During the build up to Zimbabwe’s July 2013 elections, citizen journalism grew exponentially, through the use of social media. Two Facebook characters Baba Jukwa and Amai Jukwa stirred a hornet’s nest in their social media efforts to inform the electorate and other stakeholders about the politics of Zimbabwe. This study analyses the use of the Internet by citizen journalists during Zimbabwe’s 2013 pre-election period using the two characters on social media, Baba Jukwa and Amai Jukwa.
By Bridgette Bugalo:
Baba Jukwa is a self-proclaimed ZANU-PF party insider and online character who joined Facebook in March 2013. Within four months, and on the eve of the election he had accrued 322 889 Facebook likes which continue to increase daily. His timeline status reads “Concerned father, fighting nepotism and directly linking community with their Leaders, Government, MPs and ministers”. Baba Jukwa’s revelations before the election varied from disclosing political figures suspected to be misusing state funds to politicians who are likely to be killed by other politicians and disclosing the illegal practices done by ZANU-PF.
Amai Jukwa is a self-proclaimed ZANU-PF party member and online character who joined Facebook in January 2013. In a space of six months, she had accrued 48 249 Facebook likes on the eve of the election. Amai Jukwa’s timeline status reads “Loving mother of three”. Her posts before the election varied from raising debate on the MDC-T to explaining the strengths of ZANU-PF and questioning Baba Jukwa’s credibility.
Social Media as a Watchdog and public sphere
Normative theories suggest that media’s failure to report on the abuses of power by the three estates, which include the judiciary, executive and the legislature,is in itself an abdication of duty. Because of this, the media ought to keep tabs on those who hold political authority and corporate interests. Therefore to fulfill the media’s mandate the fifth estate or the information age of the Internet and social media has helped create a new breed of journalists called citizen journalists. According to Moyo (2006) Zimbabwe’s media landscape is dominated by state ownership and control such that reporting on elections is often openly biased in favour of President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU PF party, resulting in a huge loss of credibility for both the electoral system and the state owned media themselves. This means that Zimbabwean traditional media is often full of political bias. With the rise of the fifth estate, Christians et al (2009) argue that the Internet has made significant contributions as a new source of information and a forum for civic engagement. This explains why preparation and in the run up to this year’s election saw a staunch attack on ZANU-PF compared to the usual allegiance.
Traditional media, which include newspapers, radio and television has often been a trusted source of news. However, because of restrictive editorial policies, censorship and stringent laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), the media have been subject to political pressures when dealing with issues affecting the interests of those in power (Kelley and Donway, 1990). Therefore, with the information/internet age along came Facebook, and censorship has been undermined. Online communities are now sharing information. Furthermore, the decentralised nature of the Internet has allowed more information to be imparted to citizens and less gatekeeping. Thus citizen journalists saw an opportunity to become gatekeepers and watchdogs, constantly monitoring corporate and political power online, placing them under scrutiny and surveillance. This way, social media is becoming a watchdog in both the virtual world and real life, keeping governments under constant check (Chandra, 2003). Therefore, Baba Jukwa and Amai Jukwa are central to this research as they operate in an environment that is unrestricted. It is essential to note that the growth of the fifth estate has created a platform for debate and allowed the media to be free. As citizen journalists, Baba Jukwa and Amai Jukwa provided information that allowed citizens to make informative decisions on their voting choices and encouraged participation in debate and elections. However, despite the increased trust in Baba Jukwa by readers, Zimbabwean citizens still voted for ZANU-PF which is led by President Robert Mugabe who has been in power since 1980. The elections which were held last month, however, are being challenged in court as MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai is accusing the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission for rigging the election in favour of ZANU-PF (Maguji, 2013). But then later Tsvangirai on 19 August announced his withdrawal from the legal challenge because, he said, the courts were also biased and not independent. In addition, observers such as the Diaspora Observer Mission, Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, Zimbabwe Christian Leaders, Global Zimbabwe Forum deem they were not free and fair (Bell, 2013). However, it is essential to note that although citizen journalism failed to initiate change, Baba Jukwa and Amai Jukwa still continue to inform the public and create a platform for debate.
How they use the internet (Facebook)
Content analysis has shown that Baba Jukwa used Facebook to disseminate information to the public. This information encapsulated wrongdoings of political leaders who include members of parliament, ministers in ZANU-PF and the alleged operations of the country’s central intelligence organisation. The page warned political leaders who were on the hit list as the political parties campaigned. A case in point is the post in which Baba Jukwa warned that the Mashonaland Central mafia was planning to sink Guruve MP Edward Chindori-Chininga as they accused him of divulging information to Baba Jukwa. A few days after the post, on June 19, Chininga was involved in an accident that killed him (NewsDay, 2013).
Baba Jukwa exposed politicians for their covert operations and gave out public officials’ emails and contact numbers thus bridging the gap between the leaders and those who are being led, in an attempt to hold those in power to account.Baba Jukwa also encouraged eligible Zimbabweans to register to vote in the country’s elections. He used Facebook to make predictions of the election through conducting online poll surveys in which out of a total of 4365 votes, 85% supported the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) while 10% supported the Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), 3% supporting the Movement for Democratic Change led by Welshman Ncube (MDC), and 2% split between the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe Development Party (ZDP). Amai Jukwa’s prediction was that ZANU-PF would have 55% of the votes while MDC-T 36%, MDC 7% and ZAPU 2% with ZANU-PF parliamentary seats adding up to 115, MDC-T 81 and MDC 12. Despite these predictions, election results indicated a 61% victory for ZANU-PF, a 35% vote for MDC-T, 3% vote for MDC and less than 1% for both ZAPU and ZDP.
