Social media ‘war’ looms ahead of polls

Nelson Chamisa

ZIMBABWE’S major political parties are planning to up the ante on the usage of social media ahead of the 2023 polls as they scramble for the hearts of voters.

Different political parties have unleashed “armies” of voluntary, tech-savvy young Zimbabweans to reach out to their supporters through different social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, TikTok and Instagram, among others.

Even the ruling Zanu PF party, which was once averse to social media, has announced plans to invade social media platforms in a big way.

According to reports published by Ookla, a statistical digital platform on internet usage, the number of social media users in Zimbabwe increased by 250 000 or 19,2% between 2021 and 2022.

Facebook is the most popular social media platform in Zimbabwe with 1,3 million users in early 2022, followed by Twitter, which is used by 232 400 users, while several millions, including rural folk are on WhatsApp.

Opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa is the second most followed person in Zimbabwe with more than 1,1 million followers on Twitter, after Muslim cleric Mufti Menk with 9,4 million followers.

Chamisa has mainly been using social media to articulate his party policies and expose violence and corruption.

CCC deputy spokesperson Gift Siziba told NewsDay that social media is an important tool for the opposition party ahead of next year’s polls.

 “As a party, we use social media to convey our messages and to articulate the alternative policies and engagements, and spread the message of change and transformation. We have been using social media to expose our opponent’s incapacity to run the country, and lastly, we use it to expose the violence perpetrated by Zanu PF,” Siziba said.

The ruling Zanu PF party is also embracing social media platforms as it seeks to counter negative narratives against its rule. It has employed tech-savvy people known as Varakashi4ED and Zanu PF Patriots to post party issues on Twitter.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has also directed his party supporters to argue with opposition critics on social media.

Latest Zanu PF central committee reports recommended that the ruling party needs to scale up its social media campaigns ahead of the elections.

“By the time of preparing this report, the Twitter page had reached 126 000 followers and our target is to reach 500 000 by 2023. The Facebook page was at 17 000 (followers) but by the time of submission of this report, it had grown to 48 000 followers. The department has been able to reach out to a wide range of people through its social media pages on Facebook and Twitter as well as the party website. We have managed to compete with other players effectively on social media platforms,” the report read.

“However, more needs to be done ahead of the 2023 general elections to ensure the party effectively harnesses social media for mobilisation.”

Media expert Farai Gwenhure said a bruising social media battle of ideas is likely ahead of the 2023 polls.

“Elsewhere across the globe, political parties are turning more to social media and the upcoming Zimbabwean election is no exception. Whoever manages to win the hearts of people through social media is likely to fare well in the coming election,” he said.

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