By Rashweat Mukundu
THE latest legislative offering by the government, the Interception of Communications Bill, should be seen in its wider context as yet another assau
lt on the rights of the people of Zimbabwe.
The Bill, whose movers have so far failed to justify beyond mumbles of protecting national sovereignty and clamping down on criminal activity, is part of a grand and long-term strategy to silence citizens and extend the shadow of fear to the very heart of our lives.
This is so because personal communication — be it via mobile, the Internet or post — is still personal communication and such communication is the most important and fundamental of all forms of freedom of expression. It is this form of communication that archaic and repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act have so far failed to stop.
The people of Zimbabwe continue to talk either through word of mouth, the Internet, mobile and wireless telephony or indeed through the remaining independent newspapers.
Far from appreciating the need to encourage and promote social discussion, the latest proposed law is a sign of growing paranoia within the higher echelons of power. This paranoia borders on wanting to know exactly what the people are saying because this is a government which knows very well that it has done nothing for its own people except bringing and presiding over misery in its abundance.
All this government can do is hang on to power for self-aggrandisement and the people have become its enemy hence this proposed law.
Submissions to parliament by state organs of repression — including the Posts and Telecommunications Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), the Media and Information Commission (MIC) as well as the army — say they are all for the snooping on people’s communications. So far no convincing arguments have been proffered on how this snooping is to benefit society.
The army talks of protecting national sovereignty and security and that there are threats to the sovereignty of Zimbabwe from all over. This military argument, as would be expected of any military which ventures into public and civilian matters, lacks any substantiation apart from raising fear as a means of justifying further repression.
The army so far knows the enemy who threatens Zimbabwe: MIC chairman Tafataona Mahoso and Potraz as well as their handlers alone.
This is an army well-known for beating civilians at bus stations and in beerhalls and is under orders from its commander-in-chief to shoot citizens who dare demonstrate peacefully against bad governance, now championing the protection of sovereignty and national interests.
It is clear that in the eyes of this army the sovereign is Zanu PF and its leadership, and when this elite feels threatened by the rightful, genuine and well-meaning talk of citizens that their lives are more than miserable, the army indeed has to move in to protect the “sovereign”.
This is an army led by farmers, businesspersons and politicians whose hold on us is simply because they hold the gun in their hands and are more than ready to use it. Indeed this is an army whose fate lies square with that of its handlers.
Should the reason for the new Bill be to protect national interest and security, the law then cannot, in all fairness, target all citizens in a random and indiscriminate manner as is provided so far. Any well-meaning law should be very clear in its objectives and be clear on how it relates to citizens so that ordinary people can know how to regulate their own conduct.
As things stand the police chief can simply ask by word of mouth that he desires to snoop on this and that person and the minister responsible for this law can by word of mouth give his/her consent. Those who have snatched girlfriends from the police chief, intelligence and military gurus and indeed those who challenge the political dominance of this government are hereby warned.
Sovereignty in Zanu PF jargon means quite a lot indeed.
Other arguments for this Bill were provided by Mahoso.
Mahoso is well-known for his failure to talk about anything without displaying his ever-present colonial hangover that anything about Zimbabwe has to be seen in relation to the West. Far from preaching a gospel of moving Zimbabwe away from what he calls the neo-colons, Mahoso cannot survive without talking of the West. He has nothing to say besides criticising the West which gave him an education.
Mahoso talks of the West as monitoring and watching Zimbabwe through the Internet and so forth and, to him, Zimbabwe has to hit back by watching the West. How? We are not told.
This Bill, Mahoso should be told, is not about watching the West but watching ordinary Zimbabweans in their day-to-day activities, and indeed about watching which faction in Zanu PF does Mahoso belong to.
Mahoso and Potraz argue further that other countries have similar laws — the United States, Britain and Canada, among others. And in typical Mahoso confused thinking, if the West is monitoring its people’s communications that should be good for Zimbabwe — all this from a man who purports to have a radical thinking from the West.
The fact that the US government or any other government for that matter monitors its citizens legally or illegally is inconsequential to the citizens of Zimbabwe, because the argument against this Bill remains that such monitoring is a violation of our rights.
Indeed the courts in the US have in the past few weeks ruled such activities illegal. At least in that part of the word, the “sovereigns” can be reined in. In our part of the world, the word of the “sovereign” and their wishes are indeed the command of “our” judiciary.
Mahoso argues further that the Internet originated from the military, hence its intention must be sinister and Zimbabwe, if he has his way, should just ban the Internet for, in his thinking, a missile aimed at Harare might just be fired from the Internet.
The Internet might have originated in the military, yes, as Mahoso told parliamentarians, but like anything that originated in the military — from medical research to many other inventions — the Internet has since moved to civilian use and it has made more impact in civilian life that Mahoso and team are only happy to see regress in Zimbabwe.
Should this law be about monitoring criminal activities, then it cannot have a blanket and open-ended berth to monitor all citizens in what amounts to a fishing expedition by the army, the police, intelligence and the minister responsible.
Far from protecting the rights of the people of Zimbabwe, this law in fact creates a cyber fascist concentration camp for all citizens of Zimbabwe. All in the name of protecting the sovereign Zanu PF leadership.
Where Ian Smith created mini-concentration camps in Rhodesia, where rural people were herded like cattle, Zanu PF has simply perfected the art and is creating a virtual concentration camp where we are all stripped naked, and all our communications snooped on by the military, intelligence and the police.
The message is very clear: the “sovereign” is watching you and be very afraid, very afraid.
* Rashweat Mukundu is Misa-Zimbabwe director.