HARARE – The government admitted on Sunday that the information ministry’s official Twitter account had put out a tweet describing striking doctors as “killers” and the United States embassy as “satanic”.
The tweet, sent out on November 2, was quickly deleted but it had been read by many Zimbabweans who went on to take screenshots.
On Sunday, the ministry admitted sending out the tweet but claimed – with little credibility – that its account had been “compromised”.
Many Zimbabweans believe, instead, that the ministry’s official Twitter account is run by an individual who also has a “ghost” account under a fake name, from which they spew hate against trade unions, Western embassies and the government’s critics.
“On 2/11/19, this Twitter handle was maliciously compromised and an inappropriate message was posted on it. On being alerted to this, we deleted the message, changed our security information. We apologise to any person or group of persons offended or disrespected by the message,” the ministry tweeted on Sunday.
The offensive tweet was sent out in response to a medical doctor, Mthabisi Bhebhe, who accused government ministers of not being interested in resolving the pay dispute with doctors because they receive their treatment in China and Singapore.
Doctors have been on strike since September 3, demanding United States dollar-indexed salaries after the local currency tanked. The government commenced disciplinary hearings against the striking doctors on Friday, and according to Bhebhe all 81 doctors who were summoned and boycotted the hearings were summarily dismissed.
The ministry, quoting Bhebhe’s tweet, replied: “Zvanzwa butter zvimadoctor izvozvo (They got their comeuppance those doctors). Let those killer doctors go and work for the equally satanic @usembassyharare. We don’t want any heartless doctors near our hospitals. Good riddance!”
Political analyst Alex Magaisa said the attempts at distancing the government from the tweet were not convincing.
“The government admits an ‘inappropriate message’ was tweeted from its official handle. No credit there because denial would have been utterly stupid. However, as if the tweet wasn’t bad enough, they come up with a disingenuous and dishonest defence: we were hacked, they say,” Magaisa said on Twitter.
“It’s the cheap defence that they all use after a bad tweet. The ‘MILFgate scandal’ was also ridiculously blamed on hacking. How about taking responsibility for once and accepting that those who tweet are humans and sometimes they make mistakes? People would probably understand.”
Last month, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba inadvertently tweeted a link to a pornographic video he was apparently watching. The link showed a video of a naked white woman touching her privates.
The video titled, ‘Mouth Watering MILF Orgasms’, spawned the hashtag #MILFgate.
Charamba, using the ghost account @jamwanda2, did not offer a strong excuse of being hacked, stating in a tweet: “Zvaiwana ngwarati! Of course my good friends will enjoy this intrusion and milk it to the last ounce!! Meanwhile, Aluta Continua!!!”
The government’s social media policy has long been criticised as being ineffective, with government departments unavailable online – a space that is mainly occupied by Mnangagwa’s army of trolls he calls “varakashi”, a Shona word which means “those who lash out”.
The United States embassy has recently been particularly targeted after the ambassador Brian Nichols – responding to government claims that sanctions are hurting the ordinary people – forcefully rejected the claims, and instead official corruption for causing economic ruin in Zimbabwe.
Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo last Thursday threatened to expel Nichols, accusing him of political meddling.