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Zimbabwe catches on to Facebook

Social networking site brings together far-flung friends, allows freedom of expression.

Impi Terblanche, 52, brought up on a farm which fell victim to President Robert Mugabe’s land invasions, runs a bed and breakfast establishment in Harare. Facebook enables him to stay in touch with customers, but perhaps more typically to maintain contact with family and friends.
“Eighty percent of my friends now live outside Zimbabwe,” he says. “Facebook enables me to share news and photos.”

Zimbabweans have become heavily politicized over the past 10 years, with those in the Diaspora taking a keen interest in the reform movement back home. A former Zimbabwean radio personality, Noreen Welch, disseminates news from her home in New Zealand, monitoring agency reports and sending them on to the hundreds of people connected to her as “friends.” There are dangers, however. Zimbabweans find, like many others around the world, that Facebook can be addictive. “Opening Facebook is the first thing many people do when they get up in the morning,” Terblanche said. He said he has “cut back severely” on his dips into the network, accessing it only after 12 p.m. and then for no more than an hour.

“It’s such an easy way to touch base with all your mates in the busy world we live in, without having to invite them all around,” said Graeme Pattinson, 42, a Harare businessman.

Pattinson, who travels up and down to Johannesburg every few weeks, uses Facebook for daily updates on his active social life. He likes to tell his friends what he’s up to on a blow-by-blow basis.

“It lets those far and wide know we are thinking about them and that they are still very much part of our lives,” he says just before having another peek to see what’s happened since he last looked 30 minutes earlier.