HARARE – While Robert Mugabe and opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai may be oceans apart, they both believe the youths’ vote is crucial to winning next year’s Presidency.
For long used as instruments of political violence and repression, the country’s youths, who constitute 60 percent of the population, have emerged as the potential kingmakers ahead of the crucial polls, never mind the age differences that exist between them and their potential leaders.
Next year, Mugabe will be 94. Tsvangirai is not getting any younger as well, he will be 66.
Addressing MDC youths in the dormitory town of Chitungwiza last month, Tsvangirai said young people must go out in full force and register to vote if they are to determine their destiny while on Friday in the dying town of Marondera his bitter rival Mugabe was also selling the same message, his coated with promises of empowerment and jobs.
Political analysts and young politicians canvassed by the Daily News on Sunday said the political parties have to package their message to the youths so that it is acceptable and offers hope.
Former student leader and politician Zechariah Mushawatu, who has tried to stand as independent candidate albeit unsuccessfully in Harare East, said there is need to sweet talk the country’s youths into getting involved.
“The youth vote has the potential to decide the winner of not only the 2018 elections but future elections in the next couple of decades. However, the youth vote is currently in a state of demobilisation.
“Furthermore, youths are not a homogenous group which means it might prove costly to treat them as such and assume that they will all vote along the same lines courtesy of belonging to the same age group.
“Nonetheless, youths across Zimbabwe face many similar challenges that make it possible for political players to identify electoral promises that can lure. When all is said and done, if political players spend a lot of time and resources on campaigning for youths to vote for them without coming up with clear mechanisms to ensure that youths register to vote they will certainly be disappointed,” said Mushawetu.
An analysis of the 2013 voter’s roll by the Research Advocacy Unit (RAU) showed that only 8,8 percent of youths aged between 18 and 19 were registered to vote while only 19 percent of those aged 19-24 were registered voters. Of those aged between 25 and 29 51 percent were on the voter’s roll.
“Youths are the biggest demographic group of voting age but they are also the most apathetic to the voting process. The youth vote is like a hidden treasure locked away in a vault. It is of great value but no political player can benefit from it unless and until they find the key that unlocks the vault.
“That key is a sound strategy that will push youths to register and vote. In past elections political players have failed to find that key, only time will tell if they will do so this time around,” said Mushawatu.
But how do political parties, particularly Zanu PF, which promised the youths 2.2 million jobs reach out to the young people who are now more hooked to drugs and the social media than issues around them.
Despite an ever increasing housing back-long, an unemployment rate of 90 percent and company closures, Zanu PF youth secretary Kudzanai Chipanga claimed that the ruling party has been able to meet its electoral promises and will do even more.
“The youths will benefit from several projects that the party has lined up, in Mashonaland East, I was told Udicorp that they are almost ready, they told me that residential stands for the youths are 97 percent complete and they have done the numbering, they are producing 6 700 stands that are ready in Manyame near Chitungwiza and that will benefit the youths,” said Chipanga.
However, Afghanistan-based political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said there is need to elevate the youths than just to extend to them piecemeal concessions such as housing stands.
“All significant political parties have less than 3 percent of youths in senior positions in their parties. Regardless of youth being about 53 percent of the electorate, very few in all parties are supported by party structures to be electoral candidates.
“The patriarchal system in all political parties, literally reduce youth to young children undeserving of being voted in as councillors, MPs or president.
“All parties are complicity in their sneering of role of youth in elections. They craft barriers to youth participation in elections and limit them to campaigns, demonstrations and violence.
“Is it not a shame that average age in Zimbabwe is around 20 years, yet the average politician is 60 years?
“A country like Zimbabwe seems to have a future if you have about 53 percent of the electorate being youth, but the future is stolen by the antediluvian, as you can see our president is 93,” said Saungweme.
However, for opposition leaders like Tsvangirai, the problem lies with the apathetic youths who do not want to be involved in electoral processes.
“In our last election, only five percent of those between the age of 18 and 35 voted. I am now challenging you because you are allowing us the old people to define your future. You are outsourcing your future to the old, even to your grandfathers like Mugabe. You are outsourcing your future to that old man, what does that mean?
“Let’s not lose heart, let’s go and register to vote. On the voting day, we are not supposed to go home without casting our votes. Simply going to vote is not good enough, we must also defend our vote, we must not leave this duty to only a few, ” Tsvangirai said.
But marshalling the youths to register to vote alone could prove to be an exercise in futility for any political party, according to Dewa Mavhinga the director for Human Rights Watch for Southern Africa unless if electoral reforms are put in place before the crunch 2018 polls.
“What is crucial in the next election, as in previous elections, is the full independence, autonomy, and effectiveness of the elections management body, ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission). If, as was in past elections, there is Zanu PF partisan control of a highly militarised ZEC, then the youth vote alone with not ensure a free, fair, and credible election. In Zimbabwe it is not the number of votes that count,
“The youth vote hype must be put in the Zimbabwe context of capture electoral institutions, it cannot be analysed in a political vacuum,” said Mavhinga.
On his part, Tsvangirai along with other opposition parties has been pushing for electoral reforms but to Mugabe, the ground is level and there is no need for any reforms ahead of the elections.