring to mind when the word ‘disaster’ is mentioned but a disaster is correctly defined on the basis of its human consequences, not on the phenomena that caused it.

The humanitarian crisis that always follow these natural hazards such as floods have been a subject of various researches mainly assessing the impact on livelihoods in Ghana (Fredrick et al, 2010) , in India (Afro, 2009) and in Zimbabwe (Tarisayi, 2014) among others. The rallying point of all these researches has been mainly the impact of flooding on people especially the poor who are the most vulnerable. However, there is an apparent gap in literature in as far as the challenges faced by NGOs assisting in these humanitarian crisis. There is always evidently quick apportioning of blame from various quarters on the NGOs actions or lack thereof without due cognisance of the challenges curtailing their operations. This scenario has been glaringly revealed by the humanitarian emergency faced by families in the Tokwe-Mukosi basin in Zimbabwe in January/ February 2014 and the subsequent forced relocations. The media was flabbergasted with articles insinuating failure of NGOs to assist the flood victims. The most pronounced and tellingly headline being, “NGOs turn a blind eye on Chingwizi” (Murwira and Maponga, 2014). These media articles aptly reveal that challenges facing NGOs in responding humanitarian emergency have been elided by researchers, media among others.



Tarisayi (2014) states that the term NGO encompasses a wide-ranging spectrum of organizations and they have been referred to using various terms in different quarters in different parts of the world. Rahman (2003:  44) listed at least 40 similar terminologies used in the literature to refer to NGOs. Gupta (2011:01) states these organisations have been, “Variously referred to as Non-Profit Organizations (NPO) and Voluntary Development Organizations (VDOs), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are non-profit, non-governmental organizations that an individual joins by choice”.

NGOs come in a multiplicity of shapes and sizes, and thus the definition of an NGO and the choice of terminology is in itself the subject of much debate and limited agreement. The  World  Bank  (1995)  defines  Non-Governmental  Organisations  as  private organisations  that  pursue  activities  to  relieve  suffering,  promote  the  interests  of  the poor,  protect  the  environment,  provide  basic  social  services,  or undertake  community development.  In  another  dimension,  Liebenberg  (2000)  refers  NGOs  to  autonomous, privately  set  up,  non-profit-making  institutions  that  support,  manage  or  facilitate development action by providing socio-economic  activities to the needy. The above definitions have shared reiteration of the centrality of these organisations being private and privately set up. From a legal perspective, Anheier (2001) defines an NGO as a legally constituted institute created by natural or legal persons with the aim of functioning independently from any government. Thus, this legal approach emphasises the notion of operating independent of the government. In addition, NGOs can be reasoned to be registered, private, independent, non-profit organisations that facilitate development to needy communities among others. However, there is confusion due to the recent sprouting of organisations which have been classified as Government NGOs or rather government funded or aligned NGOs.


This study utilised a qualitative research method which entailed utilization of secondary research or desktop research. This involved gathering data that already exist from various sources such as the media, free access data on the internet and academic literature.  Hall  (1990)  defines  a  desktop  research  as  referring  to seeking  facts,  general  information  on  a  topic,  historical  background,  study  results that  have  been  published  or  exist  in  public  documents.  This  information  can  be obtained  from  libraries,  newspaper  archives,  government,  university,  websites, NGOs  and  CBOs. In addition, data was also captured from websites of NGOs operating in Masvingo province. References were made to secondary sources such as journal articles and books on the activities of NGOs to alleviate poverty.


The context in which NGOs operate in the disaster-induced relocations at Chingwizi reveals a number of challenges. These challenges emanate from within the NGOs while others are external.


The Zimbabwean government has been blamed for curtailing the space within which NGOs operate in assisting people affected by disaster-induced relocations. The NGOs have to channel all their assistance through the office of the Provincial Affairs Minister’s office without directly interacting with the intended beneficiaries. Tandon (1989) and Bratton (1989) concur that governments establish the legal and political context within which NGOs work and their relations with the state may take many forms. NGOs/ state relations may take the form of outright animosity or lack of trust. In Zimbabwe, NGOs and government relations are aptly captured by sentiments made by politicians and government officials. Chanakira (2011) highlights NGOs and government relations by quoting the Zimbabwean President,

We  have  now  a  phenomenon  of  NGOs,  or  shall  I  call  them  phenomena,  for  they  really  are  a  type  of government in the background of a formal government. I don’t know whether this creature is for the better or  for  the  worse,  but  in  our  country  we  have  seen  a  situation  where  they  have  exceeded  their  terms  of reference,  and  perhaps  we  might  have  to  reconsider  the  advisability  of  having  NGOs.

