United Kingdom-based Mike Tashaya is one of Zimbabwe’s visible social media personalities. The Standard Style correspondent Nyasha Themba Dhliwayo (ntd) caught up with Tashaya (MT) — a Property and Real Estate student at a UK university — who is involved in some of Zimbabwe-UK events such as ZimFest, Face of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Fashion Showcase, among others. Below are excerpts from the interview.
the style interview by Nyasha Themba Dhliwayo
NTD: There are so many theories flying around about who you “really” are. From the horse’s mouth, what are you all about?
MT: So, I am very much aware of the many theories out there and the imagination on some of them is incredible. one even left me feeling a bit like Jack Bauer of the 24 TV series fame. In reality, I am a marketing professional based in Manchester, UK and have worked with some big corporates, as well as smaller organisations over the last 18 years.
I have, however, spent the last 10 years working as a marketing consultant via my own digital marketing agency and a web development agency. I have been involved in some of the Zimbabwe-UK community leading events like ZimFest, Face of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Fashion Showcase, as well as the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards. I’m currently studying towards a degree in Property and Real Estate at a Manchester University as I continue to look for a niche and more personal development.
I am very patriotic and enjoy the constant conversations and narratives around Zimbabwe which I suppose have contributed to my Facebook profile being so popular.
I do love my sport and my love for Liverpool FC is very well documented.
NTD: How did you end up in the UK?
MT: My parents always travelled to Europe and the UK in the 1980s in their career and leadership growth programmes. I was on one of those trips as a four-year-old and this saw me doing my preschool and some kindergarten in Birmingham. That’s when my relationship with the UK was born, I suppose. I eventually came back to the UK as a teenager to do my A’ Levels and I have been based here ever since.
NTD: Clearly, you are well-informed about events both at home and within the Zimbabwean diasporan community, across business, politics, entertainment and so on. How do you keep yourself in the loop about the Zimbabwean issues of the day?
MT: I come to Zimbabwe as often as I possibly can and I had a recent two-year stint in Zimbabwe. I have managed to establish great friendships and strategic partnerships. I try and be in Zimbabwe at least once a year. A lot of information comes to me in real time, some is from people who I share news stories with because of my bigger reach and diverse audience. Some publications even take discussions from my Facebook wall as news items on certain subjects or trending stories, which is fantastic to see.
A portion of my audience now waits for me to post on certain breaking news items to allow them to participate in what they call “fair and balanced” discussions. Inevitably, this has kept me well and truly in the loop as I get to interact with my well-engaged audience on my wall both on and offline.
NTD: Over the past couple of years, you have emerged as one of the most popular Zimbabwean personalities online. What is it about your content and discussions that you think has made your Facebook page one of the must-read online platforms for Zimbabweans?
MT: The general feedback I get is that I provide a neutral and fair platform for discussions where people can fully debate and express themselves. I have created a monster which I have to constantly feed with great content regularly. Moderating some of the heated debates is hard work and I find myself in the firing line every so often, including a case or two where I have been accused of being a cyber bully because I might not have managed to protect an audience member from an attack from other members. My patriotism has been a huge a factor too in establishing a followership and promoting anything good about Zimbabwe. There are so many wonderful things being done by Zimbabweans all over the world and I will always try and bring such stories to my Facebook wall.
I am also a proud son of Gokwe and I will always try and talk about that, especially with the known curious relationship between Gokwe [which I refer to as the “Holy Land”] and the media.
I will always respect the people who participate in my discussions and posts. I am known for “liking” every single comment that is made as an acknowledgment of their participation whether it’s a good comment or a bad one.
Recently I was nominated for a Zim Achievers Award for Male Personality of the Year and I can only assume that my social media activities have a lot to do with that nomination.
NTD: Talking of cyber-bullying, some weeks back Jean Gasho, another UK-based Zimbabwean online personality, left Facebook in a huff claiming that your followers had “savaged” her on your Facebook timeline. How do you keep interactions on your timeline respectful?
