ARE you angry that you don’t have a job and access to services? Are you angry that poverty and suffering have become the order of the day? Are you angry that you seek your government’s audience and none is coming?
This communique my fellow youths, recommends the serious interrogation and critical rethinking of structures, processes and mechanics of engagement regardless of our gender, religion, political persuasions in the Zimbabwean policy formulation and implementation landscape. Zimbabwe is ONE and we are ONE, so admittedly, the 2018 election is a watershed election for Zimbabwe.
Whatever the outcome, a major question that needs serious interrogation is what is there in the election for the young people of Zimbabwe? There is a bigger picture that needs looking at. What does victory or defeat for the contesting political parties imply for the development or underdevelopment of Zimbabwe?
Our serious interrogation that is not closeted by partisan politics, narrow-mindedness, bankruptcy, acidity, aridity and rigidity is sought in addressing these pertinent questions. Whether we like it or not, politics is an integral part of our lives. Politics is an essential feature of human organisation and permeates through all levels of society. We might not see the maths politics creates in our everyday life for our future.
Why the Youth?
We are the future of this country and are worthy in terms of our strength in numbers.
WHO IS A YOUTH?
I wish to say that the concept of “Youth” is a well-known concept but its definition still remains very ambiguous given our political, intellectual and social attachments. It is often perceived, according to generations, cultures, interests and geopolitical locations. According to ZIMSTAT figures for 2013, Zimbabwe has a young age structure, with 76.5% of the country’s citizens less than 34 years of age and 35% of the population falling between ages 15-34.
The demographics of our nation show that the age group 18-35 years far surpasses the other age groups in Zimbabwe but young people are so bad at voting, yet it is our future at stake. The cohort though live under constant fear in a highly polarised environment compounded by shackles of patronage from a repressive system that shows no remorse or concern for the suffering masses at the lowest level of the strata.
However, the Zimbabwean youth represents a demographic challenge instead of a demographic dividend. The bulge is a serious issue with negative socio-economic consequences. The table below illustrates the low participation of Zimbabwean youth in the 2013 general election.
Registered Voters in 2013
A deliberate decision by the Zimbabwean youth to shape the political landscape in Zimbabwe is the answer to all our prevailing political and socio-economic problems. By the mere fact of our numbers and deliberate peer group influence, a conscious and deliberate effort by the youth of today to say no to anarchy and theft by those in power will sort out the inherent mischief in all politicians to play fair and uphold their constitutional mandate and obligation.
It is very evident that investing in the young generation of today is a way to harvest tomorrow’s peace, democracy, stability, security and sustainable development. We are a potential tool for change, the pillars and drivers of sustainable development. But the question is - do we know what we are worth? Do we know our rights and responsibilities? As a youth reading this, do you know what is expected of you as a citizen?
My heart crashes when I see potential put to waste and faith being misplaced. The most disgusting feeling I get is when I encounter young people who are under the impression that things are bad and we just have to get by, there is nothing we can do to alleviate our plight/situation. We cannot afford to look disenfranchised, dejected, disinterested about our future, unbeknown to some if not most of us, a lot lies at stake. Whether we blame it on the broken system - we do not seem to understand we are also a part of that very system.
The youth have been overrepresented as a nuisance, outgoing, violent, pleasure seekers, energetic and agents of change. Many narratives of the youth have painted them as a category that has no direction and in some literature they are depicted as harbingers of social disruption and anarchy. For long, youths’ voices have been silenced through state sanctioned political vigilantism and state sponsored terror raids. The youth are analysed in relation to HIV/AIDS and political violence and all forms of negativity.
I hereby present four sad realities to help unpack wherein lie the curse of the Zimbabwean youth to provoke and elicit a reaction among young people to register as voters, especially targeting first-time voters.
