BULAWAYO, ZIMBABWE – Pertinacious Bowden, 21, a college student, says the social networking site Facebook has completely changed her lifestyle. Her routine now includes spending three to four hours a day at a local Internet café chatting with friends and relatives inside and outside the country on Facebook.
“It is like I have been trapped in a dungeon for years, and suddenly I am thrust into the middle of an endless crowd,” she says. “Since I opened a Facebook account last year, I have met scores of friends, some of whom I had lost touch with over the years.”
Bowden also says that she has managed to connect with relatives who are in the diaspora. Before the advent of Facebook, it was difficult for her to communicate with them regularly.
“I have some relatives who reside in South Africa, Botswana, the United Kingdom and United States of America,” she says. “For years, we were not communicating. But now, we chat every day, updating each other about our situations.”
A jovial Bowden says that in addition to chatting with her friends and relatives, she uses Facebook to be in constant touch with her fiance.
“My fiance works in Gweru, a city in the Midlands province,” she says. “We used to spend a long time without communicating. All that is a thing of the past because of this new technology.”
And Bowden is far from alone. She is among the scores of young people in Zimbabwe who fill the Internet cafés throughout the country.
Young people in Zimbabwe are spending hours at Internet cafés in order to use Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family. Café proprietors acknowledge that they are busier than ever thanks to this online social network. But the trend has prompted worries about the effect of excessive social media use on young people’s ability to socialize in person, with others voicing more serious fears about delinquency. Still, many here acknowledge the potential that Facebook and other social media can have on development.
By 2010, 11.5 percent of Zimbabwe’s population had access to the Internet, according to the World Bank’s most recent statistics. That number was up from 0.4 percent in 2000.
Tamary Kanyume, 19, a recent high school graduate, says she feels lonely if she spends a day without checking up on her friends and relatives via Facebook.
“If I don’t check my Facebook account, I feel as if all my friends are talking behind my back,” the trendy and vivacious young woman says. “I go to Facebook to make sure that I know what all my friends are up to. Otherwise, I will lose all my friends.”
Kanyume says she used to spend more hours watching movies at Rainbow Theatre, a local movie theater. But now, she spends more time at the local Internet café.
Admire Muringa, 27, the manager at CSU Technologies, an Internet café based in the Bulawayo central business district, says business is booming because of the increase in the number of people using social media.
“Every day, we receive scores of young