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Zimbabwe Mobile Operator Econet Bows to Pressure, Halts Tsvangirai Messaging

Zimbabwe's number one mobile operator was warned by a columnist in the state-controlled Herald newspaper who is generally believed to be presidential spokesman George Charamba that its license could be pulled

Zimbabwe's leading mobile operator, Econet Wireless, has pulled the plug on informational phone messages offered to supporters by the Movement for Democratic change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai after being obliquely threatened by the government with the withdrawal of its business license.

A regular columnist in the ZANU-PF leaning state-controlled Herald newspaper, Nathaniel Manheru, believed in fact to be George Charamba, spokesman for President Robert Mugabe, warned in an article published Saturday that Econet's operating license could be pulled. The Manheru pieces are known to reflect ZANU-PF thinking.

The MDC messaging platform launched last week called the "Voice of Real Change," offers news roundups and Mr. Tsvangirai’s weekly message to the nation. It is still carried on Telecel and NetOne, respectively ranked second and third in Zimbabwe's cellular market. Ironically, NetOne like the Herald is state-controlled.

But ZANU-PF sources said pressure was being brought on the two providers to halt the service. MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa criticized Charamba office for intimidating Econet and seeking to block party communication.