Social media, civil resistance, the Varakashi factor and the shifting polemics of Zimbabwe’s social media “war”

Charles Moyo


A recent increase in the rate of internet access and ICT devices in Zimbabwe  has led to a surge in social media use by the citizenry. WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram are the most popular social networking sites (SNS). Social movements have capitalised on these SNS to resist the ruling elite’s kleptocratic and tyrannical style of governance. Apart from individual online activists, social movements and campaigns that rely on social media that have emerged include; #Thisflag, #Tajamuka/Sesijikile, #ThisGown and #OccupyAfricaUnitySquare, and #ThisFlower. However, after President Robert Mugabe’s toppling  through a “soft coup” by his generals, a new breed of vicious online activists called Varakashi emerged. Varakashi are pro-establishment (the “New Dispensation”), anti-progressive civil society and opposition parties, and seek to counteract Zimbabwe’s online activists who are inspired by democracy and human rights discourses. Accordingly, this article seeks to assess how social media platforms are used by social movements in Zimbabwe for the purposes of civil resistance and disobedience. The article also interrogates the “Varakashi effect” on Zimbabwe’s social media “war.”  Crucially, the article embarks on a stock taking exercise to ascertain the drawbacks and prospects of social media use for civil resistance purposes by social movements in Zimbabwe. Existing literature on social media and politics tend to gravitate towards the “Arab Spring” and South Africa’s #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements. Therefore, this article affords attention to Zimbabwe’s social movements to bridge the aforementioned scholarly lacuna. Moreover, social media reliant movements and campaigns in Zimbabwe represent “a third force” outside government and party politics and therefore a phenomenon worth interrogation.

       Key words: Social Media; Civil Resistance; Social Movements; Varakashi; Zimbabwe

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