‘Lol—kkk—ha ha’, the dividing laugh of us Africans

By Nyasha Bhobo
The picture shows an African immigrant in South Africa and his Whatsapp screen.

Lol—kkk—ha ha’, the dividing laugh of us Africans

As a writer one of my daily routines involves going through my social media platforms, to read and find out what goes on in the world around and beyond me. Well I could not help, but notice some interesting social media “traits” (as I will call these). We laugh differently from country to country in Africa on jokes, speeches or casual discussions about everyday events on Facebook and in Whatsapp groups.

Kkkkkkk…..in the country of my birth “Zimbabwe”, represents a hearty laugh over a joke or any other matter. Every Zimbabwean, either at home or abroad in Europe or North America writes kkk as a digital way to express a laugh. We understand that social media lingo.

It was just a few weeks ago, when the unexpected retirement of Liz Truss as prime minister in the UK, that I deeply understood something, “I used to assume that saying kkkkkkk means every African friend reading my Whatsapp or Facebook message on social media would automatically know that kkkkkkkk means laugh.”
How wrong I was.

As soon as the silly news from the UK filtered in , there were social media friends in Nigeria, the most populous country on our continent. Friends in Nigeria were writing ‘Wahala’, which I wrote back in my Zimbabwean lingo kkkkkkkk. My Nigerian friends went cold and did not reply, until I realized they do not understand that kkkkkkkkkk means “laugh”. In fact to them – ‘Wahala’ is how they laugh on WhatsApp or Facebook chat rooms .

My curious discovery on the fact that we Africans do not write laughing with the same social media lingo brought me to South Africa, a neighboring country of ours and the most industrialized country in Africa. ‘hebana!’ a South African responded to news from the UK. I quickly replied kkkkk. They went cold, unable to decode the bloody laugh from me – until I realized ‘hebana’ is our neighbor ‘s way of typing laughs on social media – not my kkkkkk.

All these social media styles have the same meaning: “they express shock in a sarcastic manner. I am not necessarily talking about Liz “Mrs. Liz Truss”, the former UK prime minister.” I am just talking about Social Media Language “SML” having some discernible qualities and characteristics, which in this case differs from country to country here in Africa.

If you scroll through a Whats-app group chat consisting of several Africans from different countries you will be quick to notice a ‘kkkk’ mostly coming from “Zimbabwean” group members, that the geography of digital writing which sells out one’s Zimbabwean identity merely by noting laughs printed as kkkkk
Zambians, who are our neighboring countries to the north.

I noticed that they prefer to type ‘ha ha’ in response to a ridiculous situation. I have always wondered why my Zambian friends usually go cold, and do not type back fast whenever I write our Zimbabwean kkkkk. Now I understand ha ha ha is the Zambian way of laughing to steam off a silly situation, whereas for us Zimbabwe to type ha ha ha means we are not really laughing at a situation or a person, but we are mocking them. Perhaps that’s why typing ha ha ha by us Zimbabweans is a bit sensitive.

I then casually asked one of my Zimbabwean colleagues why she types ‘kkk’ on writing on social media and her answer was simple. ‘I only have to press a single letter because I am not a keyboard warrior’. ( ‘Keyboard warrior’ is a term used to describe people who interact more on social media than real life).

Does all this detail matter though on Whatsapp platform? Probably how one laughs would in a certain way give you an identity ? I would know this twitter comment is from a Zambian twitter user by a mere ‘ha ha’? From my typical Zimbabwean perspective, I would naturally expect a 55 year old to reply to me with a ‘kkk’ more than I would expect a ‘lol’. This goes beyond age, its culture. For me to type ‘lol’ in a family group chat, that would in a way come out in a misunderstood manner, and last time I did that, I immediately received a call from my mother asking why “ I was forcing myself to laugh in a family group’ So you see, how my mother’s brain has been wired towards a certain type of slang being disrespectful and how where one comes from can limit what you can write and how you should write it? She is definitely not the only one who feels that way towards certain Whatsapp terms, a company whats-app group I happened to come across clearly states that only words like noted are to be used to maintain professionalism!

All this being said , does the way I laugh on Whatsapp impose something on me as a human being? Food for thought!

Internet slang is a new language with innovative and novel characteristics and cannot be separated from the world. It has become a culture of some sort hence the notable differences involving its use.
Well – what did I say again? Kkkkk.

11 November, 2022