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Opinion / Columnist

It's the internet not life support

23 Jan 2019 at 10:09hrs | Views
There has been an avalanche of criticism on Government's decision to shut down the internet during the recent MDC orchestrated violent demonstrations. Western sponsored pseudo civic groups approached the High Court challenging the legality of Government's move – and they won, hats off to our independent courts.

Allow me to take you back a little. On 7 July 2005, three suicide bombings occurred on United Kingdom (UK)'s London underground train system and a fourth bomb exploded on a double-decker bus at Tavistock Place. Over 50 people died and a lot more were injured. Among the cocktail of measures implemented by the UK Government was to cut all telecommunications networks to stop further attacks.
Relatedly, while responding to another UK terror incident at Parsons Green Underground Train Station in September 2017, United States President, Donald Trump, twitted that the internet was a terrorist "recruiting tool” that must be "cut off" to stop further terror attacks.

The above scenarios might be different from what transpired in Zimbabwe, on 14 and 15 January 2019, however, the motive behind shutting down the internet in all cases was to prevent a bad situation from getting worse.

The coordinators of the violent protests in Zimbabweans were using social media to synchronize acts of violence against the State and civilians alike. A typical example being messages with instructions on how to make petrol bombs and that on 15 January 2019 the violent protestors should attack shopping centers in the low density suburbs of Harare simply because people there did not see any reason to join the senseless orgy of violence led by the opposition MDC and associate organisations.

The situation in the country was fast getting out of hand. Civilians were attacked and barred from going about their business including seeking medical attention; private business premises were looted, police stations were attacked resulting in the murder of a police officer and burning of his colleagues' vehicles in other stations around the country.

It was only a matter of time, but had the situation been allowed to deteriorate further the violent protesters could have accessed arms in police armories all over around the country as police officers ran for dear life - a civil war could have ensued!

With such hindsight, it is clear that the first step in restoring order was to cut the communications channels used by the country's detractors - the internet. The only unfortunate thing is that even ordinary innocent citizens were switched off too in that process - though not for long.  This led many to accuse Government of infringing on their right to freedom of expression.

However, Government's move also upheld the rights of peace loving Zimbabweans who had nothing to do with the violent protests and civil servants whose right to demonstrate peacefully was usurped by the looters. The property rights of business people whose businesses were under attack, the right to life of police officers who were murdered in the line of duty, the right to privacy of Zanu PF member whose houses were invaded and sometimes destroyed, the freedom of movement of people were barred from going about their business, the list is endless.

The long and short of is that, inasmuch as Zimbabweans have the right to demonstrate and petition, this right has to be exercised peacefully - there was nothing peaceful about what MDC supporters and members did on 14 January 2019. The Government had to intervene to quell down the situation for the sake of the other citizens who had nothing to do with the protests. The unavailability of the internet for a few days was a small price to pay for the peace we now enjoy - it is just internet, not life support, no one died directly from the shutting down of the internet.


Shipping vehicles from UK to Zimbabwe for less
Source - Mapozho Saruchera
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