Lost Decades of Despotism (1980 – 2018)
Unprecedented economic performance decline for the past 37 years; Mugabe and his ZANUPF thieving crooks have ransomed this country for their personal gain, plunging the country’s economy into comatose repose. A disempowering greedy regime, the slovenly type that lives off public property and is rather preoccupied by political survival and the maximisation of gains from political office while embarking on a genocidal proclivity to silence the dissenting voices.
The water is full of typhoid and cholera, roads have more holes than Swiss cheese, graduates are selling airtime, and all the industries are gone. Heck, we don't even have any currency of our own. They have sacrificed democratic principles for personal interests and show no concern for the suffering masses at the lowest level of the strata.
Zimbabwean youths remain trapped in a cycle of political violence and economic crises that is polarising communities and rupturing relationships. To that effect, it is ever more imperative to identify the vulnerabilities upon which our plight as the youth lies and act to rectify that.
Dangerous Drug Problem
Zimbabwe is under siege from a drug culture that is spiralling out of control, destroying countless lives in its wake. By and large, the effects of poverty and unemployment caused by this ghastly pandemic threatens to give rise to a generation of violent, disinterested, languid, perpetually high and unsavoury young people concurrently unemployed and unemployable.
The delinquent practice of youths drugging themselves numb to ever deteriorating circumstances has become more of an aid to survival as if using drugs is a legitimate response to their hopeless prospects in a situation that just doesn't care. Asked about it, most young users will reply "saka manga muchida kuti tiswere tichiitei?" meaning "What do you expect us to spend the whole day doing?"
Drug addiction is the worst pitfall one can succumb to, especially in Zimbabwe where rehabilitation centres where people can get help are non-existent. Luckily, for the out of touch shefs, they can afford to keep their children out of these destructive exigencies by shipping them abroad meanwhile oblivious that thousands of the poor are silently being ravaged by the drug abuse pandemic.
Patronage and Corruption
As the Mozambican president, Jacinto Nyusi once pointed out, “African Heads of State have, by and large, institutionalized states with at least two classes of citizens; the first class being those citizens who also happen to be members of the ruling party and the rest who chose other associations different from the ruling party having a de facto status of second-class citizens”.
Zimbabwe is a classic example where decisions concerning young people are derivative of the attitudes and wishes of the older generation. Patronage and corruption are at the highest point now and fast becoming the norm rather than the exception. They have become the albatross slung around our necks while our government officials are busy enriching themselves, forming parasitical networks of economic cartels and protégés corruptly feeding off the nation’s resources.
For how long can we afford ourselves the sad luxury of relegating ourselves to second class citizens who survive on the crumbs thrown at us by a greedy, unscrupulous, deceitful, and ruthless political leadership?
Our plight is not helped either by the rampant nepotism manifesting in every sector of the country. Zimbabwe has become a harbinger of escalating human insecurity due to its indulgence in gross impunity and marginalization of its own citizens. Herein lies the critical nexus between human development and human security that has mostly affected the youth population both from rural peripheries and urban metropolis who are the window of hope for the continent.
The sad reality is that the youth have no control over that; we are powerless, have been dis-empowered by the aggregation of national politics that have relegated us to the murky waters of isolation and disillusionment as the system continues its roller-coaster endeavours and machinations to defend its otherwise questioned legitimacy and authority. This is just about the right time that we wake up and smell the coffee and figure out how to reject unorthodox means of participation that supports the elite and negate a significant constituency to the dustbin.
95% unemployment coupled with 75% Youth Dependency ratio
Thousands of tertiary graduates are currently glorified educated loafers and beggars while the government is busy shutting out any meaningful and gainful employment opportunities. When we compromise and start vending, restrictive policies are put in place. It is a clear sign this government has a deliberate agenda to impoverish and pauperize us.
While our learning institutions are good and produce a ‘learned’ society, they don’t produce a balanced educated community to project their future in a world of diverse cultures. Normally a sound education is a passport to a better life. The current system is out of touch with the needs of young people, as evidenced by an unemployment rate that has plummeted to above 95%, placing youth, especially women at a major disadvantage at all levels of society.
