Discourses on #ZimbabweanLivesMatter: A Western World narrative


By Mutaurwa and |Dr Masimba Mavaza

This past week has seen so-called celebrities and half polished politicians jumping on the bandwagon of hashtag ZimbabweanLivesMatter, which is a focus on alleged human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Commentators have written on various media platforms that the government and Zanu PF are on the ropes and that end is nigh.

The thrust of article is to highlight how the even apparent everyday exchanges have hidden dimensions through basic use of discourse analysis. To this end, I will traverse the country’s history and highlight the insistent attempt by the colonial thieves to undermine the locals to self-rule to satiate their empty bellies and greed for minerals. I will conclude by arguing that half baked politicians and simple minded ‘celebrities’ have been whitewashed and jumped onto the Western World’s band wagon to undermine our struggle since time immemorial.

Before engaging with the salient aspects of this article, it is perhaps best to define a hashtag. Hashtags are defined as words or multi-word phrases that categorize content and track topics on social media platforms largely such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Hashtags are preceded by the # symbol and people may use hashtags to search for posts with a specific theme with quick results. The #ZimbabweanLivesMatter has been trending highly but through discourse analysis, we argue that there is hidden meaning behind this façade.

Discourse analysis at its basics is an important method for understanding key aspects of social life that is what people say and how they say it. Through examining the context of language use and not simply the words, but the nuanced layers of meaning that are added by the social or institutional aspects at work, such as conflicts, gender, power imbalance, racism and cultural background, scholars go beyond comfortable and superficial understanding through discourse analysis. As such much has been written on discourses during political debate, discourses in advertising, television programming/media, interviewing, and storytelling.

It would be very amiss not to point out that the current hullabaloo about Zimbabwe is premised on supposed socio-economic and political failures. Without even engaging with that type of discourse, we would like to remind the reader that the inanities of Black people run strongly in many White people’s mind.

I am not going to summarise the more than 800 pages of Charles Murray’ book entitled The Bell Curve (1994). Suffice to simply quote the succinct summary by the Guardian that ‘black people are more stupid than white people: always have been, always will be. This is why they have less economic and social success. Since the fault lies in their genes, they are doomed to be at the bottom of the heap now and forever’.

Needless to say, Murray’s polemic book has been critiqued strongly by some people of his race, but many have up to this day strongly supported his views in the academia, community and from political podiums. In short, the discourse of Black people’s incompetence runs very deep in the Western World’s mindset. The Bell Curve is a mere print of long held discourses on Black people and these have been propagated to perpetuate the White man’s interests not only in his homeland but also in their colonies as we will relate next with particular reference to our dear motherland, Zimbabwe.

It is well known that the African nationalists’ resolve for power was founded upon a general desire to recover identity, land and independence that had been lost when the founder of Rhodesia Cecil John Rhodes, had finessed a mining concession gained from King Lobengula, into an occupation. While the events that followed are contested, what seem uncontested from this colonial era is the discourse of the ‘war-like Ndebele’ perpetuated by non other than the colonialists themselves. To the world, the colonialists were then the knights in shining armour and attacks on the Ndebele people were just. This is a good example of how discourse analysis helps us in understanding events. However, let us take a step back.

When the colonialists engaged in mass hangings of the owners of the land, did we hear of any concerns from their brothers and sisters in the Western World? When our forefathers were forced from fertile land into arid, tsetse infested areas, did there emerge an outcry from the Western World that would equal #TribalTrustLand? We hasten to argue that this constitute discourses of silence which occurs when it does not profit an individual or organisations to raise hue and cry but to remain quiet.   

A vintage photo of a group of people posing for the camera

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It is from this background that we now relate to the waning hashtag. It is well known that governments survive by the consent of the people. Historically, governments have fallen at the whim of the populace. The storming of the Bastille in 1789 during the French revolution is a good example in this regard. Whereas some commenters have sought to stoke fires by suggesting that the gatherings of July 31 were going to follow the patterns of other revolutions, such thoughts were misguided and illusory.

The current government was dully elected by the people of Zimbabwe. The opposition party, MDC A, has suggested that the elections were stolen but strangely and bizarrely Nelson Chamisa, its then president went to court to challenge the presidential figures but not the constituent results. We are not persuaded that voters would split their votes by not voting for the opposition in their constituent but strangely voting for President Emmerson Mnangagwa as the country’s president. While this is a contested issue which I might write on some other day, let me turn back to governance by the will of the people. 

To reify my argument that government is governing by the consent of the people, I turn to the ‘events’ of 31 July. There had been a call by rogue elements supported by Western World detractors to demonstrate against the government, but the masses did not show up. I hasten to argue that should people have wished to topple or express their displeasure at the government, they would not have stayed at home. In short, the people love President Emerson Mnangagwa, they love Zanu PF and love the current government. They stayed away taking heed that gathering in uncontrolled masses impinged on WHO guidelines and the law. Even a well known opposition leader stayed home. The people of Zimbabwe knew the context behind the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter.

The Western World had seen greater and bigger things ahead ensuing from the ‘events’ of July 31 and naturally was dismayed by the non-event. Dismay was apparent from the media houses in the West in their reports of ‘bare streets’ in Zimbabwean cities. Fanning anger against an elected government, the social media went into full throttle to allege human rights abuses. As the hashtag flames ebbed, ‘celebrities’ were cajoled into joining the fray and made utterances devoid of evidence and obviously from a superficial understanding of the context of the language.

The #ZimbabweanLivesMatter came in the aftermath of the #BlackLivesMatter following the death of George Floyd at the hands of White policemen. We all know that Zimbabweans have been killed, injured and dispossessed of their property in xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Does anyone know of hashtags from ‘celebrities’ such as AKA, Lecrae, Pearl Thusi, Thandie Newton and Ice Cube to name a few who have voiced their concerns over xenophobic attacks in South Africa?

We have ignorant ‘celebrities’ and we have heard also polemic utterances from political podiums which are devoid of any understanding of the situation on the ground. Not only have these half baked politicians shut their ears to the reasons why people cannot gather in large numbers and why anyone calling for such gathering pose a threat to people’s health. I urge the likes of Julius Malema to focus on other utterances that might revive his waning political position than shout in the wind.

In rounding up this article, I wish to reiterate that the Western World has always perceived Black people as incompetent and will endeavour to derail their efforts to self-rule. There is always value in the Western World acting in this manner and will shy away from discourses that expose their nefarious activities. A recent example has been their hurried attempts to get black people away from the COVID-19 frontline in the NHS after black people’s alarming deaths despite being the minority population. Also, the current efforts to topple statues of their once revered forefathers who were slave masters and robbers is new phenomenon. The Western World knows the contexts in which to deploy discourses of silence. I am not persuaded that those who jumped on the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter bandwagon know the context of the language behind it.

In conclusion, it has been argued by other critics that hashtags will come and go and indeed this #ZimababweanLivesMatter is fizzling out very fast. However, the lesson here is that we need to understand the context of the language, look at issues of inequalities, culture, and race among other factors to understand the language of hashtags. Jumping on these bandwagons to belittle the government of Zimbabwe is no more than taking a leap in the dark.

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