HomeColumnistsOur civil liberties at stake

Our civil liberties at stake

Zimbabweans have lost their right to do, think and say what they want, which rights are enshrined in our constitution. Our constitution guarantees these rights as long as we enjoy them without infringing on other people’s freedoms. But no longer!

Twitter: @MuckrakerZim

Muckraker was left in shock by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s confirmation that his government was tracking the daily movements of opponents and critics through their electronic gadgets. Granted, governments all over the world probably do the same, but they are more subtle as this is one of the gravest invasions of privacy that any government can mete out on its people.

The president’s words addressing chairpersons of Zanu PF provincial women, youths and war veterans at the party headquarters in Harare on Monday confirm Zimbabwe is now under totalitarian rule. Zimbabweans can no longer freely voice their dissent because the government has assumed total control of their s activities.

Mnangagwa boasted to the whole world without a whiff of shame that his government is monitoring opponents’ movements.

“You see the fake abduction staged by this other party (MDC Alliance), false abductions, but because of ICT, we are now able to trace where they walked, slept and who they talked to, we have all that now,” he boasted. “You can’t refute it, we know at this minute, you were at this place and who did you make a phone call to.”

This is gross! Is monitoring the movement of people justifiable under any circumstances? The answer should be no because governments tend to abuse this power to invade people’s privacy. Even sworn criminals have a right to privacy.

Muckraker is sure this invasion of privacy will not be limited to political opponents only, but will be extended to journalists and other watchdogs to track who they talk to. This will totally close the free flow information as sources of such information such as whistleblowers will no longer be forthcoming. The fight against corruption and government malfeasance will be the first victims.

The closure of democratic space which has been ongoing has been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.


A new report by Freedom House released this week has damned a statutory instrument (SI) enacted by the government of Zimbabwe to curb the spread of false information on Covid-19 as one of the “harshest” in the world.

SI 83 of 2020 categorises the publication of false news as a criminal offense and imposes a 20-year imprisonment term for spreading fake news about the coronavirus pandemic.

The Freedom on the Net 2020 report, an assessment of 65 countries released Wednesday, found that the pandemic has accelerated a decline in free speech and privacy on the internet for the tenth consecutive year, and accused some governments of using the virus as a pretext to crack down on critical speech.

Freedom House is a US-based, US government-funded non-profit non-governmental organisation that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights.

“In one of the world’s harshest examples, Zimbabwe’s emergency provisions have put internet users at risk of up to 20 years in prison for spreading false information about the pandemic. At least three people now face the draconian penalty after sharing allegedly false information about lockdowns on WhatsApp,” says the report.

The report says the pandemic has exacerbated a global clampdown on free expression.

It says in at least 45 of the 65 countries (including Zimbabwe) covered, activists, journalists, or ordinary members of the public were arrested or criminally charged for online speech related to Covid-19.

“Authorities justified the arrests through a myriad of laws that criminalise expression deemed to cause panic, instigate violence, spread hate, or insult officials, among other perceived harms.

“In at least 20 countries, governments cited the pandemic emergency to impose additional vague or overly broad speech restrictions. The measures most often criminalised the spread of ‘false’ information or content that could damage ‘public order’. By passing new laws and arresting individuals for nonviolent speech, leaders attempted to control narratives about the virus’s spread, the government’s performance, and the negative social and economic implications of lockdowns.”

The report quotes local observers as saying the arrest of human rights defenders and opposition figures over their online activism, as well as the government’s threatening statements about posting critical content, palpably increased fear and inhibited expression.

Stinking suspension

Muckraker thinks what’s happening in our judiciary confirms everyone’s worst fear that that important pillar of our governmental system is in grave danger of capture. The suspension of High Court judge Justice Erica Ndewere surely raises a stink following so soon after the suspension of Justice Francis Bere.

But whatever the reasons for the suspensions Muckraker would like to refer whoever cares about the rule of law to the ongoing hearings on the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court. Barrett’s nomination just before an election by US President Donald Trump also raises a stink as it has shown that the world over the judiciary is open to manipulation.

Barrett has, however, tried to save face by spelling out how she will perform her duty and avoid manipulation. She can’t be depended on of course to stick to the philosophy which she says she got from a mentor.

What she says must be read by every Zimbabwean judge to remind them how the judiciary should work. She told students in 2016 that judges should not be appointed based on policy preferences: “We should be putting people on the court who want to apply the constitution.”

In her opening statement in the confirmation hearing on October 12, according to reports, she tied herself once more to the late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who she worked for as a clerk.

“His judicial philosophy was straightforward: a judge must apply the law as written, not as the judge wishes it were. Sometimes that approach meant reaching results that he did not like. But as he put it in one of his best known opinions, that is what it means to say we have a government of laws, not of men.”

She added that “courts have a vital responsibility to enforce the rule of law” but they are not meant to “solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life”.

“The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the people.”

Divisive Trump

Still on the US elections, the last four years have shown that America is a giant with legs of clay. The divisiveness that Trump has wrought on the political scene has shown just how fragile the American system is. Racism and xenophobia pervades the whole body politic.

It reminds us of apartheid South Africa where racism was institutionalised. All the white supremacists groups in South Africa are replicated hundredfold in the United States. From the Afrikaner Broederbond, to the paramilitary secessionist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement) or AWB, to National Christian Resistance Movement, also known as the Crusaders, and to the right-wing terrorist organisation, the Boeremag the US is also haunted by white supremacist organisations just like South Africa. Apartheid fell because of this, so will the US.

It must be very difficult for American diplomats strewn all over the world to stand up and say American democracy is a shining example worth to be emulated by the rest of the world.

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