Should we sit down and let them turn us into poor, naked, hungry, sick mongrels in our own country? Millions of young Zimbabweans have no hope for the future and nothing specific to do today and tomorrow when they wake up. Faced with the paradoxical situation of educated but jobless youth population, we need to look ourselves in the mirror and seriously interrogate the non-availability or hence the disappearance of the promised 2.2 million jobs.
The mantra of hunger and unemployment is posing one of the most turbulent distractions to mainstream global issues. This is a common yet under reported occurrence mostly because it only involves poor young people whose voices are easy to ignore and whose lives are at risk anyway to the incessant exigencies of being poor.
There are various reasons - our upbringing. Since kindergarten we are taught to focus on our schooling right, pass our exams, find a job, get married, have children, and work until we drop dead with fatigue. Our brains are trained to follow this path and thus we are conditioned into process driven creatures.
As if unemployment is not enough, the demographic dividend realisation is further hampered by a rise in numerous sexual and reproductive health challenges that young people are facing. It is understandable that a healthy transition to adulthood lays the groundwork for a healthy adult population, a factor that is so critical to realising the demographic dividend. Healthy people are more productive, bringing greater resources and income to families and higher levels of economic growth for nations.
Although Zimbabwe has really succeeded in making sure that young people and everyone else who is HIV positive lives positively and indeed many are now leading productive lives, the prevalence of HIV among young people is still worrisome. Sub-Saharan Africa is the epicentre of HIV/AIDS epidemic in the world 24million.
In 2016, roughly 31 million people were living with HIV, accounting for nearly 70 percent of the global total. In the same year, the region recorded an estimated 1.6 million new HIV infections and 1.2 million AIDS-related deaths. Zimbabwe currently accounts for 1,4 million people living with HIV and 744,000 are on Antiretroviral treatment. Young people are the worst affected.
Is there hope for this country?
With the above-mentioned scenarios, its suffice for the Zimbabwean youth to put the foregone into a more localised and personalised context and evaluate your personal situations as we approach the 2018 elections. Since the unpacked scenarios show a youth population under siege, it is high time we do some serious soul-searching and ask ourselves what we can do as young people to rise above this and establish our own values, values that are in line with a future we want to see?
Given the foregone, yes if the youth are involved in the democratic processes for the country. The above scenarios can only change for the better if the youth can define a template for leaders to come; leaders who respect the electorate such that when elected they become servants of the people who elected them into office – leaders who endeavour to deliver the political, social and economic goods for the present and future generations.
It is true that some of the damage done is irrevocable but still the system is fixable. Yes, together we can weather the storm as powerful and diabolic as the current system that has left a trail of death and destruction. The crisis in Zimbabwe has virtually affected all the sectors in the country that is the economic, social and political sectors. We the youth of today are perfectly capable of addressing these challenges, but lack enthusiasm. History is going to judge us harshly if we continue to turn a blind eye to this very precarious situation.
All that is necessary for evil to prevail is that we stand aside and do nothing about it. We always cry not for what we would have done but more for what we would not have done. Oftentimes, we might feel frustrated and hopeless but this is not the time. Nobody liberates themselves by their own efforts alone, and neither are they liberated by others. If we want to challenge the current unequal power structures, we need to be conscious about our own role as youth and doubly as citizens, we need to be able to analyse political realities and articulate our collective vision for the future we want.
It is our patriotic and democratic duty to take measures that limit democratic erosion/breakdown and whimsical arbitrary manipulation of power from tyrannical and coercive domination that promotes individual interests at the expense of broader societal economic and socio-political goods.
What we need is a unity of purpose be it students, preachers, vendors, vendors, touts/mahwindi whether Ndebele, Shona, Tonga, Venda, black or white we are in this together. I hereby make a call to bridge gaps between all forms of classes and discrimination existing among young Zimbabweans across the breath and length of the country so that no one is left out of the democratic revolution to reclaim our nation.
