THE mother to late Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, Lydia Zvaipa, became the talk of the town after a video of her ranting that she did not want to see her widowed daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Macheka, and Nelson Chamisa, at her son’s funeral in Buhera.
BY KENNEDY NYAVAYA
Gogo Tsvangirai, as she is popularly known, threatened to commit suicide if the former prime minister’s close confidante and interim leader of MDC-T Chamisa and Macheka partook in the funeral proceedings.
Feminists registered disgust at the senior citizen’s antics, viewing it as a perfect prototype of how most local women suffer immediate resentment from in-laws when their husbands die.
On the other hand, Chamisa’s followers developed a phobia for her as they claimed she was an impediment to their preferred successor’s ascendency to the MDC-T’s top post. In both instances, she remained the ostracised common denominator.
“The MDCT totally condemns the insults directed towards members of the Tsvangirai family especially Morgan Tsvangirai’s biological mother Mbuya Lydia. The culprits cannot be genuine MDCT cadres!” tweeted the party’s secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora.
Genuine followers or not, it became apparent that the online mercenaries would not dare challenge or attack her face-to-face, reducing theirs into a contest for likes, retweets and attention.
From one smartphone and computer, like a wildfire it did not take long before Gogo Tsvangirai started trending on different online platforms, becoming an instant victim of the rampant growing cyberbullying trend in the country.
Cyberbullying can be defined as the use of information and communications technologies (ICT) to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person.
The ardent use of communication devices, especially smartphones, and subsequent rise of social media users has resulted in the creation of unrestrained communication channels between people from different places and backgrounds.
The absence of stern laws to regulate the sending of messages back and forth has resulted in abuse by some users who cause untold suffering to others by relaying fake news, insults or degrading messages.
“Bullying on social media has an effect on someone in real life and depending on the extent to which one is being bullied and the content, victims of cyberbullying experience greater levels of depression mostly resulting in suicide or attempts than from face-to-face bullying,” says Tafadzwa Mushunje, a founding trustee of the Zimbabwe Anti Cyber Bullying Trust (ZACBT).
From army and police chiefs, respected religious leaders, political stalwarts and business magnets, down to the most ordinary of human beings, cyberbullies know no bounds and revel in denigrating the images of their prey.
According to Mushunje, a first-hand victim, cyberbullying can triggers one to have a very low self-esteem, anger, fear, frustration, embarrassment, loss of dignity, tarnished reputations among other harms.
In 2016, she was falsely accused online leading to an unjust arrest, a taxing legal wrangle (although she was exonerated) and constant emotional attacks online and in person.
“In my case, getting arrested, termination of my (work) contracts and losing a social standing was one of the hardest situations I faced,” she recalled, adding that this is what pushed her to form ZACBT in pursuit of helping others.
“The way people reacted to my story was shocking and the way the police handled it was unlawful hence why I saw the need to raise awareness on cyber bullying.”
For Gogo Tsvangirai, the online hullabaloo, may not be of any direct effect as she might not have access to social media trolls doing rounds on social media.
This was the case for feisty politician and Buhera South Member of Parliament (MP) Joseph Chinotimba’s family whom for long endured him being peddled dumb, as a result of his limited command of the English language.
Memes and trolls of the vocal liberation war veteran have circulated extensively on social over the years, as most jokes portraying stupidity are largely attributed to him.
“It used to get to me (and) at times I would get emotional because people would laugh at me and joke around in my face. By that time (when the jokes started) I was in form two,” Rachel the politician’s third daughter, told this reporter at a recent launch of Chinotimba’s debut book.
Undoubtedly, her father has gained profusely from the unceremonious popularity, but Rachel currently studying for a Masters’ Degree in Sociology at the University of Zimbabwe, said the social media tirade made her a loner for a while.
Her elder sister and first born in the family, Blandina, a married mother of four, attested to the same experience of how she faced abuse from workmates as a result of the online jokes.
“In the first days even at work they would say did you hear what your dad has said and it would irritate me,” she recalled, adding that her father was the one who encouraged them not to worry about it.
Although Chinotimba is unfazed, as the fame has been good for his political career, given that he is now a government appointed ambassador of happiness due to how many just burst into laugh at his sight, it does not absolve the offenders.
Local statistics are uncertain but research in the United States points at about 4 400 deaths per year with at least 100 young people attempting suicide, and 14% of high school students considering the act annually despite the presence of laws.
This means that the enigma is an even greater threat to the local upcoming generations, which are more connected through ICT. Lives are now virtually being lived online.
In Zimbabwe when one looks at the delay in passing the Cyber Crime and Cyber Security Bill into law, it prompts the idea that there is not much political will to curtail this growing phenomenon.
“It (the bill) is in the Attorney General’s office where there are also looking at other draft bills with the wisdom of combining them into a substantive law,” says Information Communication Technology and Cyber Security minister Supa Mandiwanzira.
Mandiwanzira, who in some instances has also been a victim of cyberbullying, said the enforcement is the sole responsibility of the police.
“The enforcement is not part of our mandate as a ministry but the police whom I believe are well able to deal with those breaching the laws once they have been promulgated,” he said.
Meanwhile, it is uncertain whether during the wait the cyberspace remain a haven of unlimited freedom of speech and expression even when it infringes on other people’s freedoms.
“The problem Zimbabwe is facing right now is that there are no laws and regulations on cyberspace, hence anyone can manipulate the system to satisfy their own selfish and evil endeavours,” reveals Mushunje.
True to the ex-model and television presenter’s sentiments ,although many victims, including her, have reported to the police, there has not been enforcement as some do not understand the offenses and in some cases are the offenders.
This means that there are many affected people suffering in silence in what poses a major threat to society’s peace and harmony.
Although civil society is keeping eyes open to ensure the resultant law does not bring restrictions to the freedoms engraved in the constitution of the land, if passed into law the Cyber Crime and Cyber Security Bill could be help bring normalcy again to a largely ferocious cyberspace.