The week of the 14th of January 2019 was an eventful week in Zimbabwe. Weekend protests against the doubling of the fuel price in Zimbabwe spilled over into the Monday - and the government was ready to retaliate.
Citizens woke to an SMS alert from their biggest mobile operator, EWZ:
“Further to a warrant issued by the Minister of State in the President’s Office for the National Security through the Director General of the President’s Dept, acting in terms of the Interception of Communications Act, internet services are currently suspended across all networks and internet service providers. We are obliged to act when directed to do so and the matter is beyond our control. All inconveniences are sincerely regretted.”
A crackdown on all anti-government protests was in full swing and the Zimbabwean government did not want the world seeing what that crackdown entailed. The internet was subsequently shut off for all Zimbabwean citizens. Not even a Virtual Private Network - which some Zimbabwean citizens utilize - could be used to access the internet.
On the 21st of January the Zimbabwean High Court ruled that the government had no authority to shut down the country’s internet.
Zimbabwe recently saw Emmerson Mnangagwa sworn into the presidency - after former president, Robert Mugabe, was ousted in a coup. The incumbent seems to be struggling to steer the country out of an economic slump and is struggling to win the hearts of the citizens.
George Charamba, the spokesman for President Emmerson Mnangagwa told the country’s Sunday News: “The response so far is just a foretaste of things to come. The MDC (opposition party) and its affiliate organisations will be held fully accountable for the violence and the looting.”
Many are concerned that the government of Zimbabwe is slipping deeper into authoritarianism and fear that the situation in the country might not improve.
The effect of a shutdown
The Engineering Institute of Technology relies on functioning internet connections to deliver its live online engineering training and education across borders around the globe. EIT has a presence in Zimbabwe – we have students and staff in the country.
In the aftermath of the internet shutdown, Isabel Sibanda, a learning support officer working remotely for EIT in Zimbabwe, said:
“No internet for a global learning support officer means that I cannot work at all. I cannot respond to queries timeously. On one of the days following the shutdown we got our internet back at around nine in the evening; I was forced to catch up on work until just after midnight. Personally, I could not communicate with my family. I was not able to contact any of my siblings outside of Zimbabwe outside of Zimbabwe on Whatsapp. It was a bit scary.”
Thankfully the Zimbabwean High Court ruling will prevent the government from future shutdowns. Despite the ruling and despite the hope that the people put into their new President, it appears that it is becoming increasingly difficult to turn the economy around.
In the face of these latest upheavals EIT students in Zimbabwe continue to assist each other to overcome the hurdles. In 2018, Algate Panyika Mtemah received an Honorary Student Award; he very kindly assisted students transfer money when these services were unavailable. He ensured a number of students in Zimbabwe could continue studying.
Amidst difficult political climates, wherever they may manifest in our partner countries, EIT will continue to strive to find innovative solutions for education and training globally. And we commend our students and learning support officers for doing so as well.
“Zim High Court Rules Internet Shutdown Illegal, Orders Govt to Restore Full Internet to the Country.” News24, 21 Jan. 2019, www.news24.com/Africa/Zimbabwe/just-in-zim-high-court-rules-internet-shutdown-illegal-orders-govt-to-restore-full-internet-to-the-country-20190121.