The power to positively promote, express or influence the course of the election as individuals and as a collective engagement of people lies within our grasp. There are some things that are not for sale, because they are priceless; one of them is exercising your democratic right. YES, we are in this together to make Zimbabwe a better place for you and me. A Zimbabwe founded on the principles of the supremacy of the Constitution, fundamental human rights and freedoms, and recognition of the inherent dignity and worthy of each human being.
Let us rescue our dreams and Zimbabwe from total collapse come 2018 watershed election. Rigging is only possible where people stay away from polling stations. In other words, to decide not to vote constitutes RIGGING. The power of change is in our hands, THE TIME IS NOW: YOUR VOTE IS YOUR VOICE: GO AND REGISTER TO VOTE.
The time for the Zimbabwean youth has come to stand tall and be counted for mother Zimbabwe expects us to rescue her. Who am I and who are you to abscond when democratic duty calls? That twinkle in your eye or that passion you once had about your potential and your future must come back as we reclaim and exercise our democratic space as the Zimbabwean youth in our country.
You and I are responsible for that. I reiterate that it is impossible for Zimbabwe to create a modern democracy side by side with a thriving economy without your participation as a Zimbabwean. I have the faith because far beyond my imagination lie my dreams. There is so much to be done and I truly believe that the good young men and women amongst us with honourable intentions will prevail and that our beautiful Zimbabwe will recover.
We have come a long way and our prospects are in disarray but we must remember that in any country, youth represent the future. The youth of Zimbabwe, united in the name of developing our country and the safeguarding of a brighter tomorrow can revolutionise Zimbabwe. It does not matter who you are or which political opinion you hold in as long as you are Zimbabwean, we are in this together, to make this country a better place for us to be, together we can do it.
This might seem an insurmountable task of rather unconquerable Goliath proportions but my message is simple: Take responsibility: Register to Vote, Go out to Vote on Ballot day and DEFEND YOUR VOTE after Voting. There is a proverb that says you can’t clap with one hand. To clap, you have to bring both of your hands together. In essence, what it therefore means is that together we can be the change we want to see in Zimbabwe.
One cannot ask others to sacrifice if he/she is not ready to do so themselves. Let us use our past and present challenges as an inspiration, rather than a handicap. We are all foot soldiers, one struggle-many fronts. Let us save our country, save ourselves and build our future starting today. The onus is on me, the onus is on you, the onus is on us. What can unite us as Zimbabweans more than anything is our love for this country and non-violent direct confrontation. We are all foot soldiers: one struggle many fronts.
I call on Zimbabwe’s young people who are so bright, sharp with magnificent analytical minds to show that despite the limitations and shrinkage of democratic space, it is high time that we, as young people, captured the moment to be much more responsible and accountable. The social media is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding. We need to start reconnecting in different spheres and platforms both online and offline to share information around us and seriously begin organising ourselves towards our commonalities as a cohort.
We cannot rely on the benevolence of those in power; we need to take power through the constitutional and legal framework. And it is about time! The Zimbabwean youth is angry and hurting. Their socio-political, economic and moral standing is weak because of injustices and exclusion done to us. My voice is in, for far beyond imagination lie my dreams.
Be your brother’s/sister’s keeper and spread the message to Register to Vote, Go out to Vote on Ballot day and DEFEND YOUR VOTE after Voting. The democratic process is a cause which we must all commit to because the cost of indifference is just too much. I am Proudly Zimbabwean. I am angry and hurting too, I am young and I want to live! Zimbabwe deserves better.
Lastly, if you are not enraged then you haven't been paying attention!!!
Alfred Towo writes in his personal capacity. He is a freelance journalist and Zimbabwean youth. Can be contacted at the following email address firstname.lastname@example.org or 0775265509