IT was in December last year when I met a young man in Epworth, one of the poor suburbs located on the edges of eastern Harare.
By TAPIWA ZIVIRA
In the middle of the crowd that had come to watch dancehall star, Winky D, perform at a public concert to encourage people to register to vote, and to participate in elections peacefully, the young man just stood there while everybody else was dancing around him.
He wore a black hoodie that partially covered his head, as if he was hiding from something, and his body looked stiff, seemingly transfixed by the thrill of Winky D’s performance.
His eyes, partially open, and focused on the stage, somehow betrayed some kind of sadness and his dry, ashen mouth never seemed to ever smile.
I walked up to him, tapped him on the shoulder and asked if I could have a word with him. He told me his name was Edward, and he was turning 19 the following month.
One of his hands was in the pocket of his jacket, and in the other, he held a white little piece of paper. It was a voter registration certificate.
“I just registered to vote,” he told me, his voice sounding like the shrill of an insect, as he shouted into my ear to beat the loud music from the stage.
He took one look at the slip, cracked a weak smile, took one deep breath, and continued to stare at the stage.
Time and again, he would repeat the same motion and the way he held on to the slip made it look like his life depended on it.
“I heard Winky D was coming to register to vote here and to encourage us to do the same. I love ChiGafa, and his music inspires me, so do his words. That is just the power of his music in my life,” he told me afterwards, this time managing to smile, as he was sipping what he called his favourite opaque beer.
“I drink this to drown my sorrows, as my parents could not afford my university fees.”
Edward was one of the over 100 youths who registered to vote on that day, and he now makes the over 60% of youths that have registered to vote in the 2018 elections.
This is compared to the less than 50% who were on the voters roll before the 2013 elections.
While a lot has been attributed to this trend, it is with no doubt that some of the strategies used, especially by the local non-governmental organisation, the Election Resource Centre (ERC), largely influenced the youths to register to vote.
According to ERC communications and advocacy officer, Tatenda Mazarura Mhike, during the course of voter registration, the organisation facilitated 107 road shows, and working with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), which facilitated mobile registration centres at the roadshow sites, managed to get an average of 500 people to register per roadshow.
At these roadshows, music, especially Zimdancehall, played a crucial role, as it is the youth’s favourite. When the dancehall artistes performed and encouraged people to register, it must surely have pushed the number of youth who turned up at the Zec registration centres.
Mhike said apart from getting people to register, their general voter education reached over 600 000 people a massive figure considering that this is a non-governmental organisation complementing the work of Zec, which disappointingly failed to employ similar aggressive methods to reach out to potential registrants.
In addition to using the power of live music at roadshows, ERC also had voter education jingles that had Zimdancehall musicians, notably Winky D, encouraging people, especially the youth to vote.
That is the power of music, and if history is to be written, and research is to be conducted, and theses are to be written, then 2018 elections will, with no doubt, be concluded, as the election when Zimdancehall was the sound that influenced the youth to be part of those deciding the country’s future.