By Ndileka Swakamisa
Zimbabwean authorities have warned social media users over spreading pictures and videos about the country’s economic woes, with the state charging a prominent clergyman with subversion for a video circulated at the weekend.
Pastor Evan Mawarire was due to appear in court on Monday, charged with subversion for a video in which he complained about the Zimbabwean economic situation at the weekend. In the video, he lamented the sharply falling value of local bond notes versus the US dollar and spoke about fuel queues in the capital Harare.
“We’ve begun to experience what we experienced in 2008. The shortages have started to happen. In a normal nation people shouldn’t be panicking at all. We’re supposed to be at peace in our country,” Mawarire said in the video posted on Saturday.
He was arrested while attending a church service on Sunday. Fellow campaigners have taken to social media platforms to drum up support for the clergyman, who rose to prominence over the #thisflag online and social media campaign in 2016 that lead to protests against the Zimbabwean government’s policies.
Zimbabwean Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo on Sunday threatened social media users for spreading videos and pictures about the fuel queues and price hikes in shops. He warned that the government was monitoring social media and would take action against those spreading false content on social media platforms.
“It is a criminal offence and is therefore punishable. Government is monitoring the press and social media reports in question with a view to taking decisive action to dealing a telling blow to the perpetrators,” Chombo said.
He added that the “false” social media messages are “trappings of a politically coordinated criminal agenda”, although some price increases have been evident in shops. Economists say foreign currency shortages and a sharp fall in the rate of bond notes compared to the dollar have caused the current crisis.
Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya also issued a statement at the weekend, criticising social media for spreading what he called false information about the economic situation in Zimbabwe.
Twitter was however awash with pictures of long fuel queues in Harare on Monday. This comes as Zimbabwe is finalising a draft law that will penalise the spreading of information critical of the government, according to experts.
“Zimbabweans should refuse to be hoodwinked by fake social media statements designed to increase premiums on the parallel markets by misguided rent seekers,” Mangudya said.