Who would have thought that men chasing after a small cricket ball, wickets and runs on a green field would be the centre stage of a planned protest?
I didn’t see that coming.
Welcome to the ‘New Protest Age in Zimbabwe,’ where a simple cricket match, can be used to communicate a message at the 36th over by the raising of the Zimbabwean flag and singing of the national anthem. This was at a recent match played between New Zealand and Zimbabwe in Bulawayo.
A paradigm shift has occurred from the usual mass stay aways organised by unions, and marches in the street that were usually few and far apart. Welcome to the changing faces of protests in Zimbabwe.
It is paramount to note that protests have always been part of political, social and economic revolutions in many countries, and Zimbabwe is not an exception. In Part 1, my colleague gave an in-depth look at these protests; I’m more interested in their counter nature, which has been happening in the form of social media and music. These methods are peculiar in that they have been adopted by both the ruling elite and the ordinary citizen alike. In this instance, there is a dynamic between who is the victim or perpetrator, as virtually anyone nowadays can stand up and begin to protest against whatever ideology that is infringing upon their rights and privileges.
Musical notes and jingles
Although music has been used by legends such as Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mutukudzi, Cde Chinx Chingaira and other superstars of their time to serve as social commentaries, opposition politicians like Paul Madzore have also used it to castigate the corruption within government, and expose the maladministration that was taking place in the country.
These musicians were protesting through music, and exposing masses to facts that may have otherwise gone unnoticed, considering the fact that media was and is still heavily regulated. These musicians’ messages were protests against a government that was not serving the people, and listeners could join in the protests by sharing the music and playing it at gatherings and discussing the lyrics in relation to what was taking place on the ground. The only difference is that earlier musicians were using it against the colonial government whilst present day musicians are protesting against the current government.
Be that as it may, the move by Professor Jonathan Moyo (who was then the Minister of Information) to introduce 75% local music on the airwaves, which included playing jingles with political and ideological undertones every 30minutes on public radio and television stations, was in itself a counter-protest against imperialist thinking and foreign culture in Zimbabwe. The Fast Track Land Reform Program (FTLRP) had its fair share of enthusiasts and those against the initiative, therefore the jingles alongside music by PaxAfro (also a reported product of Prof Moyo) and the likes of ‘Tambawoga’, ‘Mbare Chimurenga Choir’ and ‘The Born Free Crew’ was music targeted at the youth with the intention of making them understand that giving land to the black people was empowerment and it had to be viewed as such with no questions asked.
In the instance of music and jingles, no one was a victim as everyone could package their issues in a song and protest against whatever injustice was taking place. Pro-state jingles and songs received repetitive airplay, whilst the opposition had their music repressed due to their political implications. They could only have an audience in localised public spheres such as at rallies, in their personal vehicles and homes.
Despite the national heritage ideology that was disseminated by the ruling party, there was a slow rise of grumbling voices concerning the continuously deteriorating financial situation, massive losses of jobs and the closing of industries in the country. People who could not openly protest and seek audience from the responsible government began speaking in hushed tones in bars, vending places and the long queues for bread and salt. However, communication was only face-to-face, and within the small public spheres of entertainment.
Enter the Internet and social media platforms, and the rest has been history in the making. With the estimated 40% of the population in Zimbabwe having access to the internet, platforms such as Baba Jukwa’s Facebook page, the current Minister of Information Professor Jonathan Moyo’s Twitter account, and foreign based Human rights Activist and Lawyer Alex Magaisa’s blog amongst others, have become the platforms on which protesting voices, political debate and activism have found a space. The virtual public sphere has become so popular in Zimbabwe such that ordinary daily routines may be taking place on the ground, whilst virtual strategies are being set in motion!
A case example is the #ThisFlag a movement started by Pastor Evan Mawarire, which struck accord with many Zimbabweans across the globe, as it was not a political movement, but a call for citizens to be responsible for their country and be active participants in the running of their county’s affairs. This ‘#cyberrevolution’ has managed to connect Zimbabweans all over the globe, a first in the history of Zimbabwe, and most likely the world.
As is usually the case, the #ThisFlag protests happened simultaneously with other campaigns using the hashtag formula, e.g., #Tajamuka and #beatthepot (see analysis here). The ordinary Zimbabwean has also managed to participate in the protests and also show solidarity in some of the movements taking place on the ground by sharing, liking and commenting on online developments.
More social media users have also gone the route of changing their user names and profile pictures so that messages go viral. Names have been changed to e.g. #FreePastorEvan and #shutdownzim. The Zimbabwean flag is popularly becoming a backdrop or watermark on many profile pictures online. Internet memes are also quickly being produced and circulated, thus protests are taking place at the speed of a click in just 140 characters!
To counter #thisflag, pro-government Zimbabweans such as Professor Moyo formulated a counter-protest and called it #ThatFlag. Though the campaign did not garner much support and grow a massive following like #ThisFlag, the point to note is that in this cyber revolution, calling oneself a victim is tantamount to crying wolf, as one can easily stand up for themselves and begin a protest!
Although the campaigns have been largely on social media, the effects thereof have been evident on the ground, with both local and international news covering the story on the #ShutdownZimbabwe episode, albeit with very different angles and conclusions. #beatthepot also saw some women in Bulawayo take protesting against hunger with pots and pans, whilst ‘Jobless Graduates’ resorted to playing soccer in the streets. Clad in their graduation regalia, to signify that they were jobless, the graduates who instead of being formally employed somewhere have been reduced to playing with plastic balls on First Street.
#Hashtag then What?
With the changing faces of protests in Zimbabwe, every day is open to the possibility of a new protest or uprising, and with each new day more reports on protests arise. A recent development such as reported in the Herald of 3 ‘social media terrorists’ having been exposed goes to show how these protests are taking over the public sphere in Zimbabwe. It is, at the moment, a bit more difficult to stop people from engaging online as that is only determined by one’s access to the internet and their willingness and ability to use the available platforms.
Just the other day, a passenger in a commuter omnibus jokingly said that they would protest against their in-laws for charging an exorbitant bride price. I wonder how this one is going to take shape (Maybe #reducelobola). We are in a new age after all anything is possible.
Written by Samantha Tatenda Majoni, a media and communication professional who enjoys analysing society through the mediated lens
Main image: Zimbabweans protest by singing the national anthem at the 36th over during New Zealand vs Zimbabwe cricket match. Image taken from www.voanews.com