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Cyberdefamation: a comparative approach to how Zimbabwe can adapt in the digital era.

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Hungwe, Brian.

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Society has since time immemorial sought to protect the reputation of individuals and provide scope for relief to vindicate the good name of the individual. The law of defamation has evolved over the centuries, in line with technological advancements, and growing standards of decency marking the progress of a maturing world. Common law has developed in defining defamation, its test and elements, and appropriate damages. In the 9th century, a slanderer's tongue could be cut as a penalty for damages. The development of the printing press in the 16th century, and radio in the 20th century, had the law reforming and adjusting to suit the technological advancements of the period. However, the development of the internet in the late 20th century has presented new significant challenges to the defamation law. The Internet is a global super-network used by millions of people the world over. This has provoked the need for a delineated legislative framework to redefine defamation law in line with technological advancements driven by the internet. This research will therefore evaluate the current state of defamation law in Zimbabwe in order to demonstrate the necessity of enacting law that adjust to the digital era, and offer protection to victims. The internet’s harm to reputation has been insidious, denying victims an opportunity for employment, company closures and devastating emotional trauma associated with reputational harm. The technological advancements have rattled the judiciary, and provoked scholars into research to provide ways in which the law could adapt and confront the emerging challenges, which had assaulted the traditional scope of defamation defining elements, publication, anonymity, jurisdictional and enforcement challenges, role of internet service providers and extent of damages. The internet has no respect for geographical boundaries, and could be used in via indeterminate routes, users, and jurisdictions. The Zimbabwean courts are yet to be confronted with complex cyber defamation related cases. The advent of the internet, is bound to present complex legal challenges for Zimbabwe’s legislative framework. Internet users are over 3.3 billion in the world, and half the population in Zimbabwe use the internet, representing about 2 per cent of the population in Africa. There is need for pre-emptive scholarly research to devise ways in which Zimbabwe can adapt in the digital era. There is death of precedents to provide scope for the development of common law. There are calls in various jurisdictions for countries to legally adapt to internet challenges, as internet communications are more ubiquitous than print and have the power to defame individuals. This research acknowledges that the law is failing to take into account changing realities technologically, and could lose credibility if the courts and scholars fail to respond applicably to changing times. Zimbabwe may face challenges of an unclear legislative frameworks, hence, this research becomes imperative.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.