ALMOST TIME: A woman walks past an election billboard urging people to register to vote, in Harare's Mbare township on Tuesday. Picture: REUTERS
ALMOST TIME: A woman walks past an election billboard urging people to register to vote, in Harare's Mbare township on Tuesday. Picture: REUTERS

ZIMBABWEAN politics is being shaken up by an unexpected source — a Facebook page being run by "Baba Jukwa", who produces daily revelations of wrongdoing by the country’s leaders.

His exposés range from alleged plans by President Robert Mugabe’s party to rig general elections that are scheduled to take place this year, to naming officials who led the government crackdown against the opposition in the western region of Matabeleland, which killed as many as 20,000 people in the 1980s.

Zimbabweans have been starved of independent reporting, with Reporters Without Borders ranking the country 133rd of 170 nations in its World Press Freedom Index.

Baba Jukwa, who has not revealed his identity, has published telephone numbers of politicians, members of the police force, intelligence agents and army officers he says are "murdering" civilians, and encourages Zimbabweans to phone them.

"This is a new form of protest in the information age," said the director of the Zimbabwe Democratic Institute research group, Pedzisai Ruhanya. "Citizens will find ways of circumventing undemocratic space."

Often writing in colloquial Zimbabwean English, Baba Jukwa says he is a senior member of Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) party. Since starting on March 22, his page has gained 137,000 followers, more than those of both Mr Mugabe and his long-time election rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. About 15% of Zimbabwe’s 14-million people have access to the internet, according to the International Telecommunications Union.

"We are not worried at all about Baba Jukwa because he wants to cause confusion and conflict within the party, but he won’t get it," Zanu (PF) spokesman Rugare Gumbo said in Harare.

Mr Gumbo said Zanu (PF) was focused on defeating Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) faction in the elections so the party can "spearhead our land reform programme and intensify our indigenisation and empowerment".

Mr Tsvangirai and Mr Mugabe have governed in a coalition since 2009. The fragile power-sharing government has helped to turn around an economy that went into recession and was gripped by inflation that accelerated to 500-billion per cent, according to the International Monetary Fund, following a government-backed land-redistribution programme that started in 2000. Thousands of white farmers and their workers were evicted, and some were killed or beaten, as farmland was divided, mostly among members of Zanu (PF).

Mr Tsvangirai said last month that if elected, his government would reverse laws aimed at foreign firms such as Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Aquarius Platinum, to show how they will sell or cede control to black Zimbabweans or the state’s National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board.

Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court has ordered that elections be held by July 31, thus closing the chapter on the often-fractious power-sharing government, which Mr Mugabe dominated despite losing the last elections.

The two factions of the MDC have rejected the election date as unconstitutional and unfeasible. Senator David Coltart says on his website that there is not enough time for the registration of voters — that deadline is July 9, and the nomination of candidates must be done 30 days before a vote — as the constitution stipulates.

"An early and rapid election will play in Zanu (PF)’s favour in that it is easy to rig where preparations are done rapidly, there will be no time to implement key electoral reforms, my party is in full control of the current system," Baba Jukwa wrote on Saturday. "It would be political suicide" to vote Zanu (PF) back into office.

Few critics and supporters of Baba Jukwa doubt that he is a member of the ruling party. "Let these sinister elements be told here and now that their machinations and operations are in the open and that their days of association with Zanu (PF) are numbered," a columnist in the state-controlled Herald newspaper wrote last month.

Ephraim Jokonya, a vegetable-seller in Harare’s Greencroft suburb, said he believed Baba Jukwa was from the "old guard, a pre-independence member disgruntled with the country’s collapse since 2000".

Bloomberg