President Robert Mugabe’s plan to strictly police Internet access, censoring web users and blocking access to sites deemed sensitive Chinese-style, has been slammed by the opposition and analysts as a fascist move that risks dragging the country back into the Stone Age era.
This comes after Mugabe on Saturday said Zimbabwe needed to implement measures to control social media to minimise rampant abuse of the platforms.
“…there’s a lot of bad stuff on the Internet,” Mugabe said just after landing at the Harare International Airport from Japan.
“There’s a lot of abuse that happens there. Some people use the Internet in bad ways. It’s everywhere. But the Chinese have put in place security measures and we will look at these so that we stop these abuses on the Internet.”
China has put new restrictions on social media use by its citizens, who already face State censorship and filtering when they post about controversial issues or criticise the government. The MDC has threatened to launch a court challenge should Mugabe proceed with his “fascist plan to muzzle the media.”
“Section 61 of the Constitution sets out our freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Every Zimbabwean has got a right to seek, receive and communicate ideas and other information,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said.
“Mugabe has never been comfortable with a robust and fearless media that places politicians and all other public figures under strict scrutiny.
“This is the very reason why the Zanu PF regime maintains an iron-fisted control of the electronic media in Zimbabwe. Mugabe is very worried that social media is now able to expose those shenanigans that his regime would have routinely swept under the carpet and keep away from the attention of the majority of the people.
Mugabe is yesterday’s man, he seems not to understand that even China, with all the massive financial and material resources at its disposal, is having a very tough time trying to clamp down on the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram.”
Tendai Biti’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) said Mugabe was angry that he was being portrayed as a cartoon character in social media circles
“It is a laughable suggestion really,” PDP spokesperson Jacob Mafume said. “He is trying to stifle people or represses people, and freedom of the media.
“He is angry at the capacity of society to make him look like the cartoon character he is. He has built an artificial image, where he is portrayed as a revolutionary, and likened to biblical king.
“On social media, however, it’s a different thing. It’s where jokes about him circulate and where embarrassing videos about him circulate. It’s not just him; his wife as well is made fun of on social media”
Academic and political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said it would be hard for the Mugabe government to control social media.
“It is very difficult to control electronic media. It just becomes another futile exercise. Even in China where these restrictions are, they have found a way around them,” Mandaza said.
Afghanistan-based analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the restrictions were futile in a collapsing economy.
“We already have restrictions. Chinese economy is ticking and people may grapple with the restrictions. Zimbabwe’s economy is in tatters and such restrictions will only to more exodus of people.
“There are already too many push factors for Zimbabweans to go abroad and this will be the last stroke,” Saungweme said.