By Daniel Chigundu
The Cyber Bill which seeks among other things to regulate the use of internet in the country has reportedly been given the nod by Cabinet and is waiting to be sent to Parliament where it will go through various processes before it becomes law.
The Bill has been part of the legislative agenda from as far as the Fourth Session of the Eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe but has been delayed by the shortage of staff at the Attorney General’s Office.
It is an undeniable fact that the Cyber Bill is necessary to protect internet users and also promote safe use, especially at this time when everything has gone the internet way.
However, it is the hatred that government has exhibited for internet which should worry us and how it also defines internet or social media abuse.
The recent internet shutdown in the country could be an indicator of what this new law will be about or what it will not tolerate.
According to the Zimbabwe government, anyone who uses social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp to express their opinion, highlight where the government is getting it wrong or what needs to be corrected is in actual fact abusing internet and posing a threat to national security.
Information and Broadcast Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the proposed Cyber Law will ensure that the internet isn’t used to violate national security.
And even a whole Vice President in the new dispensation Constantino Chiwenga publicly registered his anger for social media by blaming it for “exaggerating” the fuel situation in the country and various ministers have also unashamedly sung from the same hymn book.
Social media which has given government sleepless nights is the only alternative source of balanced news in the country since there has not been a willingness to open the airwaves to private players especially those not linked to Zanu PF.
Most opposition parties, civic society organisations and individuals have been taking to the social media to register their displeasure on the state of affairs in the country.
Rights groups and social movements have also been able to communicate their messages to a wider audience as well as mobilise via social media and this has not gone down well with the government considering that Nelson Chamisa also benefitted from social media during the run-up to the famous July 2018 elections.
There are however two things that will happen when the Bill is finally brought to Parliament; the first one is that there will be public meetings where the citizens will be given the opportunity to input their views and thoughts to the Bill.
However, there is no guarantee that these views will be considered as history (Local Government Laws Amendment Bill and Constitution Amendment No. 1 Bill were passed despite being rejected by Zimbabweans during public hearings on the Bills ) has taught us that its merely a window dressing exercise.
The second thing is that legislators will debate the Bill and this is where the biggest problem will be as most legislators are not conversant with ICT issues as they belong to the older and unconverted generation which is evidenced by their absence on social media.
This is also the stage at which Zanu PF will use its two-thirds majority to determine how the Bill will end up looking like and here their MPs will not be using their own thoughts and wisdom but it will be the party’s views owing to the whipping system and we don’t expect rebels.
It is also expected that MDC legislators will be advocating for a lesser strict Cyber Law, while Zanu PF will be opting for a more restricted Cyber space.
The issue will generate a lot of debate especially from MDC legislators but they will not win the hearts of the whipped Zanu PF legislators, the House will be divided and Zanu PF will carry the day due to numbers.
So, in short, we can expect a more strict Cyber Law that will be characterised by more internet shutdowns, possible banning of certain social media applications and platforms as well as increased arrests.
Seasoned constitutional lawyer Tendai Biti, however, promised in 2017 that he will challenge the Bill’s legality in the Constitutional Court if it infringes on people’s rights.
Whatever the case will be, we should be very afraid comrades.-