Zim cat-and-mouse poll cyberwar

2013-07-26 21:57

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Harare - Zimbabwe's government has blocked mass SMS bursts ahead of next week's election, hobbling a powerful source of non-official information in the tightly controlled southern African state, activists and a phone company source said on Friday.

With the clock ticking to the 31 July poll in which President Robert Mugabe is looking to add to his 33 years in power, web portal Kubatana.net said it had noticed this week that its mass text messages were mysteriously getting lost.

Its provider, Econet Wireless - Zimbabwe's largest mobile phone firm with 8 million subscribers out of a population of 13 million - declined to comment.

Elections 2013 - HAVE YOUR SAY
Please e-mail or upload your stories and photos.

However, a senior company source confirmed the firm had bowed to government pressure to block mass SMS services around the election "in the interest of peace, national security and stability".

"We have just been told we cannot be facilitating bulk SMSs during the elections, roughly for the next two or so weeks," the source said. "Our understanding is that they will take our network down or cancel our licence if there is any violation."

A spokesperson for the regulator, part of the telecoms ministry, declined to comment.

Although internet penetration rates have soared since the end of a long economic meltdown in 2008, many Zimbabweans only have simple phone handsets, making the plain old SMS a more effective way to disseminate news and views to a mass audience.

Kubatana, whose messages contained headlines, quotations, proverbs and political questions, said the shut-down was an infringement of the freedom of expression enshrined in a constitution only ratified in May.

"Kubatana.net views the interference in our work as obstructive, repressive and hostile," it said in a statement.

Africa's oldest leader

With Africa's oldest leader in no mood to ride off into the political sunset, there are likely to be more disputes over control of technology and the internet, the breeding ground of people-power uprisings against oppressive governments in the Middle East and North Africa.

Faced with a daily diet of pro-Mugabe propaganda in newspapers controlled by his Zanu-PF party and on state television and radio, many Zimbabweans have turned to cyberspace for an alternative view.

Top of the list is purported Zanu-PF "Deep Throat" Baba Jukwa, whose Facebook page has attracted nearly 300 000 followers of his salacious tales of scandal and intrigue at the heart of the ruling party.

Internet giant Google has lent its weight, launching a 'Zimbabwe election hub'  to bring all stories and issues under one web address.

Fearing a rigged vote or result skewed by threats or violence - as happened in the last election in 2008 - Zimbabweans have also set up sites to monitor the progress of the election and conduct of security forces.

Prominent among these is votewatch263.org, a 'crowd-sourcing' website that lets people report incidents - positive or negative - that are then plotted on an interactive map, a concept first used in Kenya after violent elections in 2007.

"News and information is circulating faster now than at any other time. We don't need to listen to the ZBC bulletins or rely on a copy of the Daily News to know what's going on," said votewatch263 spokesperson Koliwe Nyoni Majama.

Even though the atmosphere on the ground has been relatively peaceful compared with 2008, online tensions are high.

Hackers took out the website of the Zimbabwe Ministry of Defence last month and the SMS blockade suggests Mugabe's cyber-police - believed to be trained by China and Russia - will be keeping a close eye on sites such as votewatch263.

The prospects of retaliation are especially high since, as recipients of foreign donor funding, they are open to accusations of being a front for hostile Western governments, a common Mugabe refrain.

"The people who set up the software put some security settings in place," Majama said. "We've tried our level best to get it on for as long as possible - but everything is possible."

Read more on:    zimbabwe  |  zimbabwe elections 2013  |  southern africa
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
14 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
 

'Zuma's legacy will be judged by Nkandla'

The legacy of President Jacob Zuma is contingent on how he deals with the issue of upgrades to his Nkandla homestead, says Cape Town Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Samsung Galaxy Y

The Samsung Y (Young) is tiny but powerful with Android...

From R1499.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Self-indulgence may be strong today. You may want to enjoy yourself to the fullest and share it with those that make you feel...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.