It is Tuesday 6PM and a group of about 125 Zimbabweans gather to discuss one of the most pertinent topics at the moment. The group is a mix; it comprises the young, old, black, white, everyday people, entrepreneurs, politicians you name it. The discussion of the evening is ‘Race relations in Zimbabwe’. Issues determined by race are some of the thorniest in the country and this group – most participants who’ve never met even met before – has gathered to share their views on it. Unlike other gatherings though, there’s one thing unique about this one; it’s all taking place on Twitter.
It’s called #263Chat and it’s a weekly Twitter discussion started by Nigel Mugamu (@SirNige on Twitter) with the assistance of other Twitter users locally. The group has discussed topics ranging from Corruption, Dual Citizenship & Voting Rights for the Zim Diaspora, to current hot issues like Indigenisation. The first #263Chat was held on 25 September and with each successive week more people have joined in the discussion.
To participate, Twitter users follow the #263Chat hashtag and they tweet their views and responses to the discussion. For those of you not on Twitter, a hashtag is simply a one word description with the hash symbol to categorize tweets. They basically make it easy to search for tweets on a topic and are there useful in following a discussion (More here).
A topic for discussion comes from suggestions by the community and once one has been selected, Mugamu tweets it days in advance of the discussion under the #263chat hashtag. Some discussions, like the one on Indigenisation last week, can have well over 600 tweets and retweets easily making the hashtag trend locally on Twitter. Mugamu says mention of #263Chat by some local radio presenters has also helped make #263Chat a dialog platform that the community looks forward.
“Dialogue is vital to me,” explains Mugamu when we contacted him recently to discuss the initiative. “We already have unplanned discussions about particular issues so I figured why not formalise it? I asked a few people around me who understand my desire for dialogue amongst fellow Zimbabweans and/or Africans and here we are today.”
To ensure the discussion stays relevant, Mugamu moderates the tweets, asking for views and basically steering the conversation. Because old tweets are hard to find on Twitter, after each #263Chat session Mugamu summarises the discussion on his blog and archives some of the tweets on Storify, a tool that organizes and preserves the tweets for others to read later.
Mugamu says #263Chat is designed to find solutions to common challenges in the country. He explains that his experience with #263Chat since it started reinforces that Zimbabweans should find solutions to their problems through dialog. “#263Chat could prove to be a useful tool for gauging the mood and people’s various thoughts and ideas.” he says and it’s easy to agree. The beauty of Twitter is that people can choose the name they want to be identified by, and this anonymity option means there’s nothing stopping participants from speaking their mind.
Will you be on #263Chat this week? Does this finally sound like a good reason to join Twitter?