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Key findings
  • About seven in 10 Zimbabweans (69%) say the government should not be able to monitor private communications. Fully half (50%) of respondents say they feel “very strongly” on this issue.
  • Opposition to government monitoring of private communications is especially strong among better-educated citizens, as well as among citizens who express little trust in the police and courts. It is also stronger among MDC-T supporters than among ZANU-PF adherents.
  • A slimmer majority (54%) say that people should be able to move about freely even at times of security threats, while 40% affirm that the government has a right to impose curfews and set up roadblocks in order to protect public safety.
  • Three-fifths (60%) of Zimbabweans say the government should never regulate what is said in places of worship.
  • Substantial proportions of the population perceive “somewhat less” or “much less” freedom than “a few years ago” for citizens to say what they think about politics (47%) and join any political organization they want (39%), as well as for the media to investigate or criticize the government (36%).

Zimbabwe’s Constitution of 2013 guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms for citizens, including freedom of speech, association, and religion as well as the right to privacy in their communications (Constitution of Zimbabwe, 2013). In practice, however, fundamental rights may sometimes be seen as conflicting with other priorities, such as maintaining public security.

Governments trying to deal with security threats, for example, may decide to use roadblocks and curfews limiting people’s movements, or to regulate religious speech they consider a danger to public safety. In Zimbabwe, the Interception of Communications Act of 2007 provides for the lawful monitoring of certain communications, and the government has proposed a Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill that critics describe as an attempt to tighten government control and infringe on citizens’ rights (Zimbabwe Independent, 2017).

How do Zimbabweans see potential trade-offs between freedoms and security? Do they believe that some freedoms must be limited in order to enjoy security from violence, or do they think that political liberty is too important to sacrifice even if public security is at risk?

Based on findings from the most recent Afrobarometer survey in Zimbabwe, majorities of Zimbabweans favour protecting private communications, freedom of movement, and freedom of religious speech even in the face of potential security threats. Moreover, substantial proportions of the population think that their freedoms to say what they think about politics and to join any political organization they want, as well as the media’s freedom to investigate or criticize the government, are weakening.

Stephen Ndoma

Stephen is the assistant project manager for Southern Africa