“To whom much is given, much is expected,” says Luke 12v48. I take this to mean two people can say the same stupid thing, but it may be excusable for one and not for the other. Supa Mandiwanzira made such an absurd and insensitive suggestion that I still find it difficult to believe that a former Minister of ICT could say something so out of touch.
Supa was the Minister of Information Communication Technology and Cyber Security from 2014 to 2018. He was dropped from the position despite securing a seat in Parliament in the 2018 harmonised elections.
Not long after that, he was arrested on charges of criminal abuse of office. He was also accused of un-procedurally appointing his personal assistant to the Potraz board. He was subsequently cleared of all the charges.
Supa retained his Parliamentary seat in the 2023 elections. This means he still gets to interact with ministers in Parliament even though he is no longer one. Which means he gets to audition for the job he obviously believes should be his. Case in point…
Holding Starlink licence ransom
Last week in a parliamentary session, Supa mentioned how the EU is investigating X (Twitter) for spreading misinformation. He wants us to consider that when deciding whether to grant Starlink an operating license in Zimbabwe. Said Supa,
Given the misinformation concerns raised by the EU regarding one of Elon Musk’s channels, I wanted to ask the minister of ICT whether the action by the EU will be considered when deciding whether to license Starlink?
His argument was that Elon Musk is a major shareholder in Starlink, a company that is in the process of applying for an operating licence in Zimbabwe. Elon also owns X, a company being investigated by the EU. He argued that the EU’s investigation of X should affect Starlink’s license application.
It’s a ridiculous argument, and I’m glad the current Minister of ICT, Tatenda Mavetera, immediately dismissed it. She rightly said X’s problems shouldn’t affect Starlink’s application process, since they’re two different companies, even though they have the same owner.
This man, Supa, was once the Minister of ICT and so he is acutely aware of the challenges Zimbabwe faces in that sector. This means he knows just how big of a deal Starlink is as we discussed here:
- Tell your MP that this is why people are excited about Starlink – access, affordability, reliability
Why, then, would Supa make such a – there’s no sugarcoating it – boneheaded argument? All was revealed in the statements he made trying to sell his absurd argument.
Winning favour with the President
See, Supa was appointed Minister of ICT when Robert Mugabe was in charge. After the coup-not-coup in 2017, the country got a new leader and he got to appoint his own cabinet. Unfortunately for Supa, he did not make the cut.
So, although Supa may bleed Zanu PF, apparently he is not on Mnangagwa’s list of trusted lieutenants. Hence he is trying to signal to the President that he’s a diehard who is always looking out for the party’s interests. He’s trying to curry favour with E.D.
To really sell his argument, Supa talked about how X is being used to disparage (constantly criticise and speak negatively about) the country’s leadership, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
He went full politician and said the party and E.D. ought to hold the fact that some people say mean things about Zanu PF on X against Elon Musk.
We’re sick of it
Ordinary Zimbabweans are sick of this kind of thinking. We have had enough of politicians using the power we give them to settle political differences.
Supa would deprive the nation of internet access to get one over a man who does not care about Zimbabwe. Musk is not losing sleep over Starlink not being licensed in Zimbabwe.
I don’t think Supa was actually calling for what he called for. He, more than most, knows that Zimbabwe needs Starlink and that the current administration looks favourably at it. Supa was merely posturing, just showing the brass that he is a clever boy who can craft diabolical schemes in service of the party.
Unfortunately for him, it does not look like it’s going to work. All he really showed was that E.D. got it right in going with Tatenda Mavetera instead of him and on this evidence I hope Supa never gets to sit in that ICT chair again.
At this point, I would take fellow former ICT ministers Kazembe Kazembe or Webster Shamhu over Supa.
Supa also made sure everyone knew that he had paid attention when watching the news the day before. He educated the house on the fact that X could end up paying 6% of its revenues in penalties in the EU for failing to regulate misinformation.
He then asked Minister Mavetera if Zimbabwe would also enforce the same punishment. Supa reminded the house that there are people who abuse the President and other Zanu PF politicians on X before allowing the minister to respond.
I believe on some level Supa was also trying to catch her off guard and make her look incompetent. Mavetera was wise to his posturing and manoeuvring.
Mavetera told him that the country’s Cyber Protection Bill would oversee X, and if any of those claimed cases were proven, the platform would be penalised according to that same law.
We deserve better
I think Minister Mavetera did very well in responding to the ridiculousness that the honourable MP Mandiwanzira brought to the house. She did not fall for the politicking shenanigans that Supa was peddling.
I am disappointed in Supa Mandiwanzira. He knows better but he does not care. He appears to be on a mission to endear himself to the President at any cost.
Supa may have miscalculated it though because licensing Starlink and getting internet access to all the corners of Zimbabwe is something that E.D.’s administration can use to campaign in 2028. It would be a tangible achievement that no one could deny.
I actually believe the government would sooner waive Starlink’s licence fee as some of us are calling for than heed Supa’s advice. I hope that’s the case.