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Zim’s high costs for free speech

THE Postal Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz)’s decision to suspend data promotions by mobile telephone operators is part of government’s desperate efforts to clamp down on dissent, analysts have said.

BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA

Potraz refused to sanction popular promotions by the country’s major mobile phone operators — Econet, NetOne and Telecel — at a time many Zimbabweans are taking to social media to vent their frustrations over President Robert Mugabe’s rule.

The decision has seen the cost of data rising beyond the reach of many in a country with an unemployment rate of more than 90%.

Data bundles were a response from mobile networks to over the top applications such as WhatsApp that have been bleeding the top three mobile providers.

Prominent social media personality, Thomas Chizhanje said Zimbabweans were turning to social media to air their grievances and Potraz’s actions sought to stop the trend.

“This shows the power of social media usually underestimated by organisations and government. It is a platform that can be used to address national issues from the citizens to the government and vice versa,” he said.

“Government should look at these issues and find ways to address the citizens’ complaints.”

Twitter and WhatsApp are the most popular platforms used by Zimbabweans and the government has of late shown discomfort that its opponents were resorting to social media to articulate their views.

Since the successful shutdown of business in Zimbabwe’s cities and towns last month, lobby groups #Tajamuka and #ThisFlag have increased calls for more protests.

The government was accused of jamming WhatsApp to stop people from timely sending messages about the protests.

However, through another application known as a virtual private network (VPN), people were able to access Whatsapp and the internet.

VPN is a private network that extends across a public network or internet and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network.

VPN allows users to connect to other nearby servers if the Zimbabwean server is down.

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