The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has accused non-governmental organisations of destabilising Zimbabwe, throwing its weight behind the embattled President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mr Mnangagwa came under heavy criticism from human rights groups, the opposition, and the international community following the military’s aggressive crackdown on protests last month that left 17 people dead.
The nationwide protests were sparked when President Mnangagwa more than doubled the prices of fuel as the country battles an incessant economic decline.
The heavy handed crackdown on civilians was heavily condemned by rights groups, Britain, the United States and European Union amid calls for regional intervention.
The NGOs said there were documented cases of torture, sexual abuse and arrests of activists, opposition politicians and trade union leaders.
Following the violence, Zimbabwe's main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa wrote to SADC seeking intervention.
However, SADC leaders who met on the side-lines of the just ended African Union (AU) Summit in Ethiopia threw their weight behind President Mnangagwa, saying his government has been working hard to address Zimbabwe’s economic problems.
“Since coming into power, the new government of Zimbabwe has continued with concerted efforts to address socio-economic challenges and transform the economy through the Zimbabwe Transitional Stabilisation Programme (2018-2020), and to consolidate unity and peace in the country,” SADC said in a statement Tuesday.
“This, notwithstanding, some internal groups, in particular NGOs, supported by external forces, have continued to destabilise the country,” the statement reads.
President Mnangagwa last week accused Western countries of supporting and funding the protests after shops were looted and police stations attacked.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum on Friday released a report claiming that at least 17 people were shot dead by security forces during the protests and 17 women were raped.
The government, however, insists that only one woman was allegedly raped by soldiers and that those behind the crime had been brought to account.
In the report, NGO Forum said they had documented at least 1,803 violations committed by the security forces across the country since the protests broke out on January 14.
Meanwhile, SADC has called for the unconditional removal of the European Union sanctions on Zimbabwe saying they were stifling the government’s efforts to transform the economy.
The regional bloc further challenged all stakeholders in Zimbabwe to participate in the National Dialogue process that was initiated by President Mnangagwa last week. The President invited leaders of more than 20 political parties for talks to address the country’s crisis.
However, the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC’s) leader Mr Chamisa declined to attend the saying he would only do so if the dialogue was called by a neutral party.
President Mnangagwa, who won a disputed election last July, took over from long-time ruler Robert Mugabe in November 2017 and has pledged to revive the country’s sickly economy and end its international isolation.
However, he faces an insurmountable task to deal with a high unemployment rate, cash shortages, scarcity of staples such as bread and cooking oil.