Joe Ruzvidzo is better known as Joe Black from Twitter (@joeblackzw) – a platform whereon he is infamous for his hard-hitting commentary on the quality of services from network providers, to banks, to media and more. Indeed, even Harare News has not been spared his perfectionist wrath. But Joe is not just a noisemaker – he cares deeply about quality and delivery, and so in 2010 launched www.consumerizim.com – a platform for Zimbabweans to share their experiences as consumers, good and bad.
‘Consumerizim’ – clever name. What’s the idea?
Funny story, that. At first iteration, I was so very angry about the change situation in shops, so I created a Facebook page called “Citizen Opposing Change-Keeping Supermarkets”. Yes, that says COCKS. As the idea of “consumers biting back” evolved, I had always been a fan of The Consumerist blog and really the idea of US having a say in what service we get. So the idea for the site was about consumers speaking candidly to business or government or service providers, so it was Candid Consumerism. Changing “ism” to “iZIM” was a natural step, then last year I removed the candid, so it’s just Consumerizim now.
Would you say that there is a crisis in service delivery in Zimbabwe? What does this mean and how did we get here?
The crisis is real, it is massive and growing. We simply do not have a culture of accountability in Zimbabwe, in any sphere. Businesses dump waste, political figures do not have to report back to the people who elected them, except maybe at the lowest, hyper-local levels where you do see some councillors not just talking to people, but listening as well. People complain about terrible service from utilities, mobile companies, government and businesses, but as long as these chats are just between people and not organised or at a certain level where someone is forced to listen, we’re not achieving anything.
What role can Consumerizim play?
We aim to create a system where us consumers and our service providers can interface in a manner which allows and encourages problems to be solved. Too often, customer complaints are not heard, yet you find businesses touting any little praise they get. We need to instil a culture of demanding better, and know that we hold the power in our wallets to make service providers listen. This isn’t to say I’m militantly anti-business or anything – actually, I believe that having a clean, demonstrable record of listening to consumers and responding accordingly helps a business or organisation, and could play a huge role in their marketing.
What has been the response to your site since launch?
Well, the launch in 2010 was a low-key affair, and I’ve sort of been just pottering about and experimenting with it when time allows. Of course there have been limitations due to full-time work taking up my time, but I have now concentrated on building the platform and expanding the reach, using Facebook which I have neglected, and expanded to WhatsApp and other platforms to engage. We are announcing another feature soon, which I think will give us the push to provide a meaningful, life-changing service to Zimbabweans across the country.
What do you hope the future holds for the site? Will you ever try to monetise it for instance?
Monetisation is not an option, firstly I guess it’s because I personally am a control freak! I can’t imagine ever being prevented from saying something about a certain business or even censoring myself because I could lose, say, a banner advertising contract. We could seek funding for it in the future if needed, but we aim to be non profit completely. I think the value of such innovations is in the benefits to society, overall, and in the dialogue that’s created between service providers and their customers, and people in general.
In your opinion, what can the ordinary person do to improve Harare and Zimbabwe?
Speak. Text. Type out an email, say something, anything. We all actually have a voice, and need to talk about, for example, the truck dumping waste in a wetland, you know? Take a photo with your phone, refuse collection, dirty water. All those things, once they are brought to light, that is actually the first step to a solution, providing evidence of a problem. Some of our issues aren’t rocket science to fix, but we just need the power in ourselves to actually say hey, I see this problem, we need the people we’re paying to solve it, to do so.
Find Consumerizim on Twitter and Facebook and visit www.consumerizim.com to take part in the conversation.