It has been a busy few weeks in Zimbabwe characterised by spasmodic waves of protests. From a group of citizens, who reminded Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko to leave the hotel, to the shut down Zimbabwe campaign by #ThisFlag leader, Evan Mawarire, the Tajamuka/Sesijikile group of youths and the #beatthepot campaign in Bulawayo. Sadly, no one seems to be listening.
Develop Me,Tapiwa Gomo
For once, in nearly a decade-and-a-half, voices of the people of Zimbabwe are getting louder. We last witnessed such protests in the late 1990s and early 2000 when Morgan Tsvangirai led the labour movement.
Hunger, poverty and pain finally found a voice even, though the system continues to respond to these by using teargas, batons and handcuffs. It is a system that is not used to hearing or talking with its people. Those in power are used to blaming every problem on someone and never take responsibility. This time, unsurprisingly and unashamedly, while Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa was in Europe begging for Western money, we were told the protests were Western-funded to pursue regime change.
If a sponsor is a factor relevant for them to comprehend the gravity of the current crisis, then the people reminded them that it is hunger, pain and poverty that is sponsoring the current protests. A hungry person needs no sponsor to express hunger. It is clear that people are tired of surviving and navigating mounting problems. The pain of hunger and poverty has become more excruciating than that of political persecution. The system can rig in other areas, but they may need to be reminded that hunger and poverty need to be urgently addressed.
Attempts to address current problems need to take into account several factors, most of which are known already, such as the economy. I will focus here on generational gap, as one of the key factors incontrovertibly vital to understand the crowd that gathered at Rotten Row Magistrates’ Court for Mawarire’s case.
Zimbabwe is 36 years old and in those three-and-a-half decades its population has doubled from 7,2 million in 1980 to nearly
14 million people in 2016. Half of the population is below the age of 19 years. Of this, 0-14 years make up nearly 38% while 65 years and above is 3,5%. These age-groups are more of consumers than producers, while the 18 to 64-year age, which amounts to 48% of population is the most active group.
However, these changes in the demographic characteristics of our country require more attention than just merely dismissing youth as agents of regime change sponsored by Western forces. There are now the majority stakeholders if not the current owners of the country. The group of people, who are part of the wave of protects, are made up of individuals born and grown approximately within the same period of three to four decades. They experienced the same life events at critical developmental stages and they share the same values, aspirations and desires for their country.
It is a generation that expects the current leadership to know their needs and to respect them for who they are.
They would be disappointed and upset when their expectations are not met. They cannot be blamed for mobilising themselves to pursue their causes. They understand each other, which is why when one of them — not matter how ordinary they are — call for a stay away, they oblige ignoring those from the 3,5% category of 65 years plus.
People power now lies in their hands because they are now the people.
What we saw at Rotten Row last week was a characterisation of the tensions between those who are part of the ageing 3,5%, who continue to occupy strategic national positions oblivious of the responsibilities they owe to the 48% of the working and productive population. Nearly half the population is held hostage by few of those, who belong to 3,5% of the population and the 48% certainly have a right to claim their stake on issues that affect them. It has become increasingly clear that this group from the 3,5% cannot create employment and build the economy for the 48%, but have been more active in the easy task of re-telling history and using force every time bread and butter issues are raised. This has been typical of most members of this generation of war, who perceive every aspect of life as a war.
The system has historically accommodated youth for political expedience rather than taking them as serious contributors to national development. And in so doing, it has successfully managed to create a youth incapable, without the presence of old-age leadership. This, in the long run, has stifled youth contribution and led to the current ruptured relationships between the two generations. The key messaging arising from the current protests, suggest one simple fact: that the 65 years plus need to take leave from national strategic positions to allow the current owners — that group that converged and stood by each other at Rotten Row — to run their affairs.
They want to stop complaining and be productive. They want to create employment for themselves and make a better life for their children. They are tired of blaming individuals from another — ageing — generation. They don’t find it relevant to spend the day and time at the court. They would rather use their time to produce for the country.
Let the young generation take charge of their affairs.