A non-governmental organization is a non-profit, voluntary organization organized by task-oriented, driven people with a common interest on a local, national or international level. An NGO principally does service & humanitarian activities, bringing concerns to governments, whilst also advocating for & monitoring policies. This resultantly encourages political participation through making empirical information available with regards to a wide array of issues affecting citizens.

There are over 1000 NGOs currently operational in Zimbabwe spanning from humanitarian aid, service organizations to political governance. International NGOs constitute about 4% of the total number of NGOs in the country.

Locally, an NGO can be instituted under any one of three options which I will delve into in this article. The three options are registration as a PVO, under a trust deed or under common law universitas.

Registering As A Private Voluntary Organization (PVO)

NGOs are mainly registered in terms of the Private Voluntary Organizations Act (PVO Act). The Department of Social Welfare housed under the Ministry of Public Service, Labour & Social Welfare handles the registration process. Section 2 of the PVO Act defines a PVO as any institution, whose function includes or is one or more of the following:

  • Providing material, mental, physical or social needs to people
  • Doing charitable activities for people in distress
  • Preventing social distress or destitution of people
  • Assisting or promoting activities that increase people’s standard of living
  • Providing funds for legal aid
  • Preventing cruelty & enhancing the welfare of animals
  • Any other functions as may apply
  • Collecting contributions for any of the above

It should be noted that registration is a prerequisite & is mandatory before commencement of any activities. It is a statutory requirement for any PVO intending to operate in this country to apply for registration in terms of the PVO Act (Chapter 17:05).

For local organizations, applications are made to the Registrar of PVOs & are channelled through district or provincial Labour & Social Services offices (this must be in the area the headquarters of the applicant organization is located). The applications will ultimately be scrutinized by the PVO Board.

It should, however, be known that international NGOs must initially sign an MOU with the government ministry relevant to its area of focus. Local PVOs aren’t required to sign MOUs with central government or ministries. However, for operational purposes they must, before registration, notify local authorities of their intended operations.

The PVO Act, in Section 9, stipulates that the Secretary of the applicant organization must submit the following:

  • Application for registration (forms are purchasable from Harare, provincial or district offices of the Ministry of Public Service, Labour & Social Welfare)
  • The name of the NGO
  • The NGO’s objectives
  • Names of between 2 & 20 people constituting the first members of the Executive Council/Board
  • Curriculum vitaes of key board members
  • Details of directors & secretary
  • Name & address of the auditor (if none, the Registrar allocates you with one following approval of your application)
  • Address & post office box address of your registered office
  • Interpol/local police clearance (Interpol clearance is for when the NGO is foreign and as such the clearance will be from the respective country)
  • Principal place of business (refers to the proposed area of geographic coverage)
  • The organization’s constitution
  • Proof of public notice in national papers (notice must include proposed NGO name, its purpose, aims & mandate and it should be placed in a newspaper circulating in the area concerned)
  • Period of financial year (usually needed for international organizations)
  • Proof of notification to local authorities of intent to register (for local organizations)

The registration process takes anything from 3 to 12 months.

Once registered as a PVO under the PVO Act, you are mandated by the law to conduct humanitarian work, charity, human rights work & legal aid for the benefit of people & animals. Penalties can be laid on a group that does these activities without prior registration.

PVOs do however face potential challenges of censorship or control by the government. A 2014 survey by EU & NANGO revealed that approximately 993 NGOs were registered as PVOs, thus, making them the majority.

Registering Under A Deed Trust

The Registrar of Deeds is allowed by the Deeds Registries Act (according to Chapter 20:05) to register notarial deeds in donation or in trust. Registering under a deed trust is an alternative for the PVO option (if one finds it challenging). This is because the PVO option tends to be quite hectic, difficult & time-consuming to go through all the modalities. To go through the registration process here, one has to approach a registered Notary Public. A Notary Public’s key role is in drafting & preparing the trust deed along with any other necessary documentation. The Notary Public will also register the deed with the Registrar of Deeds at the Deeds office.

Trusts can have unlimited objectives intended to benefit an identifiable constituency. Interestingly, government has on several occasions tried to place this type of NGO under the PVO Act. Their argument being that any trust falling within the definition of a PVO is obliged to register as a PVO.

Under Common Law Universitas

For this option there is no particular regulation by any statute. In principle, what is needed is that an establishment or organization has a constitution & members that agree on achieving a common objective with regards to benefitting its members. This is very easy & straightforward, but, very few NGOs use this option. Usually church related NGOs are not officially registered and use this & operate under this option. It is lawfully acceptable in Zimbabwe.