MT: The Jean Gasho situation was very unfortunate and terrible in the way it played out but I guess those are some of the spill-outs of what can be very heated debates and discussions. I have a huge following of highly intelligent followers with very good intellect who bring quality and add serious value to some of the discussions on my Facebook wall. When there have been such heated moments, I always step in and try and calm parties involved and try and direct them to the current debate. Sometimes we forget that we can’t all agree on things and the fact that we have so many different backgrounds and opinions makes for great discussions.
Some subject matters can be very sensitive at times, so the way I post or present the topic itself is very important in how it develops from that.
I also use a lot of humour in my posts in between the serious topics. I have found that humour is a great marketing and crowd sourcing tool over the last few years, we all enjoy a good chuckle every so often.
NTD: There’s always that odd direct message that gets you scratching your head! What’s the weirdest message/s you have received in your inbox?
MT: I have had two witchdoctors inbox me, one on Facebook and the other on LinkedIn with real intent to help and proposals to make me invincible and a formidable individual in all I do. Now who is going to turn down such a pitch!
NTD: What’s your take on criticisms that Zimbabweans are very vocal online, yet all this passion rarely seems to translate to meaningful action?
MT: Well, it’s an accurate criticism based on what has happened over the last couple of years and especially with the 2013 elections which seemed to have a digital element to them. We are “keyboard warriors” in most parts, but the positive for me is that at least we participate and talk about these things, it’s much better than being quiet. We continue to produce content online and activists who go out there and say what they must say. Activism in the past has resulted in some terrible results for individuals involved, so you will find that a lack of “meaningful action” is based on a clear and present danger they feel exists out there. We can’t keep accusing our people of being “keyboard warriors” when we fail to do anything ourselves to better our situations. But we should never doubt people’s passion for a better Zimbabwe because I believe it is bound to come at some point, hopefully sooner than later.
NTD: What do you miss the most about home?
MT: Even though all my siblings are here in the UK and one is in Australia, I do miss being a family the most. We do get together as often as we possibly can but it’s difficult to have everyone together at the same time. I recently lost my mother and my father is now “running solo” in his old age, which makes the idea of missing family the more important. I also miss the sun and ever smiling faces of Zimbabweans, something that no one can ever take away from us as Zimbabweans.
NTD: Inversely, what don’t you miss about home?
MT: Customer service! I always go on about this on my social accounts, it really is awful in Zimbabwe, especially on the frontline like supermarkets, government offices and so on. I don’t miss that at all and I hope that it’s something that gets to improve over the next few years.
NTD: Given the relatively large number of Zimbabweans interacting online, surely we can do more than being “Chatty Patty’s”, discussing the latest gossip. How can this traffic be commercialised and/or used productively?
MT: The way I see it is completely different from yours because I see productivity from brands and basic consumerism.
Even in the “gossip” that we very much engage in, there is some sort of customer behaviour that is included in it.
This is why Big Data and the Internet of Things have become such big business as big brands track consumer behaviour through their “likes” and “dislikes”. There is so much commercialism on our digital spaces and it’s set to grow even more.
So, let’s keep “gossiping” and creating more content for our brands to feast on.
NTD: Where do you see the Zimbabwean social media landscape going in the next few years?
MT: The digital space has well and truly exploded in Zimbabwe and the social media space is producing some great numbers now and rising. Social media for business is the one that intrigues me the most as businesses begin to completely jump in and take advantage of this great marketing technology. This first quarter of 2017 alone has seen live streaming (FBLive) come in and totally dominate our newsfeeds, from the ridiculous to the most value-laden broadcasts. So, there are exciting times ahead in how we use social media as Zimbabweans and we can’t ignore the influence they will have in next year’s elections but most importantly in this campaign phase that we are entering. Activism is big business online and will continue to be so as more people join the many platforms available to try and add their voice to the narrative.
NTD: Which other Zimbabwean online personalities have caught your eye?
MT: There are so many guys who are doing some wonderful and amazing things on our social spaces as the uptake increases. The comedy circuit is doing brilliantly well and producing some talented acts via video and that is set to grow. We are also seeing guys producing some great talk shows now and online audiences bringing in great figures. The guy who has always stayed ahead of the curve is Nigel Mugamu with the 263chat vehicle. I saw it grow from conception to what it is now and I can only acknowledge that and hope that we create more quality content creators, real voices and platforms that Zimbabweans can use.