What online audiences and offline communities think about the use of social media as a platform for activism was the focus of research done by Ms Francisca Nyaradzo Nhongonhema for her Master’s degree in media and communication.
Nhongonhema, who studied through the Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS), faced hardship and challenges on her journey to being awarded the degree. ‘When l began my studies in 2019, my father had just been diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer, and I had just started a full-time job in Zimbabwe as a radio producer/presenter – my lifelong dream – but l had also been accepted to study at UKZN,’ she said. ‘So, I had to sacrifice something – l resigned from my job to pursue my Masters as l had funding through the Cannon Collins scholarship.’
She also struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic but continued with her studies. ‘In May 2020, my partner and l decided to get married and later that year l discovered l was pregnant and I was often ill,’ she said. ‘Studying in my situation became difficult.
‘Then my partner, who had previously been based in Europe, was asked to return overseas so that meant moving – a thousand miles away from home and my degree still incomplete,’ said Nhongonhema.
Her father died and she struggled to come to terms with it. ‘I was a thousand miles away, eight months’ pregnant, and borders closed because of COVID-19 which meant no travelling back home for my father’s funeral. I watched it on a WhatsApp video call.
‘I eventually went into labour – while my husband was out of the country – and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.’
She later returned to her studies at UKZN assisted by her supervisor Professor Lauren Dyll who she describes as very patient and encouraging. She also managed to get back home to see her father’s resting place and be with family once again – ‘it was like a breath of fresh air.’
Nhongonhema submitted her dissertation and was overjoyed when she received news she had passed. She dedicated her degree to her late father.
In her research, she used Doubt Chimonyo’s Facebook campaign against child sex work in the high-density community of Epworth in Zimbabwe. ‘Zimbabwean activism is migrating from physical activism to new media platforms,’ she said. ‘There are also obstacles in the way of Zimbabwean people using social media, including the digital divide and retrogressive laws stifling social media use.
Nhongonhema believes her study contributes to the understanding of the perception of social media activism within the complex specificities of a high-density community within Zimbabwe.
She says her findings reveal ‘that political campaigns have more potential to create resonance offline unlike social campaigns, such as the campaign against child sex work. Considering that the campaign set out to involve the Epworth adult community in finding solutions to curb child sex work in the area, the choice of an online platform is questionable as it effectively excluded the Epworth audience thereby rendering the campaign unsuccessful.’