Amai Jukwa used Facebook to attack the MDC-T, western countries and Baba Jukwa. She used Facebook to inform citizens about ZANU-PF manifestos and campaign pages and messages. She helped defend, reinforce the existence and strength of ZANU-PF and encouraged people to vote ZANU-PF (which she said was the wise choice) and not be misled by Baba Jukwa. In a post on July 9 she wrote “If the MDC has nothing to hide then why did they delete the American icons on their website”. In this post, she questioned the independence of the MDC-T from western countries setting out a mindset that MDC-T was pushing an American agenda which had nothing to do with the interests of Zimbabweans. In addition, the two characters used Facebook to create a platform for public debate by establishing a rapport where freedom of speech was unlimited. This is evident in posts such as these where Baba Jukwa warned that Justice Chidyausiku and “his kangaroo constitutional court” had rejected the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s appeal to move the election date to August 14, a resolution that had been made during the SADC extraordinary summit held in Maputo. Comments following this statement stirred debate on why Chidyausiku had declined SADC’s plea.
Kizito Zimunya said:
So where is the money for the election going to come from? Does Chidyausiku know something that we don’t? …. If suddenly ZPF say they have found the money then we know for certain that it would be proceeds from the sale of diamonds. That would mean they have huge sums of money not for the development of the country but for their power grip… (Baba Jukwa Facebook, 2013).
John Tafara Madzikatire added “Away with politics always say ZANU why usingambotauri nemasecrets eMDC or ZAPU. Ah tangwara we vote for what we want and no gay rights away baba”.
Prince Jukwa Mandoo said:
The world giants are looking at a distant to see what gonna take place, for she America got fresh wounds for Zimbabwe…this is why you heard America saying with or without SADC and AU she will deploy its ammunition if peace and harmony failed to be practiced during long waited elections. (Baba Jukwa Facebook, 2013).
The above sentiments showed the differences in opinion and support for political parties and also showed the contribution of the international community to Zimbabwean politics and elections.
Amai Jukwa stirred debate which was evident in a post on July 23 where she posted a link with the heading “Sex scandals cloud Zimbabwe PM’s election campaign-Reuters”. Comments showed that people had different perspectives on the implications of sex scandals on leadership of a country thus stirring debate.
Samuel Ncube said “Your whiteman have realised that u r a womanizer nw they cant sponsor your evil deeds”.
Dumisani Xaba said “Politically Tsvangrai shot himself”.
Eshad Mavenyengwa said “The imperialists will just use and dump you like a condom… Tsvangison will just learn it the hard way. If you don’t teach your child, the world will teach him but the hard way”.
However some said sex scandals had nothing to do with leadership. Jeanna Makanaka Rinopisa said “We don’t care. We will vote for him still. Asina scandal ndiyan??? To hell mhani …”.
Recks Matamandire said “Even ZANU-PF leaders hve their own scandals some of which are worse than Tsvangirai’s”.
The above comments show varying opinion and rational debate stirred by the two Facebook characters ahead of Zimbabwe’s election.
It is also essential to note that rational debate was sometimes overpowered by irrational commentary where Facebook users used vulgar languageand emotions to air out their views. For instance, in the post made by Baba Jukwa on July 12 where he exposed SABC producer Budiriro Peter Moyo for allegedly campaigning for ZANU-PF. Responses from readers did not show rational debate but rather a series of insults. Nqobile Sikhosana said “Masendenja wena Baba Jukwa ulilema”. (Testicles of a dog you are crazy Baba Jukwa).
Senzeni Dube said “uyanya msunu kanyoko Peter who did u challenge. Hamba uyelala lezidala ze ZANU-PF bazakudabula umdidi…” (You are talking shit, your mother’s cunt Peter who did u challenge. Go and have sex with the old men in ZANU-PF they will rip off your asshole).
These comments show that lack of regulation of social media ends in emotional statements from readers as freedom of expression may be abused.
With authenticity of citizen journalists often in question, Baba Jukwa and Amai Jukwa have brought a new view to the fifth estate. Baba Jukwa made readers believe his posts by predicting deaths of politicians and predicting events and election outcomes. The two characters have created a new level of freedom of expression in Zimbabwe and Africa by challenging the status quo. Therefore, this means that although freedom of expression is essential for participation, debate, accountability in a democracy, it should be regulated to avoid irrational debate particularly on the internet. Despite the fact that the two characters use pseudonyms and that the election outcome did not turn out as they had predicted, as citizen journalists they have become a trusted source of political news. This shows that citizen journalism has the potential to become a democratising force bridging the gap between the electorate and the elected as stipulated by the watchdog role of the media. Citizen journalism has fostered public awareness and engagement and therefore is beginning to complement civil society’s role of combating corruption, enhancing good governance, and stimulating a vibrant offline and online dialogue.
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Bridgette Bugalo is a fourth year Honours student at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.