Twitter is not reacting kindly to Morgan Tsvangirai’s reappearance on his Twitter account this weekend, when he said his aim for next year’s election was to remove longtime president Robert Mugabe.
Tsvangirai, 65, had not been on Twitter since May – but on Saturday posted a series of tweets from a rally in Gweru, southern Zimbabwe. What the Movement for Change leader said wasn’t anything new – “Our partners in the coalition should know our strategic objective that of removing Mugabe and his Zanu PF”, was one of the tweets.
But it was precisely Tsvangirai’s apparent lack of new ideas that got so many Zimbabweans hot under the collar.
Tsvangirai and his party have stood against Mugabe and Zanu-PF in all elections since 2000 – and there are growing calls from some quarters for him to step down or at the very least, change his strategy.
“We sick and tired of that rhetoric,” complained @revesaymutede.
Said @MosesMachipisa: “Surely there must be something beyond the Mugabe Must Go Mantra.”
@bongiemungoni tweeted: “Please Sir it’s not just that… where are the people u want to serve? Think people first!”
A former trade unionist, Tsvangirai enjoyed massive popularity among mostly young, urban Zimbabweans in the years to 2008. He won the first round of presidential elections in March of that year.
Widespread post-election violence led the opposition leader to pull out of a run-off which Mugabe went on to win.
Tsvangirai and Mugabe were then persuaded to form a coalition government. Tsvangirai was given the junior position of prime minister in that coalition – and in the four years that followed, saw his popularity drip-drip away.
Now young and tech-savvy Zimbabweans appear to be as little enamoured of the MDC leader as they are of Mugabe, 93. There is frustration over the slow moves towards the formation of an opposition coalition, seen by some as the only way to bring change to Zimbabwe.
It wasn’t just the “removing Mugabe” tweet that got some Zimbabweans on Twitter fired up this weekend.
Tsvangirai’s suggestion – on the face of it reasonable – that Zimbabwean youths “must go out and vote” also came in for criticism. @LaisiBenjy saw the opposition leader’s call as “kinda a threat”. He added: “So hapana [there’s not] any other solution for us to work besides voting?”
Others were equally scornful.
Of course, the sentiments expressed on Twitter do not necessarily reflect the feelings of all Tsvangirai’s supporters (or all Mugabe opponents).
The MDC may be pinning its hopes on the offline support for its leader that is evident at rallies or grassroots meetings.
But social media (and youth engagement) will be a key battleground in the run-up to the polls, as Mugabe and his party have clearly worked out. The Sunday Mail reported this weekend that Zanu-PF was considering how “the party could harness [the] social media reach to harvest votes from young urbanites.”
There is speculation that Tsvangirai is not tweeting for himself.
If so, he may need to change his Twitter strategy.