The Virtual Parallax: Imaginations of Mthwakazi Nationalism – Online Discussions and Calls for Self-Determination

The Virtual Parallax: Imaginations of Mthwakazi Nationalism – Online Discussions and Calls for Self-Determination

Brilliant Mhlanga (University of Hertfordshire, UK & National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Zimbabwe) and Mandlenkosi Mpofu (University of Oslo, Norway & National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Zimbabwe)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6066-3.ch008

Abstract

Social networking sites and the individuated privacy of the virtual space have emerged as new forms of conflating social identities and free speech for most subaltern communities. While it is clearly accepted that the notion of social networking within most African communities has always existed as part of oramedia (orality) and has gained traction by exploiting the grapevine as a notch of communication, current communication trends, coupled with the rise of new media have brought normative and pragmatic values in the latter-day communication culture. A case study of the “Forum,” a social network from Matebeleland, Zimbabwe, is used to show how the virtual sphere has revolutionised the Habermasian public sphere. A new wave of social networking sites has emerged in which participants gather through “Internet portals” and get connected through different forms of online fora. The extent of engagement and the free speech practiced therein as part of the apparent change of people's worldviews form the basis of this chapter. Subalternised groups like the people of Matebeleland from Zimbabwe, whose sensitive discourses have been denied spaces in the local public sphere, have found a voice in social networks. Different online fora exist, and they include Facebook groups such as Inhlamba Zesintu, Luveve Ikasi Lami, Abammeli Mthwakazi, Thina AbaMpofu, etc., and Websites like iNkundla.net, Youtube, and mailing lists and listservs, such as the Forum.
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Introduction

The rapid spread of the information and communication technologies (ICTs) particularly the Internet in the past 10-15 years has raised new debates about the possibilities of overcoming structural political boundaries that were seen as impeding the citizens’ autonomy in the traditional communicative spaces. New and previously unimagined platforms of communication, based on the Internet and mobile phone technology continue to emerge at a rapid pace. In today’s networked world, groups faced with challenges to accessing information and participation in political processes and those living in societies where laws, policies and the political environment hinder free communication have found platforms presented by the new media as opportunities to create their own autonomous spaces. Dispersed, migrant or diasporic groups, particularly those in developed Western societies, find themselves in environments with lower barriers of accessing technologies and platforms of communication. For these groups, the diffuse nature of ICTs and particularly the Internet offer a potential to “support new communicative relationships” and “new ways” of producing and circulating information (Mansell et al, 2007: 13).

Diasporic groups from Matebeleland1 use different social networking sites owing to unfettered access to new media and the expansion of communicative spaces and the emergent opportunities thereof. The Forum as one of the social networking groups that have emerged as a result of the rise of communicative spaces and due to access to Internet has its own uniqueness. First, it is organised as a mailing list whose membership and constitution is on the basis of origination and nativity to any part of Matebeleland. The use of personal emails has this sense of intrusion into one’s private space and has a way of breaking the individuated barriers often seen in the case of other social networks. Second, it takes advantage of the fact that most people continue to use emails when communicating and the fact that different forms of media platforms, such as, mobile phone gadgets now offer access to the Internet. Unlike in the case of twitter, Facebook, Myspace and other social networking sites, the use of grouping personal emails ensures that communication reaches the intended individuals. As will be discussed later, membership to the Forum is on voluntary basis and tends to follow a viral approach in which any member of the group can add a friend’s email address by way of responding to a particular communication thread. In this way, the Forum represents a dialogical site where participants discuss and evaluate their experiences and circumstances over the last three decades. In their study of discourses among Zimbabweans in 1990, in an older medium, the letters to the editor, Morrison and Love (1996: 40) say readers/citizens’ dialogue offer the participants a chance to engage in legitimate challenges to “central political power and its individual representatives”. Through these forms of evaluation shared values and objectives emerge giving impetus to calls for self-determination.

This chapter is an attempt to critically analyse the different discourses taking place within the Forum. And will, therefore, use critical discourse analysis as a method to engage with the issues raised in different communication threads. As will be discussed later, discourses are seen as instruments of social construction of reality. Moreover, it is strikingly acknowledged that thirty-two years after independence citizens continue to dialogue on issues of power relations, exclusion and inclusion in Zimbabwe. Further, issues of resistance to and legitimation of power will be closely analysed. As a result the following questions will be asked; are they engaged in such discourses in ways that liberate them from their circumstances? What do the participants do by engaging in this dialogue? What does it bring to them and out of them to do so, especially given they are disparate and also most are so far away from home?

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