“They can be a creative force, a dynamic source of innovations, and they have undoubtedly, throughout history, participated, contributed, and even catalysed important changes in political systems, power-sharing dynamics and economic opportunities. However, youth also face poverty, barriers to education, multiple forms of discrimination and limited employment prospects and opportunities.”
The above statement was meant for the youth worldwide, but for me, it is as if the United Nations was only referring to the Zimbabwean youth of the ’90s.
I look back in the ’90s and see a vibrant youth that was a force to reckon with. It is the same youth that went on to be today’s leaders in most political parties, Job Sikhala, the late Learnmore Jongwe, Ngqabutho Mabhena, Nhlanhla Dube, Bekezela Maduma Fuzwayo, Nelson Chamisa, Tendai Biti, Daniel Molokele, Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga, Ellen Shiriyedenga and many others.
I am surprised Zanu PF has a few of these guys. Most of the ’90s youth went on to become leading businessmen and women, professionals and academics with a lot more scattered worldwide doing wonders while shouldering the flag of Zimbabwe.
This is how it should be with youth. After outgrowing the vibrant student protest, we reflect and see the journey they have travelled, and ask ourselves what those who came after them have learnt.
In Zimbabwe, this is the disappointing moment. Why do we always see the ’90s youth, and thereafter we don’t see our young people?
What has happened to the voice of the young? Why are they not visible in politics? Save for a very few, where is the bulk of the youth?
It is as if the country has no youth, except when some scandalous and renegade politicians want their rivals beaten, they can easily find youth to misuse and supply with a couple of dollars or cheap beer.
For example, suddenly Zanu has untouchable brave youth who are able to ban the country’s Vice-President Joice Mujuru from attending her party she joined when she was a teenager.
In our days, youth were praised and alluded as the “voice of the voiceless” and they held political leaders accountable for their decisions.
Why then are today’s youth using lent voices enabling them to scream at the top of mountains that they are prepared to die for certain political leaders?
Our young people seem to have no voice of their own to articulate socioeconomic issues affecting their future. In the ’90s, politicians scrambled to be invited and be seen addressing youth at universities and colleges round the country.
When I look around today, I don’t see many young people worth calling the “voice of the voiceless,” instead we are bombarded with youth who only emerge to fight other people’s personal wars.
Where is the “voice of the voiceless” in classrooms, lecture rooms, political parties, civic organisations? Growing up in Bulawayo which was famous for its youth programmes, few of my then contemporaries ever wanted to miss the Imbovane Yamahlabezulu and Bulawayo Agenda’s weekly debates and discussions. These organisations went on to mould most of the current young leaders in Matabeleland.
I remember gatecrashing with my cousins at one of Sobulazi Secondary School’s prize giving days because we had heard that the late vibrant and charismatic Makokoba MP Sydney Malunga was going to be the main speaker. That was how far the youth of that era loved to learn from the best.
Today, politics is empty of young participants. Youth are not in the churches. Why are young people absent in politics? Where are they? Partying, WhatsApp, Facebook or game consoles?
These modern IT communication tools should enable them to articulate their issues. If young people do not see the need to be active and address issues that affect them, who is going to do so on their behalf? Can they then hold national leadership offices?
Whom will they speak on behalf of when they cannot speak for themselves? Am I being harsh on young people when we have forced them out somewhere to scavenge for a living?
Young people should be at the forefront complaining about joblessness, lack of housing, poor standards of education, collapsing health and industrial sectors.
Their voices should be heard condemning corruption and tribalism. It is young people who should be holding national leaders accountable.
One would have thought Zimbabwe’s numerous universities would be producing a strong voice for young people, yet they seem absent. Where is youth leadership? I am not calling for unbridled and meaningless protests!
I mean young people who meet to discuss national issues, young people who when they call for demonstrations or protests, they will be listened to! Where are they?
Where are these young people who should be concerned that they are leaving universities holding beautiful degree certificates yet with no jobs waiting for them? Where are the young people who should be worried about inheriting a dysfunctional country?
Are our politicians unable to reach these young people? Are politicians failing to communicate with young people so that they bring them into politics?
Have we as a country stifled the “voice of the voiceless”? What are political parties doing without young people? What are churches without young people?
When the old generation is gone who takes over? A home without the cries of children is not blessed. Is Zimbabwe so cursed it has silenced its young people and our politicians seem not to care? We need young people in politics and in civic society.
We need them because, “they can be a creative force, a dynamic source of innovations, and they have undoubtedly, throughout history, participated, contributed, and even catalysed important changes in political systems, power-sharing dynamics and economic opportunities”.
Zimbabwean politicians need to nurture young people, give them a voice, guidance and let them be the “voice of the voiceless.” Young people should not be alienated from politics, they make the backbone of political parties, if not of every organisation. Young people should not be in politics only as tools of hatred. Young people are the backbone of every society.
They are the future of every community. Any organisation without vibrant young people has no future. Zimbabwe needs them in politics. We need them to claim our country. We need them to rebuild our country.
We must mould them to be the future leaders of this great country because the country is nothing without the “voice of the voiceless”.
The main question is how does Zimbabwe awaken its sleeping young people?
For youth to participate in politics, parties must ensure that they give them all required ingredients for involvement such as the means, the space and the opportunity and obviously, the support to involve in and influence decision-making.
This will ensure they engage in political actions and activities which will help them contribute towards reclaiming and rebuilding Zimbabwe.
Parties should have youth involvement policies specifically designed to promote youth participation in order to ensure there is an organisational and cultural environment which nurtures and respects them so as to raise their voice to be the “voice of the voiceless” and advocate for their dreams and aspirations.
They do not have to wait for someone to call them to protest or demonstrate.
Let us empower our young people by letting them gain the ability, authority and possibility to make decisions and implement change in their own lives and the lives of other people.
They speak for the present and the future while we speak for the past and the now. Young people should be given space to come up with new innovative ways of engaging rivalries in politics and in building our country.
We stand for the old and bygone while they stand for the new and the future. All political leaders and parties should aspire to support youth and allow them to pave the route to their future.
Chris Dube is a political commentator. He writes in his personal capacity