Harare – Zimbabwe’s opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, made a surprise reappearance on Twitter on Monday and was immediately mobbed by supporters and critics.
Tsvangirai, 63, hadn’t tweeted since March 2014. That was several months after elections that returned longtime president Robert Mugabe to power.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader described the elections as “stolen” and a “farce” on Twitter in August 2013. After a handful of tweets he disappeared from the popular social media platform.
But perhaps taking advantage of the turmoil currently wracking Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, @mrtsvangirai announced on Monday, “I am here now.”
Explaining his move, he tweeted, “With social media taking over… one has to evolve or die.”
His sudden reappearance after nearly two years of silence caused ripples across Twitter in Zimbabwe.
“Great to hear from you dear leader. Twitter family missed you,” wrote @doctor283.
Said @TichRay: “Guess who’s back… Voila.” Media group @263chat informed its 87 000 followers, “Seems like @mrtsvangirai is tweeting today.”
Tsvangirai was prime minister under Mugabe for four years during a 2009-13 coalition government.
He won the first round of presidential elections in 2008 but withdrew from the second round citing violence against his supporters.
Already weakened during his time as premier, Tsvangirai’s popularity appeared to have waned since the coalition ended on the back of damaging rumours about his private life and murmurs about his big spending.
But rallies Tsvangirai holds still draw crowds wearing the party’s signature red T-shirts and caps, judging from photos of an MDC rally this weekend in Chiredzi in south-eastern Zimbabwe. The pictures were posted by Tsvangirai ally @chaltonhwende.
On Monday, Tsvangirai was immediately pinned down on Twitter with questions on the performance of MDC lawmakers, youth empowerment and the party’s strategic planning – or lack of it – ahead of the next elections in 2018.
He (or at least the person behind his handle) answered gamely, with just a hint of exasperation when he accused Twitter user @nyanyadzi of having a “narcissist vision”.
Tsvangirai does have a fairly frequently-updated Facebook page. But his posts there have been mainly confined to statements with little evidence of the kind of robust interaction Zimbabweans have come to demand of any politician who dares dip his toes into Twitter.
If he stays on the platform, he will no doubt find himself very soon up against the acerbic wit and many exclamation marks of former information minister @profjnmoyo, who recently celebrated his one-year anniversary on Twitter.
Mugabe, 91, does not have an account.