Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC has lifted a social media ban imposed to disrupt the communications of party dissidents recklessly attacking the opposition party’s leadership.
Insiders said that the pro-democracy MDC had come under pressure from critics to end the ban, which was seen as a move aimed at curtailing free speech.
Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC secretary-general, accused the party’s rank-and-file of using social media to propagate hate speech against the party leadership, fanning factionalism and disrespecting MDC rules and procedures in the process.
Mwonzora’s decree flew in the face of the MDC’s founding values of democracy, tolerance and freedom of speech.
A group of disaffected MDC supporters, whose candidates lost at the MDC elective congress, is said to be the driving force behind the rebellion and has used social media to publicise its agenda for a fresh congress.
The revolt, which began just after the congress, prompted Mwonzora to write a strongly-worded letter to the district leadership accusing them of trying to discredit the outcome of the October 31 congress “for reasons best known” to them.
The developments came hard on the heels of a series of meetings that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai held with party structures last month in which he warned them against airing their grievances via social media.
These included WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter.
This, Tsvangirai said, gave ammunition to their Zanu PF rivals to rubbish the party.
Critics had expressed sadness that the social democratic party was fast descending into a dictatorship as members were no longer allowed free speech.
The ban was lifted this week, according to party sources who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Obert Gutu, MDC spokesperson, said in a statement Tsvangirai was a champion of democracy.
“We would like to put the record straight that (MDC) president Morgan Tsvangirai has not banned party members from using social media such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter,” Gutu said.
“President Morgan Tsvangirai is a champion of democracy and free speech and indeed; his track record as the country’s most popular politician speaks for itself.
“MDC members are a disciplined group of cadres who very much appreciate the need to use social media platforms for the purpose of maintaining and promoting party discipline, unity and cohesion. The insinuation that party members are no longer allowed to use social media is thus palpably false, misleading, preposterous and malicious.”
Gutu, however, said MDC supporters should use social media in accordance with guidelines set by the party leadership.
“Party members are free to use social media in accordance with the guidelines and standards that are being set up by the party leadership,” he said.
“Social media platforms should not be abused to promote hatred, division, gossiping and rumour-mongering.
“These guidelines are being made available to all party members who would like to use social media platforms to communicate amongst themselves. Should there be any doubt as to what these guidelines are, my office is more than willing and able to assist any party members who are keen to activate their social media platforms.”
Gutu said throughout his political activism,
Tsvangirai has personally championed the cause for the opening up of both the public and private media space to enable all Zimbabweans to freely articulate and propagate their political and other views.
He, however, said as a voluntary association, the MDC is bound by certain rules and regulations.
“Indeed, all voluntary associations the world over, including churches and business associations; have to abide by a certain code of conduct in order to achieve stability, unity and cohesion,” he said.
“MDC members are a disciplined group of cadres who very much appreciate the need to use social media platforms for the purpose of maintaining and promoting party discipline, unity and cohesion.”