GOVERNMENT has expediently used the language of national security to justify new laws and clamp down on constitutionally protected rights to free speech and to hinder political participation.

Importantly, this move comes at a time when the ruling Zanu PF party is in the midst of unprecedented internal fractures and repeated leadership crises.

This effort to further monitor and curtail the activities of Zimbabweans, civic society organisations, trusts and non-governmental organisations as well as intimidate critics is an early indication that the regime remains intent on maintaining power at all costs.

Momentum towards a more concerted crackdown on freedoms has been building for some time.

In 2016, the country’s telecommunications regulatory authority issued a “public warning” on the “gross irresponsible use of social media and telecommunication services” at a time new citizen-led civic movements were gaining resonance with Zimbabweans across the political spectrum.

For example, a video in which cleric Evan Mawarire vented his frustration with the State went viral in 2016, triggering a movement known as #ThisFlag in which other Zimbabweans shared their exasperation.

Later on, he faced subversion charges.

These developments in Zimbabwe fit a pattern exhibited more broadly in Africa, which has witnessed a sharp rise in censorship, often occurring in the lead-up to elections or during periods of civil unrest.

Since 2016, African governments have shut down the internet repeatedly.

In 2017, Cameroon enforced a 93-day blackout in its English-speaking regions amid mounting protests; Togo has repeatedly shut down the internet to stifle growing resistance to the long-ruling Gnassinbe family dynasty; and Ethiopia and Rwanda, veritable pioneers in the realm of restricting digital activism and free speech, have repeatedly sealed off access to its citizens.

Viewed in this context, developments in Zimbabwe reflect how illiberal governments in Africa — and indeed across the globe — are becoming more assertive in the digital realm, strengthening negative norms that have formed a counterpunch against the once perceived inevitability of online mobilisation, access to knowledge and democratisation.

In this way, governments like Zimbabwe are seeking to shape laws in ways that merely serve to legitimise their repression, political self-interests and long-term survival.

It is thus no surprise that leaders in Zimbabwe have unabashedly looked to China and North Korea for “successful” models to emulate.

In order to respond to this trend, rights activists and donors should undertake several important steps.

First, raise awareness — online and elsewhere — about the encroachment on privacy, free speech and political expression in Zimbabwe.

Abusive leaders like President Emmerson Mnangagwa thrive in darkness, therefore, sustained exposure, public advocacy and a targeted, strategic response to his growing repression will be critical to retaking the initiative and gaining needed momentum.

Second, activists need to convince donors to invest in projects that better assess and respond to security threats and other challenges to human rights.

For example, donors should encourage and support training to enhance the capacity of civil society actors to operate in repressive spaces.

Ideally, this approach would include tools to navigate around website blocks, connection blackouts and widespread censorship.

Activists must work proactively and creatively to convince African leaders of the devastating economic impact that disruptions have had on African economies.

One study, for example, found that the internet shutdown in Cameroon cost business in the affected regions US$1,39 million in lost sales — an enormous sum in a country with a per capita gross domestic product of just over US$1 000.

This economic argument will not resonate with everyone. Autocratic regimes will always prioritise survival above all else.

However, this approach might work with more pragmatic governments and help to build an important counter-narrative that appeals to different segments of society who share a collective interest in advancing their personal well-being.


Poor parenting cultivates bigotry
XENOPHOBIC sentiment is typically handed down generation to generation. If it is deliberate, it is something I strongly feel amounts to a form of child abuse: to rear one’s impressionably very young children in an environment of overt bigotry, especially against other ethnicities and races.

Not only does it fail to prepare children for the practical reality of an increasingly diverse and populous society and workplace, it also makes it so much less likely those children will be emotionally content or (preferably) harmonious with their multicultural and multi-ethnic/-racial surroundings.

Children reared into their adolescence and, eventually, young adulthood this way can often be angry yet not fully realise at precisely what.

Then they may feel left with little choice, but to move to another part of the land, where their own ethnicity/race predominates, preferably overwhelmingly so.

If not for themselves, parents then should do their young children a big favour and not pass down onto their very impressionable offspring such bigoted feelings and perceptions (nor implicit stereotypes and “humour”, for that matter). Ironically, such rearing can make life much harder for one’s own children.

While there is research through which infants demonstrate a preference for caregivers of their own ethnicity/race, any future such biases and bigotries generally are environmentally acquired.

Such adult sentiments are often cemented by a misguided yet strong sense of entitlement, perhaps also acquired from one’s environment.

Maybe this social/societal problem could be proactively prevented by allowing young children to become accustomed to other ethnicities/races in a harmoniously positive manner.

The earliest years are typically the best time to instil and even solidify positive social-interaction life skills/traits into a very young brain/mind.

And one can imagine this would also be particularly important to achieve within one’s religious community.

Frank Sterle Jr

Govt move to tax SMEs commendable

RECENT reports that the Women’s Affairs, Small and Medium Enterprises ministry has developed a tax system for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) that is simplified and user-friendly which the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) is said to be considering should be applauded, especially at this critical time that Treasury needs as much revenue as possible to meet various government commitments.

Truly, the current system is an albatross in the neck of many SMEs as the process and procedures are too complicated for most of the SMEs, resulting in non-compliance.

Added to this is the fact that one has to open a bank account as a first step to be registered as a taxpayer.

The minimum balance that the banks require to open an account is wiped off because of bank charges within two months of opening the account.

Given that our SMEs have very little confidence in the banking sector, a system should be put in place that makes it easier for SMEs to pay their dues.

Alternatively, banks should be engaged so that charges made against SMEs are affordable and acceptable.

For all this to succeed, an extensive training of SMEs should follow once the new system is out in place.

It is hoped that the Finance and Economic Development ministry, which is the parent ministry of Zimra; and the Small and Medium Enterprises ministry expeditiously work on the new system for a win-win situation for both revenue collectors and the SMEs.

SMEs are where the money is. It is estimated that at least 60% of economic activities happen within this sector.

This will also signify a giant step towards achieving a middle class economy by 2030 as more money will come to the State coffers to promote various projects and infrastructure developments that are ideal in promoting economic growth