Activism and Outrage in the Digital Age

When First Lady Grace Mugabe allegedly assaulted a young South African model a few weeks ago she probably thought nothing of it. She is, after all, a First lady and such small things cannot inconvenience anyone of her stature- or so she thought.

What happened, instead, is that the girl took to Twitter and her outrage became the outrage of thousands of people. The South African Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, who loves Twitter, had no option but to act.

A matter that twenty years ago would have been quietly settled became a global affair that complicated diplomatic relations between Zimbabwe and South Africa as the South African government tried to protect Grace Mugabe while at the same time keeping in the public’s good books.

In the end Grace Mugabe got diplomatic immunity and left South Africa unscathed but no doubt deeply shaken. And not before she became an internationally notorious figure giving rise to plenty of articles and hundreds of memes.

Even now there are some in South Africa still pursuing the matter, and in the aftermath her two sons had to leave the country and come back to Zim.

The political and legal consequences aside, this case highlighted, again, the power of social media.

Social media is cheap, instant and vast and the consequences of messages on social networks can be monumental. The Arab Spring, Fees Must Fall and other movements show what social media can achieve.

And closer to home the likes of Fadzayi Mahere and Evan Mawarire rode on social media popularity to launch political careers. At the same time the same social media takes the likes of Grace Mugabe to unprecedented infamy.

In the digital age there are no small crimes, no “big fish” and no small causes.

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