People born after 1980 have benefited little from 30 years of Zimbabwe’s independence, writes the Youth Alliance Democracy, thanks to the government’s continued failure to empower young people, rather than seeing them as equal partners in politics. Half of political representatives – from local government to the cabinet – should be ‘youths below the ages of 35, who can forward and address the youth concerns and youth mainstreaming in all national policies and processes’, the alliance argues.
As we celebrate 30 years of independence, we still await true and youth-centred democracy. Zimbabwe is one country that is failing the ‘Uhuru generation’ (youths born after independence). Since 1980 the then ruling party and various political establishments failed to politically and economically empower youths, relegating them to sloganeering and the situation has not changed with the inception of an inclusive government. The year 1980 was a bad start for Zimbabwean youths. There has been no independence on the part of the youth in Zimbabwe.
RECAPPING OUR TAINTED POLITICAL HISTORY
In 1980 the post-colonial government inherited a stable economy with a strong currency, despite the fact that the country was coming out of a protracted war and a closed economy owing to the mandatory sanctions imposed by the UN against the Ian Smith regime. Economists have argued that what was needed in 1980 was the recapitalisation of local industries, so that locally manufactured products could compete on the international sphere and attract markets. Unfortunately this need was not addressed by the Mugabe regime. Instead looting and unplanned expenditure became the order of the day.
During the 1982/3 agricultural season, there was a serious drought which caught the government unawares, despite warnings by the meteorological department. Since it had failed to adequately budget in the fiscus for the natural disaster, this saw the government struggle to cushion the populace against looming threats of starvation with little success. What was more of the blow to Zimbabwe’s economy was that the revolution began eating its own children with the inhuman and unbudgeted for military expedition that resulted in the silencing of dissenting voice in the Midlands and Matabeleland regions. The military action was uncalled for, unnecessary and ill-conceived in a country that claimed to be independent and democratic. This saw the North Korean trained 5th Brigade massacring over 20,000 innocent civilians, leaving the Uhuru generation in these areas without parents or breadwinners under looming threats of hunger. President Mugabe later confessed that it was ‘a moment of madness’ – insanity to say the least.
By 1987, owing to these economic malpractices including high level corruption – a case being the Willowgate scandal with millions being swindled from government chauffeurs – Zimbabwe’s economy was ailing. The then minister of finance Dr Bernard Chidzero nicodemously went to the IMF to seek an economic rescue package, which he was effectively given with no conditions in 1988. However this economic tranquiliser did not last long; by 1989 he had returned trying to lure possible intervention from the international body. This time Zimbabwe was advised to undergo a structural adjustment program, which became known as ESAP. This saw the privatisation of the economy, with the results being felt by workers as retrenchments became the order of the day. Inflation rose and by April 1990, it had reached 20.34 per cent; inflation was never to decline from this year. Unemployment rose and became the order of the day. Our breadwinners became unemployed and could not afford healthcare, education, food and shelter for us – the Uhuru generation suffered most.
What puzzles the mind is that in his inaugural budget under ESAP, Chidzero defended ESAP as a homegrown solution that had no links with the Brettonwoods Institutions. Even legislators at the time seconded him, including the newly established executive president of the Republic of Zimbabwe. The labour movement waged strike action against the effects of privatisation, but these were thwarted with maximum force and in typical military style, three youths were shot dead at Ziscosteel in Redcliff in 1997. The situation was the same with the student movement that had initially opposed the establishment of a one-party state during the 4 October demonstrations; the University of Zimbabwe and the various polytechnics became war zones. At this time dissent was brewing among the war veterans who felt that the struggle had been aborted, especially with the unfulfilled land issue.
The government continued on a series of economic blunders with the populist awarding of the war veterans gratuities of US$50,000 each. This money was unbudgeted for and in its expenditure was not channelled to any productive sectors of the economy but lavishly spent at the expense of the Uhuru generation that needed medical care, affordable education and meaningful employment opportunities.
With the formation of an opposition political party in 1999, human rights abuses intensified. It became ‘normal’ to abuse people’s rights. In 2000 under the supervision of the then minister of youth Elliot Manyika, the ministry came up with a document entitled the ‘National Youth Policy’ which, to save space and time in this dossier, was catastrophically imposed on youths without their due contribution. The same was done with the National Youth Service, which trained youths to be servants of the older generation and chant slogans. The Uhuru generation continues to suffer.
The economic madness of the past decade was witnessed by all and sundry as inflation rose to world peaks, voodoo economics became the order of the day as zeros and zeros were removed from the Zimbabwe dollar – but to no avail. Ours became a disillusioned generation, with little if any hope, as basic commodities became a scarcity, employment rare and worthless, while the ‘older comrades who are more equal than the others’ looted to satisfy their ever-growing stomachs.
