Court bans 'traumatic' Covid-19 death cellphone alerts in Zimbabwe

Legal practitioner Sikhumbuzo Mpofu said the death and infection alerts caused him anxiety and trauma. Stock photo.
Legal practitioner Sikhumbuzo Mpofu said the death and infection alerts caused him anxiety and trauma. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Antonio Guillem Fernandez

Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile operator, Econet Wireless, has been barred by the high court from sending unsolicited text messages to subscribers about daily Covid-19 infections and deaths.

The operator, with 13 million mobile subscribers, was sued by legal practitioner Sikhumbuzo Mpofu for sending Covid-19 updates as infections and deaths surged in the country.

Mpofu told SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE that after losing his father to Covid-19 in January the updates were causing him anxiety and trauma.

“I made several requests to Econet to stop sending me daily text messages but to no avail, because I felt the messages were an invasion of my privacy. And after losing my father to Covid-19, the text messages were a constant reminder of death,” said Mpofu.

The country's high court granted an interim order on Wednesday against the mobile operator, declaring the daily messages to be “illegal, wrongful and unconstitutional”.

An interim order signed by judge David Mangota said “the unilateral transmission of messages to the applicant by the respondent service provider is illegal, wrongful and unconstitutional”.

“It is declared that the respondent’s action in so far as continued communication was made to the applicant of traumatising information, violated section 53 and section 57 of the constitution of Zimbabwe amendment No 20 of 2013,” the court ruled.

“It is declared that the action of the respondent in unilaterally supplying applicant’s details to a service platform and/or third party for transmission of information unrelated to service provision and transmission of uninvited information is a violation of the contractual relationship between the parties.”

Econet Wireless was given 12 hours to suspend all Covid-19 related text messages and 10 days to challenge the provisional order.

The country is in the middle of a second wave of the pandemic, with surging Covid-19 cases and deaths. Zimbabwe has 35,543 confirmed cases and 1,420 deaths.


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