Salacious gossip and sometimes crude revelations, usually denigrating President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party have become the order of the day on Facebook as a social media construct, Baba Jukwa or father of Jukwa, has taken center stage in dissecting the country’s hidden past, corruption and the electoral process in the run up to the 2013 general polls.
This has unsettled some in the former ruling party. Millions of Zimbabweans use Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. With more than 80,000 followers, Baba Jukwa is one of the millions engaged in social media debates on this year’s general elections and related issues concerning Zimbabwe.
Though Baba Jukwa’s identity remains a mystery, there is no doubt that this Facebook character, describing himself as a concerned father fighting nepotism and directly linking the community with its leaders, is currently leading the debate on Zimbabwe’s 2013 elections on the social media platform – Facebook.
He is not alone as millions of Zimbabweans are on various social media platforms which have become a contested public sphere.
For Bulawayo Agenda Communications manager, Mmeli Dube, this is part of Zimbabwe’s democratization process.
"Almost everyone is talking about Baba Jukwa and other issues related to the general elections. People are really following these debates on social media platforms.It's very convenient as you just have to switch on your phone and see the whole political arena," said Dube.
He bemoaned the lack of action by state entities running the elections like the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission which are not on the social media sphere.
First-time Facebook enthusiast, Mukoma Mike of Masvingo agreed, noting that people are using social media platforms to disseminate a lot of information about this year’s expected general elections.
He said some of the information being disseminated by members of the public is unsettling several political parties.
Another Zimbabwean, Bekithemba Nkomo, of Victoria Falls believes that WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media platforms enable the public to scrutinize the country’s electoral process.
Nkomo said it is now difficult for political parties to disseminate unfiltered information at a time when many people, especially in urban areas, are moving away from the traditional media.
He believes that WhatsApp appears to be dominating the social media sphere with millions of Zimbabweans posting interactive election messages and other issues.
Critics say it is difficult to measure the impact of social media messages on the electorate though they agree that social media platforms are playing a critical role in highlighting various issues as Zimbabwe prepares for crucial polls.
According to Clifford Mashiri, a social anthropologist and PHD candidate at South London University, there is no doubt that such media have become part of Zimbabwe’s political system.
And for social media constructs Baba Jukwa and his opponent, the pro Zanu-PF Amai Jukwa or mother of Jukwa, with almost 20,000 followers on Facebook, the battle continues in the social media sphere for pocketing ordinary people’s votes in the forthcoming general elections.