Ghetto ‘wall-standing’

Counterhegemonic graffiti in Zimbabwe

Authored by: Hugh Mangeya

Routledge Handbook of African Media and Communication Studies

Print publication date:  February  2021
Online publication date:  February  2021

Print ISBN: 9781138574779
eBook ISBN: 9781351273206
Adobe ISBN:


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Previous research on [traditional] African communication systems and modes have mainly focused on the use of fire, drums, music, dance, and tribal markings, among others (Wilson 1987; M’bayo and Nwanko 1989; Orewere 1991; Bussotti 2015). In Zimbabwe, graffiti has been mainly regarded as a rural phenomenon with Chitauro-Mawema (2006) dismissing its presence in the urban space. This chapter takes graffiti as a form of mediated civic agency which enables grounded communication in various African communicative settings. Willems (2015) characterises mediated civic agency as the wide spectrum of actions through which citizens can engage power via a wide range of media forms. Zimbabwe’s urban political graffiti is distinct from its much-studied Western hip-hop–based counterpart which is mainly based on ‘bombing’ and ‘jamming’ (Powers 1999, Hookstra 2009; Morgan and Louis 2009; Ouzman 2010; Mrsevic 2012; Blomkamp et al. 2014). Inherent mobility constraints of the medium dictate that it be consumed only in situ and makes it a potent barometer of the sociolinguistic distribution of specific political attitudes. Graffiti messages therefore act as informal truncated local bulletins akin to the in-built checks and balances of African traditional political structures encapsulated by the proverb ‘a king/chief is defined by his subjects’ which ensured that power dynamics between the ruling elite and their subjects were seldom biased towards the rulers.

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