Zello, an application originally designed to help people communicate during natural accidents, has been used as a tool in social unrest scenarios. After being one of the main instruments in the Capitol’s uprising on January 6 in the US, the “walkie-talkie” app was once again used by communities in South Africa during a recent wave of looting and protests.
Before former President Jacob Zuma decided to turn himself in to authorities on July 7 to serve the prison sentence he was sentenced to, widespread demonstrations and looting took place across the country, particularly in his hometown of Durban. To defend their communities from looters, residents set up networks of lookouts and patrols using Zello.
For South Africans across KwaZulu-Natal province, using traditional messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram has become confusing and unreliable. So the communities decided to use Zello to protect themselves. With just an internet or WiFi connection, the app sends messages like a walkie-talkie and can connect up to 6,000 people to a channel.
How did the South Africans use Zello to defend themselves?
After Zuma’s arrest, when protests and looting became more intense, several communities built barricades to protect their neighborhoods from rioters and started to create channels in Zello, which require a code to enter. With this, it was possible to prevent strangers from being able to intercept their communications, which, in the app, occur only through voice, by pressing a chat button.
With more than 180,000 downloads in South Africa, just after the arrest of former president Zuma, the Zello works like an ordinary two-point radio transceiver. In addition to being completely anonymous, the app does not need to be opened to read or listen to a message. Conversations are constant, free and in real time.