Why has Zimbabwe’s political environment become so divisive and toxic?

Kenneth Nyoka

The incendiary language rages on, on Twitter and Facebook. Threats are bandied around with reckless abandon.It is election season in Zimbabwe and all sides are in combative mode.The new breed of supporter is young, brash and intolerant.They are tech savvy and use the latest in social media to have a go at each other. They are from the two major parties to contest the forthcoming election:The truncated ruling Zanupf led by incumbent President Emmerson Mnangwagwa popularly known as ED and The MDC Alliance led by a charismatic young demagogue called Nelson Chamisa.

I have been back and forth on both forums Twitter and Facebook, to gauge the mood of both sets of combatants in the confrontational rhetoric. Participants on both sides consider their case righteous and their rivals an existential threat.Chamisa’s group are militant and quick to jump to verbally attack anyone whom they purport to be disparaging of their leader. Such is their ferocity and venom that they have been nicknamed Nerrorists.ED’s supporters seem to be more reactive and have recently become more vocal after their leader urged them to come out more on social media and batter their rivals (kurakasha) as he called it in vernacular. As a result these are called “Varakashi”.. They seem to be fewer in numbers, perhaps because the majority of young people using social media have heeded Chamisa’s call for a “ generational consensus” and seem to be coalescing around him like killer bees.

What this had seen is the development of a febrile and instantaneous political culture that rewards those with the most uncompromising distaste for their opponents. In Twitter there is already a noticeable band of the so called Nerrorists who are predictably the first to latch on to any post or article about their leader and either pan or praise depending on the palatability of its contents to them. On the other side there is the usually identifiable group of Varakashi who are religiously peddling their organisation’s cause. The general feeling is that Zanupf varakashi are outnumbered by Chamisa’s supporters on both forums.

The language used in the bellicose exchanges can be coarse and choking. Threats such as “ndokumamisa”—(I will beat you up till you defeacate) are not uncommon, whereas some refer crudely to the mother’s anatomy of their opponents. Females are often called “mahure” and many other cruel taunts. However perhaps what the belligerents need to realise is that language shapes behaviour and that we may be at that stage where the link between violence and words is closer that we think. In June 2016 a British Labour MP Jo Cox was attacked and killed in a street whilst visiting her constituents. This was a direct result of something toxic which had entered British political discourse called far right extremism.

What we are currently observing in Zimbabwe is extremism of some form which may prove difficult to bridge even after the elections. Given the exigencies of unpredictable politics in opaque democracies like Zimbabwe, there is every likelihood that a hybrid government may be formed after an inconclusive election and the erstwhile rivals may have to work together in a GNU. There is need for them to tame their running dogs forthwith.

Kenneth writes in his private capacity and can be found at kknyoka@yahoo.co.uk

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