There has been a curious flurry of memes on social media on Masvingo over the past couple of weeks. They have flooded and inundated various social media platforms depicting Masvingo and its people in a curiously strange way.
Develop me: Tapiwa Gomo
When the outbreak of memes started, most people thought it was just humour and nothing more and perhaps one of those short waves of jokes that would naturally just die in a week. But whoever was behind the memes was neither relenting and nor capitulating. It seems there won’t be any armistice until the objective has been achieved. The people of Masvingo have been caught unawares and are yet put up their defence.
One cannot be faulted for suspecting that it might be a sustained campaign. Whether it was just an organic wave of humour free of any political agenda, many questions abound. Why Masvingo and why invest so much time, effort and resources on that specific province and not others? Why only focus on the negatives when Masvingo is actually endowed with many positives. Is there something we need to know about the Masvingo meme campaign? And how far is it going to be allowed to run before it invokes the tribal nerves? How would another province — say Matabeleland — react if they were put in a similar spotlight? And let’s assume the campaign crosses lines, who is going to police it? Those are some of the challenges brought about by social media.
Masvingo is historically not one of those ordinary places. It hosted the capital of the Great Zimbabwe Kingdom, which spanned from Mozambique to Namibia and from Zambia into Mapungubwe area, the commercial centre, in South Africa. It was the centre of power for most kingdoms in Southern Africa and beyond and a major global trading partner in the region with both Asians and Europeans seeking minerals and other natural resources.
If colonisation had not altered our governance system and our way of life, today Masvingo would have been at the same level as other old, but big cities such as London, Geneva and others. But then, when the colonialists chose Harare for the capital city, the Great Zimbabwe had long been abandoned — leaving only the structure we call the Great Zimbabwe ruins today.
While the construction of the Great Zimbabwe is believed to have started in the 11th century, western-written literature suggests that the modern day town of Masvingo was founded in 1890 and the town was the first large settlement to be established by the Pioneer Column of the British South African Company (BSAC) making it the oldest town in Zimbabwe. Before and after colonisation, the residents of the province have always been enterprising — engaged in trade and are proud crop and livestock farmers.
Development brought by colonisation meant that some of the people of Masvingo, especially those in and near the towns, had access to modern-day basic services, including education long before most provinces in the country. For example, in 1904, most of the 225 African police in Mashonaland were from Zambia and Malawi, with the exception of a few from Masvingo. They would eventually be a strong source of recruits for both the army and police because of their physical structure and education.
Contrary to what is being portrayed in the social media memes, the people of Masvingo tested modern day civilisation much earlier than most parts of the country. And for that reason, Masvingo province has always boasted having the most of the educated population in Zimbabwe. With all those good qualities, it again begs the question: Why Masvingo?
As a result of the early civilisation in Masvingo, it produced some of the best political brains in the country, in both pre and post independent Zimbabwe. The likes of Simon Muzenda, the late Vice-President; Edson Zvobgo, a Harvard lawyer; Stan Mudenge a historian; Dzingai Mutumbuka the educationist; Richard Hove, Oliver Munyaradzi, Simbi Mubako, Henry Pote and others are among the luminaries to hail from Masvingo. These are just few politicians to come from Masvingo, but they also dominate in other fields as well. In the first two decades after independence, Masvingo provided more than a third of the Cabinet ministers in government.
Why then is Masvingo dragged into this social media negativity? Some have attempted to link the negative memes to the campaigns ahead of elections next year, but there is no strong presidential candidate coming from Masvingo at the moment. Others have tried to link the campaign to the internal succession drama in Zanu PF, but again none of the front runners comes from Masvingo. Unless otherwise, the target is not Masvingo, but the Karanga people then the succession drama may remotely become relevant. Whatever the case may be that level of negativity is primitive and is not good for social cohesion.
Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa