Zimbabwe: Youths Demand Larger Stake in Politics

"I HAD always been committed to the armed struggle, and moreover, as the leader of the youth, I was the obvious choice. For the youths are, after all, the lifeblood of the army: it is the young who do the fighting."

These were the words of the late Zanu PF firebrand Edgar Tekere in his book A Lifetime of Struggle, capturing the role of the youths in national politics.

Tekere spent his youth in detention and was imprisoned for 10 years until his release in December 1974, together with President Robert Mugabe, Enos Nkala and the late veterans Ndabaningi Sithole, Maurice Nyagumbo and Morton Malianga.

The youths have been at the forefront of political change in the country since the colonial era and have radically changed the face of national liberation movements in most African countries.

Likewise, Nelson Mandela, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the late John Chilembwe, Kenneth Kaunda and Mahatma Gandhi assumed leadership positions at relatively young ages.

In Zimbabwe, the youths have had a chequered if not infamous role in the political and socio-economic affairs of the country beginning with the communist-style Zanu PF youth brigades of the 1980s.

The problem however, is that the aging political elite do not see the youths as future leaders, but rather as an apparatus for staying in power by using them in their political campaigns which are sometimes violent, mostly for token benefits and false promises.

With crucial elections looming, youths across the political divide are now demanding a bigger stake in parliament.

In keeping with the words of 18th century French poet Victor Hugo, "nothing else in the world, not even a great army, is so powerful as to stop an idea whose time has come." Zimbabwean youths believe that their time has now arrived and no power, least their parties' policies, would stand in their way.

As a result, political parties in the country are struggling to contain the youths' demands.

MDC-T youths have even gone to the extent of demanding a quota system that would ensure they are represented at every level of the party.

"We demand a quota system along the lines of gender parity system and our leadership should be aware this is our right," said MDC-T Youth Assembly national secretary for information Clifford Hlatshwayo recently.

"We are not declaring war; this is a youth national council resolution. We will persuade our leaders and tell them a peaceful and smooth transition in the future can only be realised if the youths have practical experience now."

Hlatshwayo said youths are arguably the most visible demographic group in the run-up to any election, but account for little in terms of representation and only a quota system could redress this anomaly. In Zanu PF, moves to inject new blood into the structures are likely to further widen the party's factional cracks as youths' parliamentary aspirants are currently pushing for wholesale leadership renewal, fuelling divisions with the old guard which still prefers the seniority and hierarchical approach.

"The party is up for a rude awakening and the politburo has to come up with a good strategy to vet and consider the new young politicians," said a Zanu PF official who spoke anonymously.

Youths, according to Zimbabwe Youth forum national co-coordinator, Wellington Zindove "refers to those within the 18 to 35 age -group as stipulated in the African youth charter which Zimbabwe recently ratified." However, this age group is not strictly observed with some above 35 claiming to be youths.

Zindove is upbeat over the youths' demands to contest in the next elections.

"The next election will be crucial because, for the first time in the history of this country, we are likely to see a new crop of youthful politicians," Zindove said.

"This is a way of protest by the youths who have been used as pawns for a long time by the politicians without getting much in the way of tangible results," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe recently lambasted politicians for manipulating the youths and using them to hold onto power.

"It is a pity that politicians in this country do not see and value the youth as partners in development, but tools for political violence," said Khupe."The youths should wake up and turn against anyone who wants to use them as pawns in the dirty game of political violence. These old and tired leaders do not have an eye for tomorrow," Khupe said.

The forthcoming elections would be crucial in the sense that they are likely to usher in a new wave of youthful politicians.

With the likes of youthful Information and Communications Technology minister Nelson Chamisa having proved to the young generation that they can be leaders, it remains to be seen how many of them would be bold enough to battle their parties' old guard in primaries.

But changing dynamics wrought by the draft constitution may be a stumbling block for the youths' political ambitions across the political divide. With the draft constitution stating that the "senate will comprise 80 members and six from each province on proportional representation," the majority of senior politicians are likely to revert to contesting as members of parliament.

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