Numerous Zimbabweans have responded wryly to the news of the making of a media Minister, alluded to Mr Chinamasa
But the jokes have since subsided, and Zimbabweans are now considering what the new ministry will mean for their civil liberties – especially freedom of speech.
Zimbabwe’s government has been uneasy about social media after pastor Evan Mawararire spearheaded the #ThisFlag movement last year.
Using platforms like Twitter and Facebook it organised a stay-at-home demonstration, the biggest anti-government protest in a decade.
President Robert Mugabe’s spokesperson, George Charamba, says Mr Mugabe came up with the idea of a new ministry to deal with an “emerging threat to the state… a threat founded on abuse and unlawful conduct”.
Social media is possibly the primary platform Zimbabweans use to communicate and receive news. It is thriving despite restrictive laws governing freedom of expression.
Over the last 16 years, internet usage in the country has grown from 0.3% penetration to 46%, data from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) shows.
Several TV stations and online publications, some operating from the diaspora, use the internet to disseminate news out of the reach of the government.
When petrol stations ran out of fuel last month, there were dramatic scenes of long queues at supermarket as Zimbabweans stocked up, anticipating food shortages.
Worried by these events, the government blamed social media messages for spreading panic.
“Social media was abused to create a sense of panic, thereby creating some sort of destabilising in the economy,” says Mr Charamba.
The new cyber security minister, Mr Chinamasa, agrees. He commented at the time, before his appointment, that “the cause basically was social media”.
“It means it’s a security issue,” he adds. “It is also a political agenda, a regime change agenda. We are going to look at what exactly happened with a view to take corrective measures in the security arena.”
But others say the government’s stance is a threat to civil liberties.
One communications rights group, the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute for Southern Africa (Misa), says this new scrutiny of social media goes against the spirit of the constitution and freedom of expression.
“These unfortunate threats have resulted in self-censorship by [individuals] when engaging on topical issues affecting the country,” it said in a statement.