Social media has transformed our communication abilities; it has essentially levelled the ‘playing field’, extended our scope and increased the speed data is shared (access and presentation). That brings along a host of unforeseen challenges; those of us on social media understand that every time we post a photo or update our statuses we are contributing to our digital footprint and personal brand.
We all show an uncanny bias when it comes to what information we take in. As a premise, we focus on anything that agrees with our preconceived outcomes. What I witnessed during the Facebook discussion of posters displayed on the match day of a football game between Highlanders and Dynamos last week was typical observer bias at work. One could easily see through the clan oriented analysis that purposely transformed data collection into bias confirmation and the transposition of self-deception into self-assurance. The distinct political trajectory between Matabeleland and Mashonaland was evident; the anti-tribalism poster attracted more Matabeleland respondents than ethnic Shona while the abusive poster formed a central part of the exchanges among ‘mortified’ ethnic Shona respondents, suffice to say objectivity was the victim.
Our biggest problem is that many involved in these discussions possess a narrow scope of interests; they have their own agenda thus, would do anything but present a balanced view. I noted with interest that within the circle of my Facebook ‘friends’, it took several hours for ethnic Shona individuals who raised concern about the abusive poster to acknowledge the presence of a separate anti-tribalism poster displayed by Highlanders fans on the same day.
Even more interesting was that while the abusive poster was rightly attributed to the individual displaying it at Barbourfields Stadium – the individual described by an influential Facebook contributor on their status update as an ‘idiot’, the originators of the anti-tribalism poster were not directly credited with their poster, instead the poster was somewhat transposed into an accolade given to Dumiso Gumede, the Highlanders Football Club chief executive officer, by the same contributor. Oversight or deliberate, that is anyone’s guess.
If that abusive poster rightly raised outrage, then praising the anti-tribalism poster ought to be seen as a compelling interest by the Zimbabwean media critics. The fact that the Zimbabwean socio-political analysts in both the traditional and online social media have chosen to highlight one poster and not the other raises serious credibility issues. The reality is that many of the media ‘experts’ are anything but objective observers for they are a by-product and in equal measure beneficiaries of political allegiances in a political space where tribe and clan matter.
What is evident is that the process of deciding what incidents to highlight and which ones to leave out is founded on bias; majoritarian tyranny continues to stifle objectivity in our socio-political discussions; the problem with a majority of our socio-political analysts is that they suffer from selective sight and hearing disorder. They hear and see only what they want to hear or see and disregard the rest.
Tribalism is inexcusable, irrespective of the perpetrator hence I will not even attempt to justify that abusive poster in my blog. That poster is simply unacceptable; hate speech has no place in society. Human beings are created equal, cultural differences, just like skin colour are just that, differences not a measure of human value. That a majority ethnic Shona government sanctioned the execution of Mthwakazi nationals should not be morphed into some justification of counter tribalism; if anything, it betrays the victims of the 1983/4 atrocities and the values of Mthwakazi founded by King Mzilikazi.
If our desire is to dismantle the narrow politics of tribal and clan identity and selective interest, let us stop being selective about the reality we are prepared to accept. Our focus should be challenging unhelpful theories of perceived ethnic superiority; construction of new values, new institutions and new visions of a Zimbabwe beyond ethnic categories must be at the apex of our new politics. Let us not get stuck in our tribal ways and risk avoiding evidence that might change our way of thinking.