There has been a lot of controversy regarding the regulation of social media and what constitutes abuse of social media. Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Cde Supa Mandiwanzira (SM) sat down with Star FM’s Linda Muriro (LM) and Zimpapers Head of Digital Services Delta Milayo Ndou (DN) to discuss these and other issues relating to ICT and social media in Zimbabwe. Below is part of the transcript.
LM: Honourable Minister, what is the official stance of Government regarding social media in Zimbabwe?
SM: The official stance, I have said it before, is that social media is an important tool for development and that we must promote the use of social media. But we must also promote the responsible use of social media.
I think that the majority of Zimbabweans use social media for positive good in development, in business, in exchanging ideas and sharing information. Just a fraction, tiny fraction, use it for abusive purposes. What we would like to do as Government, is to discourage the minority few who abuse social media so that they don’t spoil it for the majority of Zimbabweans who use it positively.
LM: Honourable Minister, what constitutes abuse of social media?
SM: When we talk about abuse, we are talking about things that undermine the rights of others, things that incite violence, things that are illegal in the context of our county’s laws, pornography, stuff like that. Stuff that you cannot publish in a newspaper like The Herald, NewsDay or Daily News, that stuff finds its way on social media. The fact that it cannot be published in these, some of these traditional organisations, means it is not correct to publish. Therefore, we discourage the use of social media for these negative purposes.
DN: Honourable Minister, when you use examples of content that the Daily News doesn’t publish or The Herald doesn’t publish, isn’t that because they have got editorial policies to follow? They have got gatekeeping mechanisms in place. Isn’t it the fact that internet then gives people the right to express their views without having to be curtailed or filtered through gatekeeping or filtered through editorial policies? So I don’t see where the problem is in terms of people expressing what they want.
SM: I actually also don’t see where the problem is in terms of the use of social media. What I am saying is that we don’t want to gate-keep anyone who wants to use social media. But what we want to discourage is the use of this social media to do things that undermine the integrity of our society.
I don’t believe, Delta, that it is your argument that we must allow child pornography to be circulated through the social media. And those are things that I am saying we don’t want. We are saying people must be free to use social media and they must be free to publish whatever they want as long as they don’t break the law. That’s what we are saying.
DN: I feel like you are straw meaning me, I certainly wouldn’t support child pornography. But my issue here is the way this narrative has been brought to the public around regulating social media. It’s been brought in a way that instils fear that is very imprecise because there is no clarity around what’s happening. You wake up one morning and there is a notice from POTRAZ, a very strongly worded notice without context, without nuance, so it is very open to interpretation. You get the impression that conduct on social media will be deemed criminal at the discretion of the Government.
SM: No, I think that is wrong for you to make that interpretation. I think that we have to be fair to Government, we have to be fair to POTRAZ as the regulator. There is a law in this country which regulates the use of telecommunication services and that law deems certain things illegal if you do them using the platforms that are regulated by POTRAZ.
Therefore, I think when POTRAZ advises the public, which is their responsibility to do by the way, against doing certain things that are outside the law, it is actually doing its duty.
The most important thing is that we don’t want to wake up and be arresting everyone for doing illegal things. Zimbabweans are not all educated in terms of the law to know what each and every law says, we must always be advising them that when you go beyond this line you are actually now breaking the law.
I must make it very clear, I don’t know where you are getting this idea that Government is waking up with some regulations to regulate social media.
What the Government has said is that we need to be careful how we use social media and not put the Government in a position where it requires to regulate the social media. We have had social media for many years in this country and you must ask yourselves why has Government not regulated it?
Because we think that it is good for development, because we think that it is positive to have such kind of platforms that allow individuals to express themselves. But what we don’t want is to have some individuals use the social media to incite violence, to undermine the integrity of other people.
Delta, if you have a relationship with your boyfriend and the relationship ends, but during the time of your relationship you were sending each other nude pictures. If your boyfriend posts those nude pictures we think it’s wrong, and we think that is not what social media should be used for, it must not be for revenge pornography we must block those things.
LM: How are you dealing with such a scenario Honourable Minister? I understand that there was a women’s organisation that went before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Legal, Justice and Parliamentary Issues. They were lobbying for a law that protects women against revenge pornography as they feel that the current laws do not protect such cases.
SM: I think that revenge pornography is just one of the aspects of abuse of social media, there are many others. I want to give reference to the recent demonstrations. What came out clearly was that there were individuals who were advocating for chaos, violence, inciting basically violence to the extent of circulating cocktails on how to make petrol bombs.
We think that is not the way to use social media. So our view is that Zimbabweans, first of all, are responsible for the good use of social media. Zimbabweans are responsible for making sure that the Government does not intervene.
The way they must carry out that responsibility is by using social media for the many things that they have been using it for except to incite violence, to advocate hate speech, to maliciously injure other people’s reputation.
