Cyberbullies prowl due to lax law enforcement

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.

8 Comments

  1. Thank you Mr. Nyavaya for raising such an important matter. It is surely high time that this issue is attended to. However, I have several reservations, not that I condone cyber-bullying, no, but I believe that this issue ought to be addressed after specific reforms have been addressed.

    First, I am tempted to say that cyber-bulling is, more often than not, a reactive motion, than it is a pre-meditated gesture. In this respect, we all need to establish the root cause of all this before we attempt to enforce law to deal with cyber-bullying. That said, I am going to give you a few of the many case studies, based on recent events.

    If you look at the case of Gogo, the state media was quick to publish the sentiments of an 89-year-old grieving mother, without doing some fact-check. It is normal that aged people can react that way, much as it is normal to hear the elderly lash out vulgar, among other profanities. Nevertheless, of all the events that took place that day, ZBC chose to focus on a petty issue that might have arose from hearsay (makuhwa) from the perspective of Gogo.

    If you look at Herald and Newsday, for instance, they have coverage on virtually all the major events that take place across Zimbabwe. However, when they fail to report on the bigger picture and focus on a minor issue (Rowdy MDC-T youths destroy Tsvangirai’s maize crop – Newsday), this triggers public outrage. Honestly, we all saw it coming that the maize would be destroyed. Was the death of MRT foreseen that those who planted the maize would leave an allowance for the burial event? Are the youths now ‘rowdy’ because they failed to fit within the space? You well remember when Herald never covered the Sunday the 18th multitudes as Monday’s headlines, or when Herald stated the number of attendees on the 19th Freedom square to be ‘hundreds’ instead of ‘thousands.’ Everyone knows that the Heroes Acre is usually filled up by vendors who are forced to attend, as part of the condition to maintain their stalls. However, when people that much, an excess of 30000-600000 (full stadium) voluntarily come together on Sunday the 18th and that is not covered in the public media, and rather focus on gossip-fueled stories, what do you expect?

    People have the right to complain online because it is their taxes that are being used to fund the fake news that is spreading from the operations of, in particular, Herald and ZBC. That said, the media, is to blame, to a greater extent towards the increasing levels of hate speech. You have to remember that while cyber-bullying is not legal, but you are dealing with people with empty stomachs, people itching for a change. What do you expect if the prospects of change are seen to be undermined by the state resources, which seem now to be driven by invariably gossip and fake news? Herald now has taken this stance: Khupe this, Khupe that as headlines. They are feeding up on gossip from an estranged person as a way of tarnishing prospects of a rosy morrow under Chamisa’s reign. They need to report responsibly knowing that at the end of the day, ZANU does not own state media, but that the people do.

    If you have seen most of all Herald headlines on MDC over the past three weeks, emerging from MDC press-conferences, most were based on a single statement (less than 20 seconds of speech) of a full-press statement (invariably more than 20 minutes). This is what we call selective reporting. In all instances, they would extract something that they can twist and come up with a page-long story. This triggers public outrage. Would you blame the public for hate speech?

    Another case is when you take into perspective the headline that “3 attempts on Khupe’s life: Mwonzora.” In all honest, this connotes in normal parlance that there were three incidents where Khupe’s life was endangered. However, further digging, you realise there were three attempts to light up a match stick, and then you make a headline like that? How many speeches were made that day in the events that ensued that day? Many. Were they reported by Herald? No! A lot was said that day that were never reported. Was RMT’s biography in the press? No. The oppression of facts by the media triggers emotional outrage by the public. The bottom line is that the media is, by and large, responsible and unless media reforms are made, and as long as selective reporting continues, suppressing facts, the public will always react in what may translate to cyber-bullying.

    The bottom line is that people have the right to speak. Let them speak. If you need responsible comments by the public online or on social media, then the media ought to report responsibly and factually, without fear or favour.

  2. Imi itai mushe zvazokosha nhasi because mai vaTsvangirai has fallen victim. How many people have become victims of cyber bullying and why is it that the issue is raised now.

  3. Super Mandiwanzira is a cyber bullying victim or a cyber bully?? How about Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere?

  4. This article is just rubbish. I hope I wont be accused of cyberbullying!

  5. Don’t even contaminate our ears with these cyberbullying stories. People were simply reacting. We expect Herald , Newsday, Gogo Tsvangirai and the Tsvangirai’s to be mature and ensure the dignity of all. Hunzi ngevakuru Gudo guru peta muswe, kuti vaduku vakutye. Surely how could she expect young generation to be educated when she was publicly astrovision a defenseless Widow who was grieving. Dont play with people’s emotions Gogo, kurai ,mukwane, ne the Tsvangirai family behave or else we show you the way. How on earth could you conceive and be so cruel to deny a widow access to the burial of her husband. In South Africa you denied Eliza access to sick Tsvangirai, why? You though they would talk about property sharing handi? Mukwane.

    If there is anyone hurt ask for a long rope i send you wobva wadiii paya, wozvisungirira.

  6. Correction, gogo Tsvangirai was publicly astrosising defenseless Eliza. More to that she and the Tsvangirai family members thought they are MDC and determine this and that. You are lost, Tsvangirai stood for all and that is the reason everyone came to his burial. You could not even sympathise with Tsvangirai ‘s widow because you wanted to grab all the property without being disturbed. Kusanyara. Same with you Herald, you always want to stoke fires of hatred, Mukwane

  7. huchi wegonera

    defamation of character is an offence and is being done through various social media platforms. I believe it is high for the law has to be practised at every level in the society

    1. Ey man, you are very correct! However, in that case, they need to start arresting the public enemies, Herald reporters/editors and the ZBC reporters, before they start going to the public. The media is strongly at fault as they fail to report responsibly. We only react to their ills.

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