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When Facebook won’t bury you


We buried Mbuya Mashonga one warm May afternoon on the outskirts of Dangamvura in Mutare.

Hundreds of people turned up both for the church service and the burial itself.

It was interesting to see the scramble to get on the provided transport that was taking mourners to the cemetery.

This was clearly a woman who was loved by the community in which she lived.

As I cast my eyes across those present it seemed like the mothers and fathers of my youth were all there.

Indeed earlier two of the women had chided me, “Kana wasvika kuno ukwazise vamwe. Tisu vana mai vako” (when you visit here make sure you greet us.

We are your mothers.” With a mother at every corner is it any wonder for over a century some folk always failed to understand when every couple of months a worker asked for time off to bury his grandmother? “How many times does your grandmother die, Maphepha?”

Now for the hundreds of thousands of our people in the Diaspora their sense of community is largely built around the social networks. Most of them are on Facebook, a few on Twitter and others on LinkedIn.

Everyone abroad and at home seems to have a mobile phone and so they keep in touch via sms. So on the surface then it seems all is fine because most of us are connected.

But technology will never supplant the value of meeting people in person, shaking their hand, giving them a bearhug, looking them in the eye or just raising your glass and saying, “Cheers”. I should know because I am one of those that seem to spend their entire life online.

On the other side is my Sekuru who is always at every family-related event — awards, weddings, birthdays, funerals etc.

He finds time to do that whereas some of us are caught up in the pretence of thinking we are so critical to the world that if we stop to greet people human civilisation as we know it would be under unprecedented threat.

We think Facebook and wiring a couple of dollars or pounds home will do the trick. But at some point in our lives (normally rather too late) we shall realise that the most important things in life are not what we had been chasing.

At the funeral I reconnected with real people — Lyndon, Percy, Job and others, and also managed to have a real conversation accompanied by real handshakes.

That might sound absurd to you but it was important to me as I live in a place where I don’t know the names of my neighbours.

When I was growing up I was taught that you asked your neighbours for some salt not because you did not have any, but so that you could meet and get to know each other.

But this is not the culture of some folk.
At the same time it seems the Diaspora is generally more comfortable exchanging pleasantries on Facebook than stepping out and building real communities.

In saying this I should add that there are some good examples of how Zimbabweans are using Facebook to organise themselves meaningfully.

One Facebook group that fascinates me (I suppose it is because it speaks to the world I grew up in) is called Dangamvura Chete.

Let me describe the group and its kind of conversations to illustrate a few points.

The Dangamvura Chete group describe their township of origin in the Manicaland Province as follows:

“Munezhu via Natvest (Dangamvura). A location we grew up in with all sorts of fun, full of rich, entertaining incidences you can mention to bring back the golden old days . . .

We stay too far from town and it encouraged us to be wiser and organised. God bless the Pool ‘Dangamvura’ and its people all over the world . . . Socially it’s quite a good place with pubs in nearly all sections of the city a culture quite popular with all city councils ‘a cow ready to milk’.

What lacks are sports fields, we need an Olympic-size stadium, pool and any other facility you might think of fellow club members.”

Who qualifies to be a member? Interestingly, the group is closed, meaning it is an invitation-only affair. Most of these members are now living outside both Dangamvura itself and Zimbabwe.

What kind of conversations do they have? The group thrives on nostalgia. More importantly, it brings people together and therefore fosters collective memory.
Below is an example of a conversation started by one member:

Morzies Mustapha M: Was just thinking, we cud set up a Dangamvura Trust, which will look at some requirements of our hood, sporting facilities, health club, HIV/Aids programme, children’s home, old people’s home etc.

If we are game we can get inputs from those on the ground (ie those still staying in D’vat), then we put a committee in place, then give a bit back to the community that made most of us who we are today. Can we discuss this?

In response Eddie M wrote: It is a gr8t idea & a very sensitive 1. How are we going to meet obviously dis is not gonna b discussed on Facebook & frm de luks of it we are all ova de wrld. We mst make it wrk mayb frm branches in different places.

Houston R wrote: Way to go, bro, I want in
. . . How can we all meet and form this group guys . . . Moze, this is a goood idea, let’s give back to our community . . . It made us who we are today by the way . . . Judith G wrote: Let’s try people, good idea . . .

Having gone through the trauma of dislocation, there is a growing sense in the Diaspora of wanting to find a role in the rehabilitation of Zimbabwe.

Now that, for me, is the kenge part — to step out of Facebook and build a country. After all, kumusha (home) is where we will bury you. Not on the Internet.

Chris Kabwato is the publisher of

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