As long as they are not doing that there is absolutely no need for Government to intervene by putting together regulations. However, on the other hand, we have a responsibility as Government to make sure that there are laws that protect the majority of Zimbabweans who use social media positively.
We have laws that relate to the use of social media, to the use of internet, to the use of e-transactions that have not yet gone through Parliament. The Cyber Security Bill is currently being discussed and input is being obtained from various interest groups.
We have the e-Transactions Bill that is being worked on. Again input is being obtained from various interest groups. These Bills, once passed by Parliament and signed by the President to become law, should help to regulate the use of electronic media, electronic transactions in terms of e-commerce and issues to do with the circulation of pornography and pornographic material using platforms like WhatsApp, Twitter and others.
LM: From a listener on WhatsApp, Minister how is social media being abused?
SM: I received a lot of complaints from Zimbabweans who received WhatsApp messages from some Zimbabweans when there was a call to stay away. Some of the messages that people got included instructions on how to make petrol bombs and go and bomb supermarkets and petrol stations and police stations.
I think that is abuse, we are a peace-loving nation. Zimbabwe is known as the most peaceful and stable country on the African continent. And globally, we are renowned for that stability.
Now if you have people who advocate for the use of this kind of violence against either the police, supermarkets and innocent people, I think that is the highest level of abuse of social media. As responsible citizens we must say that is unacceptable and as a Government we have a responsibility to make sure that kind of stuff is not perpetuated.
DN: I am noticing Minister, that a lot of your points are aligned to social interest, human interest aspects of abuse that we all can agree on. What about the more controversial stuff, the things that people get emotive about? So, when we are talking about restricting and positively using social media where is the place for freedom of expression in terms of political views?
SM: I think that there is a tendency to think that when Government says, well, we may be forced to regulate, they are talking about we don’t want you to criticise the President or criticise the ministers. No, in fact we like criticism.
This country will not develop if we in the leadership do not accept criticism, constructive criticism. This country will not develop if we allow people to boil with anger while they have no platform to express that anger. So we encourage this kind of engagement.
When we talk about regulating, it is these kind of things I have just explained that we actually don’t like. We have had many years of newspapers that are regarded in Government circles as opposition newspapers. Have they every been closed? No, they continue to publish.
So why should we be bothered by an individual sitting somewhere in Mabvuku who doesn’t like Supa Mandiwanzira or who doesn’t like what Supa Mandiwanzira does in his capacity as Government minister?
That person has a right to express his views and criticise the minister and the minister must listen to that person in Mabvuku. But what we are saying is let’s not encourage chaos in our country by then accepting that the people who post on social media how to make petrol bombs and go and bomb police stations in Zimbabwe and supermarkets have a right to do so. They actually don’t.
DN: Thank you for raising that Minister. You know the Banjul Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression has got several benchmarks. But there is one benchmark that I feel is very apt for the conversation we are having. It reads: “No one shall be found liable for true statements, opinions or statements regarding public figures which it was reasonable to make in the circumstances.”
SM: I agree and this Government subscribes to that. We actually agree that no one should be liable for saying no to corruption or the ministers are not doing their job or that minister is dead wood. Nobody should be stopped from saying that.
DN: So how do you explain Evan Mawarire getting arrested for saying these very same things?
SM: No, I think that you want to drag me into a conversation that you should be inviting the Home Affairs Minister or the police chief. I am neither of those two. I am here to talk about issues related to the use of social media, ICT and that’s my space. I am not a super minister; my name may be Supa Mandiwanzira but I stick to my territory.
LM: Someone comes through on WhatsApp, Honourable Minister, saying how do you separate constructive criticism from any other criticism?
SM: We use the laws; the Constitution of the country is very clear. Section 61 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe talks about freedom of expression and freedom of the media. We believe that social media is a media.
So every person’s rights are enshrined in there and anyone who is interested in understanding especially the one who has just asked the question must read Section 61 of our Constitution.
But, it is also important that after reading Section 61 they must pay more attention to Section 61 (5) which says that “Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Media exclude the following: Incitement to violence, advocacy of hatred or hate speech, malicious injury to a person’s reputation or dignity or malicious or unwarranted breach to a person`s right to privacy.”
So as long as you are playing in the social media and you are aware of what freedom of expression is not, in the context of our constitution, then you have no problem.
LM: Honorable Minister you talked about the e-Transaction Bill and the Cyber Crimes Bill when will we see them being tabled before Parliament?
SM: It’s a process, what I can tell you right now is that there are very active consultations that are taking place when those consultations are finished. By the way all Zimbabweans have a right to contribute to those laws, including NGOs that are very active in this kind of space.
LM: How many ordinary Zimbabweans contribute in those consultations?