Youths were nothing but recipients of this evil system and most found solace in migrating to other countries where they are treated as third class citizens. With this state of affairs, those who could not leave for greener pastures were caught in this oppressive cobweb and were either manipulated by the politically or economically privileged or engaged in unorthodox survival means. Those who raise(d) questions about this evil state of affairs are seen as outcasts by those who want to cling on to power till eternity. Statistics of the last decade indicate that of the 302 people who lost their lives to political violence, 78 per cent were below the age of 35. The Uhuru generation have now become strangers in the land of their birth.
This goes without saying that parliament also enacted the Zimbabwe Youth Council Act, which provides that seven members of the ZYC board are elected by youth associations registered with the national body, while eight are appointed by the minister. The question is: Is this not an expression of dictatorship by the minority over the majority? What is the logic? Is this not following a misplaced and obsolete illogic of the ‘need to guide’ youths? The continued presence of such a legal framework – which is not even in the least of the list of motions raised in parliament – is a true reflection of the generational disparities that exist even under an inclusive government.
Various civic society groups emerge(d) and face(d) a polarised and risky operating environment. It has been equally difficult for youths to enter into the political sphere owing to transitional misnomers, where – perhaps owing from the liberation Marxist doctrine – political power is gained from one’s economic muscle, yet society tactically excludes them from the politics through economic disempowerment. This is certainly at the expense of an issues-based political dispensation.
A SAD STORY
In all this political mess, youths in ‘leadership’ positions were and are still less than 2 per cent, yet they constitute the majority. Of the 2 per cent, they value(d) political party patronage at the expense of their peers. The appointments of youth in Zimbabwe to positions of authority have always been cascaded to reflect and serve the interests of the older generations.
This has equally been true of gender imbalances, where cosmetic appointments of women to positions of authority have become a norm – for youths it’s even worse as they are felt to be immature and in need of the guidance of the elders – hence the presence of the likes of Saviour Kasukuwere, a minister of youth who is not even a youth, being assisted by a 51-year-old permanent secretary. Fewer than 10 MPs from the three political parties represented in parliament and government are below the age of 35, there are no youths in the Senate or in the presidium, and just two youths in the cabinet. A larger number of employees at the Zimbabwe Youth Council are not youths, but 90 per cent of the unemployed are youths.
No wonder youths are complaining about these bodies. That is precisely why the land reform process was violent and did not benefit the ordinary youth; that is the reason for Operation Murambatsvina, the cause of manipulation of youths to perform and wage various acts of violence, the failure of the inclusive government to address the question of youth empowerment, both political and economic.
This is also the sad reality that explains why the Youth Fund in the Ministry of Youth has failed to improve the lives of ordinary youths. Not a single ordinary youth has benefitted, with the exception of those that chant the loudest slogans! This is why the youth of this country will continue to fight for empowerment, engaging a deaf old generation.
A PARADIGM SHIFT
Zimbabwe at 30 marks a new era where the youths of Zimbabwe should demand the adoption of a quota system: 50 per cent of representatives – from local government to the presidium – should be youths below the ages of 35, who can forward and address the youth concerns and youth mainstreaming in all national policies and processes. The next elections should see number of young people declaring their political interests and candidature, the political formations in this country should embrace fully the youths as candidates for political office.
The development and acceptance of youths as equal partners in politics should be, and is in tandem with the Decade for African Youth Development, 2009–2018. Participation of youths in electoral processes should not be confined to voting for an older candidate who long surpassed being a youth, but also as able and equal candidates.
Economic muscles should not be used for vote-buying and rigging elections. Elections manifestos should be concrete action plans that are not only realistic but in tandem with the economic, social and political aspirations of youth. Equally if the current constitution-making is to bring a new constitution, it can only be democratic and accepted by the youth if it embraces a quota system in governance and encourages true empowerment initiatives that are owned and managed by youths.
The cancer that was bred for the past three decades must be cured. Youths should represent themselves in all decision-making and political bodies, so that they can advocate for the redress of youth concerns, a scenario that will guarantee youth mainstreaming. This should not be done by an older generation; the impetus, mandate and obligation lies in this historic Uhuru generation.
Promises of a national reconciliation process are documented and were made in the Inter Party Agreement/GPA and an organ set up. In its composition the organ fails to realise and accept that the most vulnerable group that perpetrated and were victims of violence in the past decades are youths. The elderly who constitute this body are not youths and owing to time and material conditions and progression will not allow the organ to know exactly what the youth of this nation hold and want! This could be as a result of politics of marginalisation at the expense of national development, and no national healing is in sight for Zimbabwean youths. Again the Uhuru generation continues to suffer from past traumas. ‘Even the smallest bird can sing from the tallest tree.’
Our nation’s history has been marred by marginalisation of youths from the political playing field and only youths can adequately and promptly represent themselves.
Youth Alliance for Democracy holds firm that it is only when youths are given space to be represented by youth political leaders whether independent or from various political establishments out of a fair electoral process that guarantees that 50% of decision makers across the board are youth, 25% being young women, youth concerns can be redressed without which the Uhuru Generation will continue to suffer at the behest of the older selfish generations.
Let the Uhuru generation speak for itself and DO NOT speak on its behalf we are able.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS