President Robert Mugabe’s government, through the dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), has stepped up mass surveillance on private citizens’ lives, particularly those perceived as political threats, as the monitoring has widened beyond phone-tapping and e-mail interceptions to scrutinising activities on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
ELIAS MAMBO/PAIDAMOYO MUZULU
Well-placed sources said the intensified abuse of state apparatus for partisan political agendas is a result of Mugabe and his party’s paranoid fears of civil unrest following their disputed victory in the July 31 general elections.
Sources said security forces were also put on high alert after polls.
The main opposition party MDC-T claims the elections were rigged, and their position has received support from international powers such as the United States and European Union members.
“Soon after elections, the situation was unpredictable as Zanu PF was unsure of the people’s reaction, so CIO tightened surveillance to intercept communications. There is paranoia because Zanu PF is not sure of the mood of the people following allegations of rigging leading to his party’s controversial landslide win,” said a senior government official.
Insiders say targeted groups and individuals’ communication activities are being monitored by CIO from designated listening posts in Harare, mainly in Mount Pleasant.
“Targeted groups and individuals’ communications and social media activities are being monitored and at times the CIO obtains recordings of voice calls from local cellphone providers under the guise of carrying out state security operations,” the source said.
The recent publication of Elizabeth Tsvangirai’s private correspondence with her alleged lover a fortnight ago exposed abuse of the state security apparatus to target opponents for political reasons and not national security purposes.
The Elizabeth episode is not an isolated incident as CIO has a history of snooping or deliberately setting traps for private citizens perceived as anti-Mugabe and Zanu PF.
Former Finance minister Tendai Biti of the MDC-T and former Roman Catholic archbishop of Bulawayo Pius Ncube are prominent victims of such state surveillance.
Biti’s private SMS correspondence with a female staffer at Treasury were splashed in the government-controlled Sunday Mail while Ncube was recorded by cameras in a compromising position with female church congregants at his official residence through use of closed circuit television.
However, under Zimbabwean law, where closed circuit television cameras are installed this should be accompanied by a public notice of the presence of such cameras.
Mugabe’s paranoia about reactions over polls stretches back to 2005 when he ruthlessly unleashed Operation Murambatsvina, a purported urban clean-up, but actually a pre-emptive strike triggered by fears of an urban revolt.