Baba Jukwa shakes up politics in Zimbabwe

By Brian Latham

Zimbabwean politics is being shaken up by an unexpected source, a Facebook page being run by “Baba Jukwa,” who produces daily revelations of wrong-doing by the southern African nation’s leaders. 

Baba Jukwa Facebook page cover
Baba Jukwa Facebook page cover

His exposes 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 that killed as many as 20,000 people in the 1980s.

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

Baba Jukwa, who hasn’t revealed his identity, has published phone numbers of politicians, police members, 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,” Pedzisai Ruhanya, director of the Zimbabwe Democratic Institute research group, said in a interview in Harare, the capital, on June 3. “Citizens will find ways of circumventing undemocratic space.”

Often writing in colloquial Zimbabwean English, Baba Jukwa says he’s a senior member of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party.

Since starting on March 22, his page has gained about 137,000 followers, more than those of both Mugabe and his long-time election rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

About 15.7 percent of Zimbabwe’s 14 million people have access to the Internet, the International Telecommunications Union said in January.

Party ‘Conflict’

“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 a June 3 telephone interview from Harare, the capital.

Gumbo said Zanu-PF is focused on defeating Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change in the elections so the party can “spearhead our land reform program and intensify our indigenization and empowerment.”

Tsvangirai and Mugabe have governed in a coalition government since 2009.

The administration has helped to turn around an economy that went into recession and was gripped by inflation that accelerated to 500 billion percent, according to the International Monetary Fund, following a government-backed land-reform program that started in 2000.

Empowerment Laws

Tsvangirai said last month that if elected, his government will reverse laws aimed at forcing companies such as Anglo American Platinum Ltd. (AMS), Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. (IMP) and Aquarius Platinum Ltd. (AQP) to show how they’ll sell or cede control to black Zimbabweans or the state’s National Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Board.

Zimbabwe’s Constitutional court has ordered presidential elections to be held by July 31. They will end a power-sharing government between Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and Tsvangirai’s MDC following elections international observers said were flawed by violence and intimidation in 2008.

The two factions of the MDC have rejected the election date as unconstitutional and unfeasbile. There isn’t enough time for the registration of voters that ends July 9 and the nomination of candidates 30 days before a vote as the constitution stipulates, Senator David Coltart, a lawyer, said on June 6 on his website.

“An early and rapid election will play in Zanu-PF’s favor 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 June 8. “It would political suicide” to vote Zanu-PF back into office, he said.

‘Rogue Members’

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 has been a member of the party since before Zimbabwe gained independence from the U.K. in 1980.

“I’m sure he’s old guard, a pre-independence member disgruntled with the country’s collapse since 2000,” he said in a May 31 interview.