Social media has transformed the way we communicate; information is quick to gather and spread, and the context even quicker to lose. It would be foolhardy to deny the fact that social media is here to stay, and it does have an impact on the political space of Mthwakazi. What we can argue on however, is the effectiveness of the transference of what happens online to the ground.
The social media invariably gives voice to anyone willing to engage and the impact varies according to how one engages. Given the social media has changed the way we communicate, but is it changing how we think about what we communicate by any stretch? In short, is social media shifting our political perceptions and conduct? From a political perspective, we want to appreciate if social media has objectively changed the way we do politics, or it is simply an additional tool that helps us express our politics, and does so with lesser restrictions compared to the traditional media?
The debate often raised within Mthwakazi centres on how effective the virtual world is in expanding the Mthwakazi political traction on the physical world. There are those people who argue that the virtual world has no bearing on the physical world of politics; in other words, social media discussions do not bear relevance to the physical world events. This is debatable; the view is rightly or wrongly based on the perceived lack of progress on the ground in the pro-Mthwakazi agenda.
Perhaps the challenge is for us to adjust our expectations from social media activity to physical world application. We need to realise that the virtual and physical worlds are governed differently, hence the transference of ideas from one to the other is not always as straight forward as our impatient selves often want. This however, is not to say it is impossible to instantaneously move from the virtual world planning to physical world execution; we saw the effect of the Trump tweets in the US elections in 2016. We need to plan well for an almost seamless transition between the two worlds.
I believe there is progress on the ground, but that cannot (for understandable practical reasons) keep up with the virtual world speed. You need access to data bundles and a compatible gadget, set yourself up on a social media platform, e.g. Facebook, create a political group and give it a name, add members, you are sorted, but the physical world operates on a completely different set of rules.
The debates and activities we engage in on social media are in themselves essential and informative but are no substitute to face-to-face disciplined transaction. We must separate the two, and while we accept there is a relationship between the two, let us be realistic in our expectations of what and how much can be transferred from the internet to the physical world for now. Our handicap is the limited access to the technology in most rural areas.
Arguably, social media offers unprecedented opportunities for everyone, including the marginalised, in our society to be heard. Indeed, thanks to the social media, we are holding often constructive debates on sensitive subjects. Through the social media Matabeleland has been able to openly discuss Gukurahundi atrocities, something unheard of just less than a decade ago! However, the same platform offers limitless space to anyone to share in and spread hate and abuse with little to no reflection.
Nothing separates the virtual world from the physical one more than the facelessness of the former. The virtual world does not only allow individuals to express opinions in a flash but allows them to do so with little to no consideration of the emotional impact while the latter world places emotions at the fore of the social transactions. This partly explains the rather slow shift in political activity on the ground compared to the rapid movement of the virtual world.
Earlier in the article I questioned whether the social media has changed the content of our politics. I believe, while the volume of information and speed with which that is shared has increased and the scope has widened, the quality has of itself not changed significantly. Our political space remains misogynistic and a domain of privileged social classes; there is no genuine political effort to include women and the ordinary citizen to meaningful roles beyond helping men and their associates to power; the language used within the platforms remains barbaric and tribal, and everything else that we ought to be fighting against.
I do not want to be drawn into making an unfair comparison; the social media and the physical world are not the same, they offer different opportunities, and used correctly, they are complementary. I believe Mthwakazi needs both the social media and the physical world platform to advance our political agenda. We need to plan the logistics of transforming our virtual world dreams to their ultimate physical world application.