On Tuesday, after reports of brutality and a lawsuit against Zimbabwe’s Standard newspaper started to circulate on IRC, a small group of people decided to protest. It wasn’t long before there was a complete takedown of the ZANU-PF website, the Zimbabwean government portal, and the Zimbabwean Finance Ministry website.
By Thursday afternoon, the Zimbabwe African National Union (Patriotic Front) was partially online, after more than 40 hours of downtime. The government portal, www.gta.gov.zw, was still offline, and the Finance Ministry website had returned, but was unavailable to the public.
In addition to Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks launched against the three domains, the Finance Ministry was also defaced. The defacement stripped all other news content and offered a message that said simply: “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”
The message also included a declaration of love for someone, signed by the individual who is said to have performed the defacement.
So why pick Zimbabwe as a target?
First it should be made clear, that the actions performed by those who joined Operation: Zimbabwe were unofficial. This was not an action taken by people associated with the widely-known Operation: Payback. Moreover, it was not related to the recently botched Operation: Bank of America.
The targeting of Zimbabwe was completely random and sudden, and, after some internal organization, the small group moved forward with its plan. Unlike Operation: Bank of America, where small numbers led to failure, this operation succeeded due to selective targets and Zimbabwe’s poor infrastructure support.
The reason for Operation: Zimbabwe is two-fold, and those who participated took an issue with the brutal tactics employed by the ZANU PF.
Seen here (Semi-NSFW), it is said that the ZANU PF attacked and forced its own people from their homes and businesses. The propaganda website’s claims are backed by a confidential embassy cable dating from 2007.
In the embassy communication, Ambassador Christopher W. Dell said Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has remained in power for as long as he has because he is “more clever and more ruthless than any other politician in Zimbabwe.”
In reaction to losing the 2000 referendum on the constitution, Ambassador Dell commented that, “a vengeful Mugabe unleashed his “Green Bombers” to commit land reform and in the process he destroyed Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector, once the bedrock of the economy. While thousands of white farmers saw their properties seized, hundreds of thousands of black Zimbabweans lost their livelihoods and were reduced to utter poverty.”
“In 2005, having been forced to steal victory by manipulating the results of an election he lost, Mugabe lashed out again, punishing the urban populace by launching Operation Murambatsvina. The result was wholesale destruction of the informal sector, on which as much as 70-80 percent of urban dwellers had depended, and the uprooting of 700,000 Zimbabweans,” he added.
The second reason for Operation: Zimbabwe centers on freedom of press and a lawsuit.
Those who took part were offended by news reports of a pending $15 million USD lawsuit against a newspaper, after President Mugabe’s wife was exposed for her role in illicit diamond trades. Details of the shady profiteering were brought to light in an embassy cable released by WikiLeaks on December 8.
The cable, seen here, said that Grace Mugabe and nine other high-ranking Zimbabwean officials, including Mugabe’s sister, were “profiting from the purchase and sale of Chiadzwa diamonds.”
“...high-ranking Zimbabwean government officials and well-connected elites are generating millions of dollars in personal income by hiring teams of diggers to hand-extract diamonds from the Chiadzwa mine in eastern Zimbabwe,” the embassy message explained.
“They are selling the undocumented diamonds to a mix of foreign buyers including Belgians, Israelis, Lebanese, Russians and South Africans who smuggle them out of the country for cutting and resale elsewhere.”
When the Standard newspaper reported on the cable, quoting it in part, Grace Mugabe, the “mother of the nation”, filed a defamation suit against the media outlet. More details on the lawsuit can be read here.
Operation: Zimbabwe is a classic example of how things work when watching Anonymous. Someone had an idea, others agreed, and collectively they ran with it. Sometimes these fly-by-night operations gain massive support, other times they fade into obscurity.
Despite the label of anti-Americanism used by some, Anonymous is neither for nor against a single country or person. It supports free ideas and information, and many object to its methods. However, it's the view of Anonymous that Mugabe is an obstacle that must be removed.
Operation: Zimbabwe is still active, but there are no new targets. We’ll update this story if that changes.
Defacement image courtesy of Anonymous.