‘Africans may be using social media to trivialize rape’ – expert warns

by EDINAH MASANGA | Sweden

The advent of social media and the rise of memes has seen increased social contagion at a more rapid pace than before but a worrying trend is gaining ground in Africa; videos which highlight rape have been turned into memes and shared on social media in a jocular contempt which diminishes the grave injustices exposed in those videos.

A Zimbabwean communications expert, who is also a TV talk show host, is now warning that by doing this, Africans could be ‘using social media to trivialize rape.’

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Zimbabwean Communications expert Tariro Makanga

Tariro Makanga, who hosts Positive Talk TV show and is also regional head of communication and knowledge management for SAFAIDS – a regional organization working on HIV/AIDS issues – noted that a video of a gang of Zimbabwean rapists who confessed on camera had been hijacked by meme creators who went on to create jokes from its contents and circulated them on social media.

In another incident which surfaced on social media, in the same way, a school security guard in South Africa is alleged to have raped an alarming 83 girls from the same school he is supposed to protect. However, memes circulating on social media are making fun of the issue, contributing to other social media users seeing these crimes as ‘light’ and unimportant.

In reference to the Zim gang of rapists, a user named Cde Matema Nhavayebenzi Golden defended these memes on Positive Talk TV’s Facebook page saying, “we’re not trivializing rape, the gang was arrested!!!  Making memes of those boys is just a way of coping with the ‘other’ pressures associated with being (Zimbabweans)… People even make jokes during funerals so these ‘tobva tadii’ (the Zimbabwean self-confessed rapist gang) memes are just that.”

Just that, a joke, he says. But the brutal truth is that rape is no joke and should never be trivialized in that way in whatever context.

When contacted for a comment, Makanga said: “To see an issue as serious as rape being trivialized the way we are doing as Africans is worrying. How do we expect society to see how evil rape is when we almost hero worship rapists’ shenanigans? Now we hear in SA a guard at a school raped 83 girls. If such actions do not push us to act or march, then what will? Let our actions define how evil rape is as Africans.”

She continued, “We have just commemorated the International Day of the girl child. If we trivialize an issue as serious as rape, is that our way of celebrating the girl child? Adding, ” It is up to us to make the environment safe for our girls, safe from all forms of violence, including rape.”

The danger of social media as a real threat for misinformation and spreading dangerous narratives came to light in the last US election where propagandists and fake news peddlers bombarded social media with lies about Hillary Clinton who was widely seen as a sure opponent against current President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump was widely described as unfit for the presidency but these warnings were drowned by seas of propaganda which was planted on social media by forces that were opposed to Clinton’s ascendence to the presidency.

This fact was realized when it was too late. Hence this is the question Africa should be asking now, are we using social media for greater good? If we do not ask that question early enough, we may wake up to realize when it’s too late that memes and jokes about rape actually contributed to its prevalence.

Tariro Makanga is the Head of Media, Marketing, and Public Relations for SAfAIDS, a regional NGO based in Zimbabwe. She holds a Master of Arts (MA) in Mass Communication with the University of Leicester – UK, an MBA, an Honors Degree in Media Studies, a National Diploma in Mass Communication majoring in Broadcasting and is in her second year of her Doctorate in Business Administration with California Southern University. Tariro has over 15 years’ experience in creative harnessing media and information, communication technology (ICT) methodologies within the regional HIV and AIDS sector. In 2016, Tariro won the Inspirational Woman of the Year award from the Zimbabwe Women’s Awards (ZIWA) in London.