YOUNG people can be powerful agents of political change, but blood-soaked politics have been a push factor that has seen youths opting to draw their lives away from politics, including participation in electoral processes.
REPORT BY PHILIP CHIDAVAENZI
Over the years, forbidding circumstances relating to voting have seen many young people eventually giving up on efforts to make their voices heard through exercising their universal suffrage.
The need to vote among young people, however, cannot be over-emphasised. The stakes are so high that a number of campaigns to sell the idea to youths are underway.
Well aware of how youths can be the deciding factor in the outcome of an election, Zanu PF has drafted a number of sugar-coated programmes to woo otherwise reluctant youths, who had felt inclined to throw their weight behind parties other than Zanu PF. These have included State-funded business enterprises.
In a snap survey by NewsDay, some youths in Harare and Chitungwiza expressed disillusionment with the country’s electoral regime, which they said discouraged them from participating in elections.
Peter Marozva of Zengeza said the last time he tried to register as a voter, he was turned down because he did not have a convincing proof of residence.
“I was frustrated, so I gave up. Maybe it’s a strategy to exclude us young people from voting,” he said.
Another youth, Johnson Hwata, said there was widespread suspicion that the youths were pro-MDC, so “the political system was designed to frustrate” them out of the process.
A number of the youths said they had never had an opportunity to attend voter education meetings and expressed surprise that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) conducted such outreaches.
John Vincent Chikwari, director of a youth election awareness and advocacy group called ZimPride, recently urged young people to register so that they could participate in the next election.
He said they had established that there was a high percentage of people in the 18-25 age bracket who were not registered to vote.
It is estimated that out of a population of about 12 million people in Zimbabwe, five million of them are between the ages 18 and 35.
“Not being on the voters’ roll is a key reason why young people are unable to vote, with many not even aware they have to register,” he said.
According to a commissioner with the ZEC and professor of law, George Feltoe, there have been concerns over difficulties young people encounter when they seek to register as voters.
“We have a duty to ensure that the process works smoothly. ZEC applies the rules equally to all. We are working in conjunction with the Registrar-General’s Office to get publicity for voter registration centres. We are also engaging in voter education to encourage people to register,” he said.
Difficulties encountered by young people in registering as voters, especially when they do not have documents such as proof of residence, have in the past compromised the integrity of the country’s electoral system.
According to ZEC, the country had 5 558 084 registered voters as of October 3 2012.
Feltoe said according to the new Electoral Amendment Act, one could use a sworn statement, such as an affidavit by a councillor or “important person” in the community as proof of residence.
ZEC extended a request to civic society organisations interested in conducting voter education to submit their details before October 9.
ZEC acting chairperson Joyce Kazembe said some bodies that wanted to work with the commission would undergo training.
The Election Resource Centre (ERC) recently released a report indicating an increasing number of challenges besetting those who wanted to register as voters.
Their findings were based on visits to some registration centres in Mt Pleasant, Kuwadzana, Mabvuku Tafara, Hatfield and Highfields.
In January this year, the Japanese Embassy donated $110 746 to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network to assist in the organisation’s voter education programme.
Japanese ambassador to Zimbabwe, Yonezo Fukuda, said voter education was a “massive undertaking” that required full governmental support and financial backing.
“We fully support your efforts to ensure that the democratic process in Zimbabwe proceeds smoothly.
“We highly admire and respect the work you are undertaking and this grant is in recognition of this,” he said.
Deputy chief elections officer (operations), Utoile Silaigwana, said political parties had a misconception that voter education was the sole responsibility of ZEC, yet they were supposed to use it to enhance their profiles and sell their manifestos to the electorate.
“The only difference is that ZEC conducts voter education that is not biased. Voters must understand why they should vote and their responsibilities. If voters are informed, it is for the good of the political parties,” he said.
Invalid votes that are often recorded during almost every election were often a result of lack of voter education, he said.
He added that ZEC and its stakeholders have since produced a voter education booklet that would be distributed to all potential voters countrywide.