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Jonathan Moyo fuels Twitter wars

Jonathan Moyo’s social media spats using unrestrained language are uncalled for and unstrategic for someone who doubles as a “Information minister and government spokesperson”, analysts have said.

Jonathan Moyo’s social media spats using unrestrained language are uncalled for and unstrategic for someone who doubles as a “Information minister and government spokesperson”, analysts have said.

by Everson Mushava

Moyo was last week chucked out of Cabinet by President Robert Mugabe on a supposed technicality after he won the Tsholotsho seat after initially being appointed minister as a non-constituent MP. Mugabe has remained coy on his plot, leaving his spin doctor to guess on his future in Cabinet.

Since Moyo joined micro blobbing site Twitter early this year, some of his conversations with followers have degenerated into serious verbal exchanges with the acerbic minister at times using uncouth language to denigrate the views of his followers, and at times using such words like “idiot”.

Moyo has justified the use of the hate language saying if provoked, he would retaliate. The Tsholotsho North MP said if a person used vile language on him, he would obviously return fire with fire.

However, media expert and lawyer Chris Mhike said national leaders, particularly politicians and government officials were expected to be dignified and measured in their conduct and speech. “Unrestrained and crude mudslinging is unlikely to mould Zimbabwe into an ‘unhu/ubuntu-driven’ or clean society. Some of that insult language is certainly not ministerial,” Mhike said.

“As Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services (assuming that he still holds that portfolio), Prof. Moyo would also do well to lead by example through respecting the ethics of mass communication and therefore refraining from venomous language.”

He said Zanu PF would certainly lose a great deal of its dignity when senior and prominent officials use undignified language on public fora.

“Where the targets of the diatribe are significant political players in foreign jurisdictions, these kinds of exchanges could also harm Zimbabwe’s diplomatic relations with the relevant nations,” said the human rights lawyer.

Mhike said Moyo could easily be sued by aggrieved persons or institutions under civil law; or proceedings could be instituted against him in terms of criminal law and procedure, and that could be embarrassing for him. “While he commendably objects to the existence of criminal defamation in Zimbabwe, that law is still officially valid, according to the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe and in terms of the Criminal Law [Codification and Reform] Act. The recent conviction of Tatenda Machingauta who had insulted Hon. Joseph Chinotimba on Whatsapp is a clear example of the applicability of criminal law to those who use offensive language on social media platforms,” Mhike said.

He said most media laws were out-dated and therefore incongruent to social media dynamics. “There is no single Zimbabwean law that specifically regulates the social media. However, there are generic rules and statutes that would be applicable to the use of language on social media,” Mhike said.

“For instance, since some of the social media platforms are administered through telephonic or mobile phone systems, the Postal and Telecommunications Act could be utilised in legal proceedings. Further, under civil law, the Professor’s diatribe — where extreme, could well be actionable as a delict [legal wrong]. Under criminal law, the obnoxious criminal defamation provision could be applied against him or other users of fetid language.” Moyo, who amassed close to 16 000 followers since he joined twitter in February, was in recent weeks involved in a verbal showdown with former South African Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni whom he described as an “Uncle Tom, irrational, foolish and a charlatan”. That was after Mboweni tweeted that he was annoyed by Moyo’s rants on twitter at a time Zimbabweans were suffering.

In no time, Moyo was engaged in another showdown with Prosecutor-General Johannes Tomana for reportedly suggesting that 12-year-old girls could consent to sex. Earlier, Moyo had also engaged in serious verbal wars with Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s loyalists, describing them as “shocking self-styled pro-VP Mnangagwa successionists” whom he accused of “reproducing Gamatox epithets against erstwhile Cdes!” Media lecturer, Alexander Rusero said Moyo’s outbursts on social media was uncalled for since he was a government minister and spokesperson. He said Moyo ran the risk of having his personal views being mistaken for government views.

“There will be some implications of being a government spokesperson. Moyo is someone who is free to express himself but at times becomes excited and overwhelmed and forgets his government role,” Rusero said. “I am not sure how bad the language is but sometimes it can be construed to represent government position. Moyo should know better. I don’t think he is intelligent, he is just a learned professor.”

Rusero said: “Moyo cannot comment on everything and everyone. This can cause a diplomatic uproar. Look at the way he exchanged [harsh words] with Mboweni and Mboweni is a close friend of Thabo Mbeki [former South African President]and Mbeki is close friends with Mugabe. Moyo should be paying for that. He should be more careful, Mugabe is the AU and Sadc chairperson, he needs friends now more than ever.”

Political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya said Moyo should exercise restraint on social media platforms as a government spokesperson.

“Moyo should understand that he is far from being a private citizen and some people might just be there to provoke him into such rants that could be damaging to the government,” Ruhanya said.

Moyo, outside twitter has coined a lot of derogatory terms to describe his supposed enemies. He often describes former Education minister David Coltart as a Rhodie while opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has always been at the receiving end of Moyo’s unrestrained and unsolicited attacks. He has at times been described using phrases such as “open zip, open mouth and shut mind”. Mhike was once also described as a “pedestrian and bush lawyer”. [one_half]

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