Douglas Coltart (pictured) is probably one of the most trolled Zimbabwean on Twitter with pro-government ghost accounts spewing out vitriol against him on a daily basis.
Even senior civil servants such as President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba, who uses the @jamwanda handle on Twitter and politicians such as former Justice deputy minister Obert Gutu have failed to resist the temptation to lynch the young human rights lawyer.
The online brigade, now commonly known as Varakashi, often targets government critics and opposition leaders and they use the race card against white Zimbabweans such as Coltart.
Coltart has in recent years risen to become one of the prominent human rights lawyers in the country and he is paying the price.
Varakashi often accuse him of everything from sponsoring the on-going strike by doctors to mobilising rural teachers to challenge the government over poor remuneration.
Coltart, however, says he remains unfazed and is ready to fight for justice for the downtrodden.
“It is threatening, but for me, I am driven by a vision of a better Zimbabwe where human rights are respected,” he told The Standard.
“That is what pushes me. The work I do is rooted in my faith and to that degree, I don’t fear those who kill the body. I fear God.
“It comes with the territory but it won’t stop the work from going on.”
He dismissed as false Charamba’s claims on Twitter that he flew around on a helicopter giving striking doctors money so that they could continue with their job boycott.
Ironically, the allegations were first posted on Twitter through a ghost account that targets government critics for abuse.
“It’s just a brazen lie and has no basis in truth. “It’s a stupid lie to say I am flying around and doing that. It is ridiculous,” Coltart said.
“The purpose is to try and discredit my work. I am a professional and I represent doctors in my professional capacity as a lawyer.
“It is insulting to the doctors to say they need to be influenced by me to do what they are doing. “The issue is about a health care system in a crisis.”
Doctors from public hospitals have been on strike since September demanding salaries pegged in United States dollars and improved working conditions.
The government says it has evidence that the doctors are being paid to sabotage President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government. So far, over 500 doctors have been fired over the crippling strike.
Coltart said Mnangagwa’s government was under pressure due to the political and economic crisis in the country, hence the targeting of people deemed to be critical of the establishment.
“The regime feels threatened and is in a corner,” he said. “They have no clue how to get the country out of the crisis, so you end up lashing out at anyone and everyone.
“They should take responsibility and sort the crisis.”
Coltart said he believes only genuine and inclusive dialogue could rescue Zimbabwe.
“We do need dialogue, we need genuine and inclusive dialogue beyond just political parties but that includes citizens, trade unions and other stakeholders,” he said.
“The reality is that the regime is not genuine about dialogue, so as a first step, we need to acknowledge that all of us have a role to play and we need to figure out what that role is.
“I am driven by the vision of a better Zimbabwe and that keeps me going.
“I am inspired by the people I work with, I work with the teachers who have been through a lot and have gone through much worse experiences.
“God is a God of justice who calls his people to stand up and fight for justice.”
Coltart has been detained more than three times for representing government critics and has been assaulted while in police detention.
He believes the abuse by the law enforcement agents is linked to the attacks on social media by government officials like Charamba.
“I am willing to stand up against abuse and they don’t take it lightly. “They are used to people who remain quiet in the wake of abuse and when I do what I do, they don’t take it well,” he added.
“When I get attacked by people like George Charamba, it encourages and incites their foot soldiers like the police to mete out that kind of violence.”
Coltart, who went to the University of Cape Town in South Africa, said he would never be driven out of Zimbabwe by the abuse.
“I came back to Zimbabwe by choice,” he declared. “I used be in the diaspora, I studied outside the country and I came here by choice and I knew what I was getting myself into.
“I came here to do the work that I am doing. I expected the type of response that I am getting.”
He also believes the racial attacks by government officials and people using ghost accounts on Twitter would not change perceptions about the work he does.
“These are really horrible, especially because they are untrue. I am someone who detests racism and I fight against racism and to be accused of that is horrible,” he said.
“ What comforts me is that in my experience, the vast majority of Zimbabweans accept me purely as a Zimbabwean and it’s only this elite and sometimes faceless characters who try to use race as a weapon against me but it’s not bought by the vast majority of ordinary Zimbabweans.
“I am pro-Zimbabwe and I want to see a better Zimbabwe. The current regime is perpetuating human rights abuses, destroying people’s livelihoods and looting wealth meant to benefit the people, yes I am against that.
“The human rights situation has really gone bad. It is worse now than it has been in the last decade of the old regime.
“There were dark patches in the Mugabe rule, Gukurahundi, the June 2008 violence and so on but between 2009 And 2017, the situation was better than what it is now.”
Coltart is the son of former Education minister David Coltart, who is also the MDC treasurer-general.
Coltart senior is also a favourite target of the Varakashi and often comes to his son’s defence whenever the online brigade goes after him. – The Standard