SM: The ordinary Zimbabweans choose a Member of Parliament. At the end of the day they must go through their MP so that their input if it is not captured in this current process, it can be captured when the Bill goes to Parliament and those things can be included.
But there are also outreach programmes where interest groups, individuals are encouraged to submit their contributions in writing on what should be addressed. And you mentioned earlier on that there was a group of women in Parliament calling for laws that protect women to be put in place and I think that’s part of the consultation process that takes place.
We hope that before the end of the year, these laws should have gone through the processes of cabinet and be introduced in Parliament. Once they are in Parliament we have no control over the process as it becomes a Parliamentary process.
DN: Minister earlier I misdirected myself and I addressed questions to you that you feel are not within your purvey? But I have this one question, regarding the claim that you threatened to remove someone from Twitter. Is that under your purvey?
SM: I think that’s a very classic case of the abuse of social media. I have been denigrated, I have been attacked on social media that I have claimed that I can remove somebody from social media, that I can remove somebody from Twitter. It’s ridiculous.
Number one, that incident which is quoted, it is actually recorded on video. And people if they care to listen to the conversation I had with Pastor Evan Mawarire, there was no mention whatsoever of removing him from Twitter.
In fact, the conversation was, Pastor Evan I know you personally. We met two weeks ago, I have met you on several occasions. I have donated chairs to your church, you have never invited me to say: “You know what, my congregants have things or a bone to chew with the government, come and listen to them and take these things up.
“I met you two weeks ago at Avondale, you didn’t raise the issues you are raising. I have seen you at Professor Jonathan Moyo’s daughter`s wedding where you were glowingly speaking about the President and even imitating how he speaks.
“You have never engaged Professor Moyo about these issues that you are raising on Twitter. For me it doesn’t give me an impression that you are serious about addressing issues, except that you want some Twitter fame.
“So if you try to engage me on Twitter, I won’t take you seriously, I will dismiss you because you have access to me. But if its somebody who is sitting in London, sitting in South Africa, who is sitting in Mabvuku because they hardly have that access, I can take them seriously if they post their views on Twitter. But for you Pastor Evan I can’t I will dismiss you.
Now, I was quoted in a newspaper saying I said I will dismiss someone on Twitter, I want to tell you that my lawyers are actually taking action against that newspaper and they will have to produce the evidence. Or they will have to pay me for lying. I am an ICT Minister, my job is to promote massive use of ICTs, not to take people away from ICTs. They actually don’t understand my role, if people make that conclusion.
DN: Minister how would you respond to the view that you are an amateur bully who steals money from parastatals?
SM: I have just seen that on Twitter. Zimbabweans have this license to say anything they want on Twitter and I welcome it. But they must provide evidence that I am a bully, number one. Number two, that I steal money from parastatals.
I think that we must produce evidence, because since I was born I have never stolen a cent from anybody including a parastatal. There have been stories going on that I took US$200 000 and that I drive a US$200 000 car. What nonsense? I don’t drive a US$200 000 car.
LM: Honourable Minister on that what is your relation with Bopela or Siyakurima as he is known who has been peddling these allegations?
SM: Okay, I am going to come back to that question but I want to deal with this US$200 000 issue, that I drive a US$200 000 car. Number one, that is nonsense I don’t drive a US$200 000 car.
Number two, they say I borrowed money from a parastatal in order to buy myself a car. I don`t own a car in my name. I don’t drive a car in my name. The car that I drive was bought by CMED, its owned by CMED, registered to CMED, it’s a Government car. I don’t own it.
I have never borrowed money for personal use from anybody, neither for Ministerial use from anybody. If CMED gets money from a parastatal to buy a condition of service vehicle for a minister that’s for CMED which is 100 percent owned by Government, to respond to.
So, this issue that I drive a US$200 000 car is nonsense. I don’t drive a US$200 000 car. I didn’t buy a US$200 000 car. I didn’t borrow money from anybody to buy a US$ 200 000 car. I hope those who say so, if they continue to say so publicly will be able to defend themselves in court.
LM: Someone says, how is Government going to regulate the use of social media? Is it not going to be contrary to the aspect of maintaining privacy?
SM: Let me touch on that. When people hear that the Government wants to regulate social media, there is nothing unusual about regulating anything because Government already regulates a lot of things including newspapers.
Nobody publishes a newspaper in this country without a license. No journalist operates in this country without being accredited by the Government. Therefore, if people say they want to regulate social media its not a train smash.
But at this point, we have no plan to regulate social media so people must relax. What will force Government to regulate social media is the continued abuse of that social media. And I have highlighted what our Constitution says.
I have taken oath of office to defend this Constitution so if anyone using social media undermines this Constitution, they have an issue with me. They have an issue with the Government.
Before you take another question you asked me what my relationship with Masiyakurima is. I have no relationship with him, but its important for you to know that in the course of my duties, I authorized that NetOne conducts a forensic audit after several potentially corrupt transactions were unearthed by a newly appointed finance director.
