21 September 2017

Zimbabwe: Voter Registration Critical for Youths

opinion

The former British Prime Minister of more than a century ago, Benjamin Disraeli once said, "Almost everything that is great has been done by youth." Sergei Brin and Larry Page -- the founders of Google did so at the age of 25, Mark Zuckerburg founded Facebook at the age of 20, one the Wright brothers was 32, the other 36, when they invented first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft.

Napoleon became a general at 24 and the Emperor of France at 35, Alexander the Great ascended to the throne at age 20 and by the time of his death at 33 he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world stretching from Greece to India. Even if one were to look biblically, Jesus was preaching in the temple at age 12 and had completed his mission by age 33.

In the local context our leaders have a penchant for referring to the liberation struggle and the bulk of those who joined, particularly the war efforts, were young men and women when they did so.

It was Walter Raleigh, another English politician, who lived over 500 years ago, who said, "Use your youth so that you may have comfort to remember it when it has forsaken you, and not sigh and grieve at the account thereof."

This is certainly what the generation that went to the war of liberation sought to do. They used their youth to create a Zimbabwe better than the Rhodesia in which they existed.

If one were to take as truth that the future is a space in which the youth will inhabit then the responsibility exists with them to play an active role in creating the future they wish to reside in.

For the purpose of this piece one shall use the definition of youth provided in the Constitution as those between the ages of 15 and 35, however adjust it slightly focusing on those with the right to voter, therefore above the age of 18. On Monday the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission opened up voter registration for the 2018 harmonised elections.

At 63 centres around the country, ZEC officials are for the first time, registering voters biometrically, a process which is part of the compilation of a new voters' role.

Once the remaining 2 600 registration kits arrive in the country, sometime in October according to the ZEC, they will then open up more centres where people can go and register. In order for one to vote in next year's election they must be registered to do so.

In order for one to register to vote they must be eligible to do so and provide certain documentation to prove their eligibility. Documents needed to register are an ID or passport and proof of residence.

In the absence of proof of residence, one can provide an affidavit which has been authenticated by a commissioner of oaths. While there will be commissioners available at the registration sites, ZEC has encouraged those wishing to register to bring ensure they have affidavits before coming to the centre as this will help the process move faster.

Now that registration has opened, it is important that all those eligible to do so register to vote. Voting is right that all citizens above the age of 18 have as enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe. But more than that voting forms part of civic duty.

By this one means that it is a responsibility that citizens should exercise as in a normative sense, the decisions made in the voting booth pertain to how the citizenry will be governed for the next five years.

Through voting people choose their representatives at different levels and the custodians of public goods and public policy which will affect the direction of the State and those within it.

While not everyone in the State has to be a political actor, voting is a means, again normatively, through which everyone's political voice can heard and as such this opportunity should not be passed on particularly by the young.

Zimbabwe has been unfortunate in the sense that while it has a large youth population, youth participation in politics is minute. This goes for both youth in occupying political offices and spaces as well as youth voting in elections.

According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network report on the 2013 elections of the 1 213 299 eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 22 only 140 689 were registered to vote.

In the age group 23 to 29 only 669 799 of a potential 1 527 932 people were registered to vote.

This means that before voting had even begun, some 1 930 743 between the age of 18 and 30 simply did not have the opportunity to vote because they were not registered to do so.

Putting this into perspective, there is a 179 691 difference between this number of unregistered youth and the people who voted President Mugabe into office in 2013 as he received 2 110 434 votes. As we go into 2018 it should not be the case that some 70 percent of the youth are not registered to vote.

Such disenfranchisement further disadvantages young people who already have to contend with the fact that there are currently limited positions for the youth in political spaces.

Perhaps one of the reasons why young people do not occupy political offices is that there are no young people to vote them in. Thus at this stage, where voter registration has opened, the most important thing is for young people to mobilise each other to register to vote so that they can -- if they so choose and which they should -- take full advantage of the opportunity to elect their representatives in next year's elections.

The youth should realise that no one will come and offer them a seat at the political table or lead them to registration centres or voting booths. They should self-motivate and motivate each other to be participants in political processes.

Those without IDs should take advantage of the waiver that the Registrar General's office has enforced on the fee for national documents and acquire what they need. It is only through participating that the youth can have a say over the way in which their future shall turn out.

Passivity will not bring about comfort once youth has been forsaken and for those with the potential to achieve greatness as Disraeli put it, grieving over a lost youth should not be an option.

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