Thus, the relationship between the NGOs and the government can be argued to be poses a challenge in the role of NGOs in disaster-induced relocations. Ulimwengu (2007) concurs that African states generally mistrust NGOs and other non-state actors for a variety of reasons. Hence, due to this mistrust by government of the motives of NGOs in assisting people affected by disaster-induced relocations at Chingwizi NGO programming is curtailed.

In addition, there have largely been frosty relations between the NGOs and the government in Masvingo. This is revealed by the banning of 29 NGOs in February 2012 by the Masvingo governor Titus Maluleke ( While the ban was lifted in early 2014, the gulf created by the ban is yet to be filled. NGOs that were formerly banned in 2012 were recalled by the new Provincial Affairs Minister in January 2014, hence giving them just a couple of weeks to operationalize before disaster struck. Thus, it can be reasoned that they were not fully operationalized after the lay-off of two years.


NGOs reaction or lack thereof to the Tokwe-Mukosi floods and the subsequent relocations of the people to Chingwizi can be attributed to their circumscribed focus. Flooding and disaster-induced relocations can be argued to be a relatively new phenomenon in Zimbabwe. Generally, NGOs have mandates that restrict them from reacting to new phenomena such as flooding, which lies outside their usual domains. Salamon (1987) argues that NGO particularism can also be a sectorial weakness when NGOs fail to respond to interests outside most NGOs narrowly defined constituency. This is buttressed by Murwira and Maponga (2014) observation that out of the 90 NGOs registered under the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations in Masvingo, only four have extended their help to people at Chingwizi camp since their relocation.

In addition, NGOs whose mandates include human rights did not see it fit to assist people at Chingwizi. Their narrowly restricted definition and focus of human rights mainly revolve around political rights while overlooking the basic rights to shelter, food and education. The findings of this paper reveal that people at Chingwizi are in desperate need of shelter and food among others. Hence, it can be reasoned that the role of NGOs in disaster-induced relocations has been severely hindered by their circumscribed focus.


The role of NGOs in disaster-induced relocations at Chingwizi transit camp is also curtailed by financial and material constraints. The people at Chingwizi transit camp were mainly facing constraints in terms of shelter and food as their homes were destroyed by the Tokwe-Mukosi floods. Hence, NGOs and the Zimbabwean government were battling to secure adequate food and shelter for the affected people. However, against this scenario the NGOs were affected by shortages of financial and material resources to meet the demands of the people at Chingwizi who are living in appalling conditions since their relocation. The constraints are appositely revealed by the government’s appeal for financial and material resources to the donor community. Lipsky and Smith (1990) argue that scarcities in material resources also can constrain capacities for NGO initiatives. Thus, NGO efforts at Chingwizi are affected by the material scarcity which can be reasoned to be behind their reluctance to stray from their circumscribed focus. The shortage of materials is revealed by the exhaustion of budgets bemoaned by the NGOs operating at Chingwizi. The NGOs were opposed when it was revealed that there were alarming statistics of STI at the camp. Thus, due to inadequacy of financial resources the NGOs could not cope with the demands of the devastating effects of spate of STIs.


Human resources challenges facing NGOs were glaringly exposed by disaster-induced relocations at Chingwizi. Tarisayi (2013) argues that NGO programming in Masvingo is curtailed by human resources challenges. Disaster-induced relocations are a relatively new phenomenon which exposed the inadequacy in terms of training in the NGO personnel. A shortage of well trained and experienced human resources also curtailed NGOs in performing their role. Lekorwe (1999) concurs that NGOs have a human resources weakness in terms of training and experience.


This paper concludes that the role of NGOs in disaster-induced relocations is curtailed by various factors. These challenges can be traced from both within and outside their NGOs,that is both internal and external. Among these challenges are relations with the Zimbabwean government, restricted focus, financial and material constraints and human resources challenges. Hence, it can be concluded that NGOs are faced by a plethora of challenges at Chingwizi in their endeavour to ameliorate the humanitarian emergency.


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