By Francis Mukora
“… there is no need for me to participate in politics and elections as I know that my views and sentiments as a youth will always be ignored and nothing will change.”
In mid-2018, global attention will once again return to Zimbabwe as it holds what already promises to be a thrilling electoral battle pitting the ruling ZANU PF party and a coalition of the country’s major opposition parties. With about eighteen months before the elections, various subplots have already begun unfolding to spicy up what is being touted as a historic election. The major opposition parties, namely the Morgan Tsvangirai led Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), the Welshman Ncube led MDC and the National Democratic Party (NDP) led by former Vice President Joyce Mujuru have already agreed to field and support one candidate to challenge incumbent President Robert Mugabe who will represent ZANU PF.
While these subplots are unraveling, Zimbabwean youths, among them students at various tertiary education institutions, including the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), are having mixed feelings about the impending elections. While others are excited and see the polls as an opportunity for the beginning of a promising future, others prophesizing doom, arguing the elections will not change Zimbabwe’s gloomy situation. It is such contradictory perceptions that have resulted in high levels of political apathy amongst the youths who constitute more than 75% of the population, according to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) 2012 census results. Statistical analysis of the voters’ roll by the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) in 2012 revealed that despite constituting about 41% of eligible voters, youths constituted a measly 14% of the voters who were registered prior to the 2013 elections.
The reasons youth apathy range from mere absence of interest to lack of trust in the political processes’ capacity to bring tangible transformation to their lives. Edwin Mapuranga, a final year journalism student at NUST said he is not motivated to participate in political processes because he does not believe them improve his situation as a youth.
“Most politicians are selfish and are only bent on fattening their pockets instead of improving the welfare of those who vote for them,” said Mapuranga. “Because of all this, there is no need for me to participate in politics and elections as I know that my views and sentiments as a youth will always be ignored and nothing will change.”
Another NUST student Andrew Mandevhana echoed similar views arguing that voting will only create employement for others and not him. “Why should I vote to give someone else a job when I myself will remain unemployed,” asked Mandevhana. “With my graduation coming up later this year, I am more worried about getting a job than registering to vote because even those who voted after being promised 2 million jobs in 2013 are still unemployed.”
However, to counter youth apathy in political processes, civil society and youths organizations around Zimbabwe have rolled out aggressive voter mobilization programs targeting youths as the 2018 elections draw closer. Zimbabwe Organization for the Youth in Politics (ZOYP), a youth organization for political participation is already offering capacity building support to youths who intend to contest in the 2018 elections. “Our goal is to provide support to youths with enthusiasm and potential to contest in the 2018 elections regardless of the political party they belong to,” said Jasper Maphosa, Programs Officer at ZOYP.
Another youth organization called Organizing for Zimbabwe Trust said it is working with community based organizations including student bodies such as the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) to capacitate them to mobilize their constituencies to register as voter when the process begins and to vote from an issue based and informed perspective when the Zimbabweans go for the polls next year.
“In fact we have been engaging ZINASU and as a key player in Zimbabwe politics,” said Terrence Chitapi, Organizing for Zimbabwe Director. “They are keen to influence the direction of the upcoming elections and their position is that given the influential role that they have played in opposition politics, particularly in the formation of the MDC, they want a quota of the parliamentary seats within the opposition coalition to be reserved for former student leaders with proven political acumen”.
Chitapi also added that the students’ mother body also believes that mobilization of student voters should be an internal, peer to peer process led by ZINASU with outsiders’ role being limited to capacity strengthening.
Whatever happens from now onwards, the young people remain a key population section and whoever secures the youth vote will have an easy trip to State House and Parliament Building after the 2018 polls. The onus is now on the political parties to tap into this key constituency.