guest column :Takudzwanashe Mundenga
THE State in Zimbabwe under the ruinous leadership of the Zanu PF party is further shrinking the democratic space through the introduction of new laws that will make it a one-party State.
Slowly and probably without realising, the landlocked southern African nation is graduating into the North Korea of Africa in all aspects of tyranny.
While we are still in the era of the trending online #Zimbabweanlivesmatter, with the whole universe closely watching the crimes against humanity in our setting, the State seems unrepentant in its conduct.
Instead, the Emmerson Mnangagw-led administration is seizing the moment to display more ruthlessness and intolerance against opposing forces. Innocent people have been thrown behind bars and denied bail for criticising the President and the government, despite freedom of expression being an inviolable right espoused in the Constitution.
Since the President and his lieutenants have confessed unfamiliarity with the social media algorithm, they think their government is under threat from internet trolls.
Hence, they seek to enact the Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill that will likely silence the citizens by regulating the only space through which hordes of Zimbabweans could air their concerns without fear of persecution.
The State is prepared to infringe the right to privacy in the pursuit of unrequited love. Unrequited because it expects the people to love it despite its shortcomings.
Mnangagwa’s government is known for its observable hostility with the internet. Zanu PF officials have on many occasions accused social media users of peddling negativity on the country in the international arena. Both #ThisFlag and the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter hashtags have been dismissed as suffixes of fake news.
Amid the growing social media campaign #Zimbabweanlivesmatter, President Emmerson Mnangagwa issued a speech directed at the protesters. He vowed to “flush out bad apples” trying to divide the country as pressure mounted on the government to stop human rights violations.
Social media is the only technology standing in Zanu PF party’s way that cannot be intimidated, propagandised or controlled. The Zanu PF-led government is even petty to the extent that the former editor of the State-owned Herald newspaper, Joram Nyathi was fired for failing to put pictures of Mnangagwa on the front page upon his return from a foreign trip.
In January 2019, the government ordered a social media blackout after deadly protests rocked major urban centres in response to a massive fuel price hike. Recently, a Bulawayo man, Victor Majoni was arrested for posting a video clip on his WhatsApp status, showing a woman criticising the Day of National Prayer declared by Mnangagwa.
Hence, it is from that backdrop that the Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill can only be viewed as another survival strategy by the regime.
No matter the government is trying to portray itself as a protector of citizens in the explanations given to the media concerning the Bill, there is terrible history to consider as well. The Justice and Legal Affairs minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi said that the Bill was meant to restrict the distribution of offensive or pornographic material via social media. Yet, the real motive is to evade an Arab Spring.
Lamenting over misgovernance is a democratic right and no one should get arrested or intimidated for it. The Mnangagwa administration, like a hard-hearted deadbeat dad, punishes citizens for talking about its failures, rather than addressing them.
This law will immunise the party and certain individuals in power from criticism. To a certain degree, it is also meant to prevent Mnangagwa’s sworn-enemies in exile, namely Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Patrick Zhuwao, from tweeting about the state of affairs in the country.
Of equal weight is the Patriotic Bill aimed at imposing a five-year prison sentence to anyone communicating “false information” about the country. Interestingly, this country has thrived on political lies since time immemorial, politicians do not live up to their promises.
Mnangagwa himself gave assurances to the international community that he was going to improve the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, but here we are, still grumbling.
So, perhaps we should thoroughly examine the definition of falsehoods before getting ahead of ourselves.
If there is anyone who should be brought to book regarding spreading falsehoods to foreign governments is the man who said “Zimbabwe is open for business” while corruption shakes the country at its foundations.
Zimbabwe’s problems are not beyond our borders but within. There is an urgent need to attend to grievances, observe human rights and fix the economy before labelling dissenting voices enemies and “lynching” them.
The meanings of both “patriotism” and “false information” are pretty gray in the Zimbabwean context. Anyone who tried to publicly criticise the role of Zanu PF in the time past and time being has been labelled unpatriotic.
Recently, Zanu PF openly denied the existence of a human rights crisis in Zimbabwe despite having police and military brutality on record. While the world is moving forward and emphasising tolerance, our country’s leadership thinks patriotism constitutes silence on human rights violations.
One common goal sought by both the Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill and the Patriotic Bill is to ensure that dissenting voices are muted. It will be achieved by creating an almighty government that can neither be challenged nor put to scrutiny.
While the State-owned media love to praise the State and liken every stance the government takes to what is happening in the United States, the truth is that we are slowing resembling totalitarianism in North Korea.