This is cross-posted from Global Voices.
Twenty one pupils at a secondary school in rural western Zambia have been expelled over a Facebook page they ran on which vile messages against the head and other teachers were posted.
In another development, the secretary general of Zambia’s ruling party, the Patriotic Front, said it was time Zambia’s popular citizen media website, Zambian Watchdog, was closed for allegedly insulting the head of the Catholic Church in Zambia and a female traditional leader who were accused of having an affair.
The pupils from Sesheke High School were given transfer letters to schools of their own choice after the group which called itself ‘The Sesheke High School Gossips’[it no longer exists on Facebook] used foul language against head teacher and some members of staff.
The headteacher, Lubinda Walubita, was quoted saying:
These learners have been posting information ranging from inciting others to riot, threatening to burn some teachers’ houses, passing silly comments and insulting teachers on Facebook.
Most netizens who commented on the story condemned the children for their behaviour but few others like Samantha called for leniency towards the offending pupils:
The issue with the children is not about discipline. The discipline is not instituted by hurst [harsh] punishment. What I am saying is that the government should put in place procedures to deal with ICT. What has happened will certainly happen in another school. So are we saying the same thing should be done to the pupils. I believe this is an unreasonable and hurst [harsh] kind of reaction by the head and should not be allowed in whatever sense. I wish the zambians and government can come through for the kids who are now traumatized . I know what the kids are going through now and their parents.
A reader calling himself Spyglass gave out a lesson:
The internet is not being used for progressive things by pupils only baseless and immoral activities.
Facebook was actually created for students to socialise on educational matters. Instead, pupils themselves don’t even know what better things they can share online only stupid activities.
Let us as society and the PTAs [Parent Teachers’ Associations] too support the stance by Sesheke School Admin to be non tolerant to these uncalled for acts by children.
And on the call by PF secretary general to shut down Zambian Watchdog, Wynter Kabimba, third in the ruling party hierarchy after President Michael Sata and Vice President Dr Guy Scott, accused the former ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and the United Party for National Development (UPND) of sponsoring the Zambian Watchdog, a citizen media website.
It is sad that the Zambian Watchdog has been posting insults about Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu and Chieftainess Nkomeshya… and the MMD thinks this is the way to raise their political profile.
We must protest against such immoral level of politics in the misguided name of freedom of speech or press freedom.
Most of the netizens who commented on the story disagreed with Kabimba’s threat to close the news website. Eagle wrote:
The Zambian Watchdog is our source of alternative news and views and must be allowed to operate freely. Remember that it is impossible to silence the majority, no matter what PF may try to do. We used to have the Post as the source of alternative news and views but as is common knowledge the Post is now fully owned and controlled by PF, just like the Times of Zambia, Zambia Daily Mail, ZNBC, etc.
Another reader, Mixi, said:
Ba [Mr] Winter,
Free advice. Just pretend ZWD don’t exist otherwise you are now making them ever more popular.
Besides if you shut them down, which I doubt very much if it is possible, you will have nothing to gauge public opinion with. The Post will continue schmoozing and cozying up to the PF making you believe everything is fine.
Wrote Think 4 2moro:
I wud be glad if this WD site is closed,not bcoz it supports UPND,but, bcoz it promotes hatred,rebellion,division,encourages insults and above all its driven by evil and embraces devil’s ideas.
A few days after the September 2011 elections when President Sata took over, he instructed his then newly appointed Atorney-General, Mumba Malila to investigate websites that were operating in Zambia for allegedly spreading lies. It is not known how far the investigation has gone or what the findings are.
On 10 May, 2012, Zambian Watchdog reported that its website was a target of a sustained attack allegedly by the PF government.