Zimbabweans Using Social Media To Take Back Political Space

HUNDREDS of ordinary South Africans took to the streets yesterday Wednesday to vent their discontent over President Jacob Zuma’s leadership.

Across the border, Zimbabweans are tackling their own feelings of disenfranchisement but in a different way. 

A pastor’s social media rant posted soon after the recent 36th independence celebrations has sparked a massive virtual movement -in which Zimbabweans using social media are taking back the political space.

It started as a personal rant from a pastor struggling to make ends meet.  Evan Mawarire had posted videos before – inspiring couples to make their marriages work. But one evening, struggling to raise school fees for his children, he felt he had to vent.  

Within hours the post hashtagged ThisFlag had attracted over ten thousand views and within days over a hundred thousand. Zimbabweans have responded photos of themselves draped in the national flag. They say they feel patriotic again- in a country where rights groups say civil liberties are routinely violated and street protests brutally put down.   

Rights groups say civil liberties in Zimbabwe are routinely violated. But Mawarire says his next move is to encourage Zimbabweans to move beyond social media.  

“I am not asking for the overthrow of government, I am saying lets live again. I want to encourage from the 1st of May to the 7th of May, we want to get as many Zimbabweans to carry with them the flag. And let’s make a statement that the citizens are alive and they want their country back.”

At its independence from colonialism in 1980, Zimbabwe was thought to hold the greatest hope for Africa. The continent’s former breadbasket has suffered a massive economic decline that has left 80 percent of the adult population without jobs.

Emboldened by the social media, a new generation hopes to regain their political voice and raise high the national flag of Zimbabwe.