PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s government has, in one sweeping move, all, but sounded the death knell for Zimbabwe’s flourishing social media use, following a decision to hike mobile data tariffs by over 2 500%.
By PAIDAMOYO MUZULU
The move has been received with an angry uproar amid speculation that the increase was part of government’s sinister way of forcing millions of citizens off social media platforms.
Zanu PF politburo member and Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo described the move as “primitive”.
“Use of overpricing, instead of technology, to curb internet access or manage social media is primitive elitism and promotes underdevelopment!”
An angry social media user said: “We are looking at the convergence of evil interests between the government’s intention to regulate social media and mobile telephone operators’ capitalist tendencies.
“Mugabe is taking advantage and his intentions to curtail freedom of expression are coming to fruition.”
Econet, the country’s largest mobile operator by subscriber base, is now charging the new 2c/megabyte (MB) floor price, announced by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) last week.
Sceptics see this as Mugabe’s gambit to rein in on the use of social media, whose disdain for he has not hidden.
Before the increase, 250MB cost $1, but now 300MB of data costs $10.
Mugabe has since last July been struggling to regulate social media, particularly after a string of anti-government demonstrations organised by social movements such as #ThisFlag, Tajamuka and Occupy Africa Unity Square.
Development expert, Maxwell Saungweme described the move as retrogressive and politically-calculated.
“The mobile data bundle tariff rise in Zimbabwe is retrogressive, insensitive and a politically-motivated onslaught on freedom of expression ahead of the 2018 elections,” he opined.
“This must be confronted now rather than later, as the move stifles campaigns and skews the electoral playfield. Rigging has already started.”
Activist Joy Mabenge tweeted: “@econet, did you really have to be the first ones to muzzle citizens’ voices?”
Lawyer and activist, Fadzayi Mahere went a step further by suggesting that people should roam using cheaper South African lines.
“Shall we start buying South African lines and rely on international roaming for life? Now is the time to show ‘resilience’ #Datamustfall,” she tweeted.
Information and Communication Technology and Courier Services minister Supa Mandiwanzira promised to look into the matter when he returns from his annual leave.
“Seen your questions. I’m on leave until January 30 and out of the country since Boxing Day. On return to work, I will get to the bottom of it,” he tweeted.
Academic and lawyer, Alex Magaisa slammed corporations for abusing clients.
He said corporations, like politicians, are psychopaths, who only care for their selfish interests, “which in
business-speak is called the bottom line”.
“The fact that the public has been priced out of their freedoms such as communication and association is regarded as an externality,” Magaisa said.
Misa Zimbabwe director, Nhlanhla Ngwenya said the new tariffs were an indirect control on social media by the government.
“This is some other means, outside legislation, by the government to control activities on the web. It would now be more expensive to download stuff from the internet,” he said.
Government-run mobile operator NetOne was not immediately available for comment, but a source within the company said they would be in discussion with Potraz to have the tariffs reduced.