Some of those transactions related to a company called Bopela and that company, it is my understanding that it is owned by one Agrippa Masiyakurima and those transactions are the ones which were deemed subject to a forensic audit by the Auditor General of this country. She has hired PWC to do that forensic audit.
Because Mr Masiyakurima`s company is under investigation, I understand that he has been making all sorts of wild allegations. I have chosen not to respond to them because I know that they are being influenced by a forensic audit. I have said and I must say now, let’s wait for the result of the audit and we will see whose hands are clean.
DN: I wanted to talk about the idea of policing, monitoring. If you put in laws to regulate social media, for example, how are you going to enforce them? Will there be a case of our phones being tapped? Are you going to track down our IP Addresses? How exactly do you intend to enforce this? How are you going to authenticate identities because people impersonate other people? There are spoof accounts, there are fake accounts, there are hoaxes, there are anonymous accounts. So how are you going to pin it on me?
SM: When you talk of spoof accounts, I was quoted on some spoof website which says that I said “US$200 000 is peanuts did you want me to travel using my feet?” And everybody is believing it.
You know that story should only be believed on April Fools’ Day. But unfortunately its some people sitting out there who want to make Zimbabweans fools every time. I never said that, I never met anybody. I wasn’t interviewed on that issue by anybody.
That’s exactly the point you have raised, that how if at all there is going to be regulation are we going to pick on who is doing what? It is important for me to emphasize again that government does not have an immediate intention of regulating social media.
LM: But the Bills you have talked about, are they not a way of regulating social media?
SM: No, they are a way of protecting those who use e-everything. Whether you are transacting online. How do we protect your credit card details when you have bought something online?
LM: And the Cyber Crime Bill is it not a way of regulating social media?
SM: Cybercrime, yes, cybercrime includes people who are stealing using your credit card online. Don`t be afraid of things that are meant to make life good for you.
LM: No we are not afraid, we want clarity.
SM: We will give you clarity and I am very happy to come back specifically to discuss the Cyber Security Bill. But I think Delta asked a question that I hadn’t finished responding to and I said I want to emphasize again, it’s not the Government’s immediate attention to regulate social media.
I think that the people who must regulate social media are its users. When you see as a user of social media, somebody abusing social media sending you child pornography report them to the police. That’s how we are going to deal with those kinds of people.
There are laws that already deals with that. So Zimbabweans must take responsibility to protect their good use of social media. Don`t allow people who incite violence to be circulating that material to you.
When you receive something propagating violence, report to the police because you are protecting your right to use social media without interference.
Let me deal with the next point that Delta raised and said if at all social media its regulated, how are we going to know who is who? Let me be very clear, because she mentioned the issue of interception.
It appears Zimbabweans actually don’t know, but the truth of the matter is that when Minister Chamisa was the Minister of ICT, a Bill went through Parliament and was passed and it is now called the Interceptions of Communication Act.
That Interceptions of Communications Act allows for the interception for communication in this country for security purposes. That act is not administered by the Minister of ICT but the Minister of State Security.
So there is a difference there and Zimbabweans are oblivious, they don’t know that these things actually exist. I am surprised that very serious organisations don’t even know that there is a law which was approved under Minister Chamisa to deal with interceptions.
I think it is also important that Zimbabweans must never fool themselves, especially the bad apples that use social media must never fool themselves that they can not be found. Every item you use has an address, even your phone has an address.
Every message can be tracked back to the phone that sent it because each cell phone has an ID and there are so many other ways to track. This is technology, we didn’t develop it. So people must not hide behind technology and think they are smart.
They are not smart because those who made the cell phones are smarter, to make sure that they deal with those who want to abuse the use of such useful good tools.
DN: The first issue I want to raise is the issue of what I feel is a paternalistic approach in terms of framing these laws because you are basically saying we are going to sit down as elected members of parliament and make these decisions because you elected us. But if we are going to talk about social media, why not crowd source? Why not open up this discussion to the people that actually use social media because it’s a conversation that likely MPs did not campaign around or have discussions about. So, there is no way that they can truly represent the views and opinions of individuals. So why not crowd source?
SM: We have no intention of regulating social media. So we can not be consulting people about things we don`t want to do. When it comes to the consultation if the need arise that we must regulate social media, trust me we will ask you.
We will ask Zimbabweans how they think we should protect them but there is no intention to do so. So why should we be out there looking for things that we are not doing. This is hype that is being created in the social media space by people with an agenda who want this government to look terrible, who want this Ministry to look like it doesn’t know what they are doing. Please forgive us, we don’t have an intention to regulate social media.
LM: Another question coming from WhatsApp, it’s saying did you manage to unmask Baba Jukwa?
SM: That’s a question for the security but I am sure we all know that he was caught.