By Tafadzwa Muranganwa
The internet shut down by the government during last week’s protests left many devising ways to keep online through the use of the Virtual Private Networks (VPN)and another platform Telegram.
A survey by Radio VOP has since realised that it was mostly the urbanites who managed to circumvent to bypass the government’s blocking of social media platforms WhatsApp, Facebook ,Twitter and You Tube while most citizens from peri-urban and rural areas were totally shut out due to poor internet connectivity and fear .
So popular was VPN In Harare and it earned various terms like ‘Vhura Pakavharwa Nemuvengi’ loosely translated to open where the enemy(government) has blocked.
The Virtual Private Networks VPNs allow users to securely access a private network and share data remotely through public networks.
A Msasa Park resident who requested anonymity said he was only offline when government ordered the total shutdown of the internet but was hooked online using VPN when internet was partially restored and was able to follow what was going on during the tumultuous time.
“To be honest I only failed to surf the internet when there was a total shutdown but all the time I was able to follow the events of last week’s shutdown including the arrest of Evan Mawarire and was able to update my friends and relatives in the Diaspora,” he said.
Another application that became a hit among Zimbabweans was Telegram which is an instant messaging and voice over services and works like WhatsApp.
One user of Telegram during the internet shutdown is Brian Matsapa who said since the government had shutdown WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter he opted to download Telegram and was able to keep abreast with the events of last week.
“A colleague of mine send a request for me to join Telegram which I found very fascinating as it works just like WhatsApp and while we were a few using the platform we however managed to follow the events of last week despite the shutdown,” revealed Matsapa.
In contrast to the above, Tawanda Chisamba who lives in rural Chihota had to endure the shut down as he couldn’t access WhatsApp and Facebook despite having been alerted of the use of VPN.
“I got to know of VPN from a close friend in Harare but couldn’t download it because of the poor internet connection here so I had to rely on SMS(Short Message Services) from him so I could know what was going on,” said Chisamba.
But for Tendai of Epworth he had the VPN application but felt it was not secure to use it lest he got into trouble.
“I had VPN but felt it was not safe to use especially given that my area was one of the hot spots of the deadly protests if security agents would find me having it I will then appear suspicious,” poured out Tendai.
A tech expert Tonderai Toneo Rutsito said while VPNs can be used as long as there is an internet connection the application tends to slow connection by routing which may then easily put someone off from using it especially those living in areas where there is poor internet connection.
WhatsApp is the widely used application in Zimbabwe with an estimated eight million people actively using it , according to the Afrobarometer 2018 poll.
The country’s rural areas have suffered from lack of access to unbiased information since they rely mainly on local radio stations which have been criticised for churning propaganda hence the coming in of social media has been hailed as the best alternative for the rural folk.