15 October 2013

Zimbabwe: Youth in Politics - Bulawayo's Youngest Ever Councillor

In a society like Zimbabwe's, where age is revered and youth is merely tolerated, very few young people have been able to make headway in the political arena. This is what makes the new MDC-T councillor for Ward 1 in Bulawayo an interesting anomaly. Mlandu Ncube is only 26 years old.

Since he was a teenager, Mlandu Ncube knew that he would be in politics. His family suffered heavy losses during the Gukurahundi, and issues of justice have always been a concern to him. The Gukurahundi refers to a period of brutal repression of the Ndbele ethnic group by North Korea-trained government troops, in the early 1980s - an estimated 20,000 civilians were killed.

Ncube remembers his mother recounting tales of how his grandfather shouted out his will to his family, as he was buried alive by the Fifth Brigade soldiers.

"I started politics at high school," he says, recalling the time when he was suspended from school for distributing political flyers.

His mother was one of the founding members of the oppositional MDC, and she was a ward officer at the party's inception. One time she enlisted Ncube, his siblings and friends to distribute MDC flyers at their school. But that ended with him shortly detained by police, and suspended from the school at age 15.

"The headmaster at my high school was a war veteran, so opposition party material was a no-go," he explains.

Council in need

Fast-forward a few years. Ncube is now a councillor with lawmaking responsibilities. He credits the MDC-T leadership for coming to realize that a young person who understands the youth should represent them in council. He ran on an MDC-T ticket and won the seat on 31 July.

Ncube joins the council at what is perhaps the worst time to be in the opposition. These are difficult financial times for the municipality. The Minister of Local Government, Ignatius Chombo, decided to scrap all the bills owed to municipal councils countrywide.

The diminished revenue stream has left the council unable to carry out its normal functions. This was largely seen as a populist move in the run-up to the 31 July elections and as something meaning to benefit senior politicians who owed the councils the largest sums. It also comes at a time where the city also receives very limited revenue from its various properties, because previous councils leased them out to private businesses.

Social responsibility

Ncube believes that the council should reclaim its properties, and use them to empower young people.

"I think the biggest problem our community is facing at the moment is the problem of youth unemployment," he says. "If we could find ways of ensuring the security of older employees and convincing them to retire, then young people can get more jobs, also in the council. The council can as well use its facilities to foster community work, entrepreneurship and innovation."

The young councillor identifies the need to have park areas where local companies can invest in local football teams. "In my life as a politician," he says, "I have realized that the young people who help out in the community - at funerals and other functions - are usually those who are engaged in some clubs, whether social clubs or sports clubs. We need to cultivate a sense of social responsibility in our youth."

Process of healing

For the longer term, Mlandu thinks that what Zimbabwe needs as a society is a sincere process of healing.

"We can't have justice going forward into the future until we deal with the legacy of our past. Many of our young people have inherited tribal hatred that is unfounded. There have been injustices by people from all walks of life. What we need is a fair and honest conversation about seeking justice for the people of Zimbabwe," he says.

Age is just a number

Asked whether it has been difficult to be taken seriously as a politician at such a young age, Mlandu says: "Age is just a number, my friend. If you say what the people believe and you express what they want, people will listen to what you say, and not your age. They will not care how old you are. They will vote for you. You can never go wrong as long as you remain in touch with the grassroots."

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