HARARE – Media groups and opposition parties are worried by the creation of the Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation ministry — which has raised fears that the government will clamp down on freedom of expression and social media, as Zimbabwe hurtles towards next year’s watershed elections.
This comes as President Robert Mugabe has asked former Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, who heads the new ministry, to learn the ‘‘success stories’’ of rogue nations such as North Korea in dealing with social media and so-called cyber threats.
It is believed that the creation of Chinamasa’s ministry will pave the way for the enactment of the Computer Crime and Cyber Crime law — which is currently at bill stage.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC has led the chorus in the condemnation of the new ministry, saying this has been created to muzzle free expression in time for the 2018 polls.
“Mugabe loathes any form of public protest against his corrupt and incompetent regime. He will do whatever it takes to control and muzzle social media in order to suppress public discontent against his regime.
“However, the good news is that this regime has got absolutely no capacity to suppress the use of social media.
“Social media is the new normal in today’s world, and thus Chinamasa will be just a lame duck minister in that portfolio. He will not be effective at all.
“The Cabinet reshuffle was primarily targeted at ensuring that Zanu PF wins the 2018 elections by hook or crook, besides — of course — pruning (Vice President) Emmerson Mnangagwa’s influence within the State machinery,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe chairperson Golden Maunganidze also expressed the media industry’s worries over the new ministry and the role it was going to play.
“Misa Zimbabwe takes note that these unfortunate threats have resulted in self-censorship by the citizenry when engaging on topical issues affecting the country.
“This censorship, is not only on individuals using social media, but also the media who have on occasion been chastised for incorporating developments and citizen opinion on pertinent socio-economic and political issues as expressed online in their reportage.
“We therefore impress upon the government that citizens have the right to freely express themselves online and offline.
“At the same time, the media has the right to truthfully report and inform the nation on events as they unfold, without fear and undue hindrances as constitutionally guaranteed,” Maunganidze said.
On its part, the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef) said Mugabe’s move was calculated to further impinge on media freedom in the country.
“It is scary that there appears to be three full ministers to deal with the mainstream media, as well as alternative media and social media.
“Although there are assertions and jokes that Chinamasa has been demoted, this is far from it. We take this appointment very seriously.
“It is a calculated move to further impinge on media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information.
“It is again an attempt to trash the Constitution of Zimbabwe which guarantees media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information.
“Chinamasa . . . will spend sleepless nights online to show all and sundry that he is not a lame duck minister. The media should be very, very afraid,” Zinef national co-ordinator Njabulo Ncube said.
Spokesperson for the Welshman Ncube-led MDC, Kurauone Chihwayi, said Mugabe was keen to silence any form of dissent and the creation of the new ministry was “definitely not an afterthought”.
“We are certain that the move is simply meant to clamp down on peoples’ freedom of expression in social media circles, in the realisation that Zimbabweans have found an alternative platform where they can freely express their views and mobilise against Mugabe’s misrule,” he said.
During the swearing-in of new ministers at State House last week, Mugabe said he had created the ministry to deal with abuse and unlawful conduct in cyberspace. – Daily News