Youth in Zim politics: A tale of ‘exclusion by inclusion’?

guest column:Brighton Taruberekera

THE structure that you find in all of Zimbabwe’s political parties has what is called a youth wing. Attracting young blood is probably the main reason why political parties have established youth wings. Ideally, these should be capable of addressing the under-recruitment of young people into the strategic positions within the framework of the party as well as the government (especially across the Legislature and the Executive).

The level of independence of youth wings vary but they are largely dependent on the mother party both ideologically and financially. Youth wings – as a platform for youth inclusion and representation in politics are undermined by dependence and excessive influence of the mother party which tend to alter youth input except for the purposes of ‘protecting’ those in the main structures who retain and exclusively wield decision-making powers.

The concept of exclusion by inclusion was probably best captured by Maureen Kademaunga in January 2013 when she stated that “the structure that you find in all of Zimbabwe’s political parties has what is called a youth wing … this is a strategy to keep young people content and yet far from the actual decision-making structures; that is exclusion by inclusion because the youth wing … (is a) sub and all decisions are made by the main wing”.

There are both the women’s wing and youth league in the main parties, but the Constitution of Zimbabwe is silent on the ‘youth quota”. Section 124(1)(b) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides for sixty seats to be reserved for women. This is a commendable move with regards to women empowerment and a positive move towards addressing gender disparities. However, the same Constitution does not reserve any seats for the youth who are then forced to compete with the party heavyweights who already have the financial muscle and technical backbone for a ticket to the National Assembly.

Constitutionally speaking, for one to compete as a candidate either for council or National Assembly, he or she has to be 21 and above. The other requirement is Zimbabwean citizenship.

Thus, literally, there is no legal instrument that bars the youth from contesting in their parties’ primary elections or parliamentary elections. However, because of a period of more than two decades of economic quandary our nation has found itself in, most youths have never been gainfully employed or are currently unemployed such that they lack the financial muscle and even practical experience with regard to administration and governance.

The liberalisation of party politics for youth to compete with seasoned politicians is thus not a democratic move at all. Neither is it in the spirit of such, but rather a facade of youth inclusion which is in actual sense non existent.

Admittedly, the youth do participate in politics and some youths have made it to Zimbabwean mainstream politics but for many it is largely a tale of ‘exclusion by inclusion’. In exploring ‘the tale of exclusion by inclusion’, I shall briefly explore the cases of the notorious youth outfit Chipangano, the MDC-T’s Vanguard and lastly Kudzanai Chipanga’s role in the Team Lacoste-G40 power struggles.

Chipangano
Chipangano was a shadowy group that was notorious for its crude reaction to any opposition to Zanu PF between around 2002 and 2011. The majority and probably all known members of this group were youth mostly drawn from Mbare. While it had no clearly outlined objectives, an analysis of its alleged activities suggest that its mandate included mobilising support for Zanu PF candidates in Mbare and preventing the penetration of the MDC and any other civic groupings not linked with the ruling party.

Most of the Chipangano members never managed to enter mainstream politics. Great promises were maintained as well as short-term benefits like flea markets and other opportunities which created a veil of inclusion, yet the body or grouping was never acknowledged officially by Zanu PF.

In practical terms, Chipangano was included in the Zanu PF campaigns. It unleashed violence and other unorthodox means for Zanu PF to win political power and influence.

However, in the technical sense, Chipangano was not recognised by Zanu PF in any formal or official capacity. There were by no means involved in decision making and the real power matrix. They were to be used and dumped when the desired objectives were attained. One of Chipangano chief architects, Jim Kunaka was kicked out of the ruling party in 2014 and has since publicly apologised for his past deeds claiming he had been used as a pawn by top ruling party officials before being booted out.

Order of the Vanguard
According to its leader and founder, Shakespeare Mukoyi, the Order of the Vanguard or simple Vanguard was founded in 2016 with the mandate to protect opposition MDC party members from factionalism and promote political orientation, cadreship and development.

It was part and parcel or rather an extension of the MDC national youth assembly. The group largely became popular after they staged a guard of honour for MDC Alliance president Nelson Chamisa — with military-style red and black fatigues — at a Chinhoyi rally in February 2018. It was documented that the Vanguard was involved in violent activities, especially in defence of party leadership.

Mukoyi, who was a prominent figure within the outfit, was eyeing the Kuwadzana East parliamentary seat which had been vacated by Chamisa. The Vanguard appeared to be a springboard for Mukoyi to enter mainstream politics until Chalton Hwende, a party heavyweight, emerged and wrested the Kuwadzana East seat.
Kudzanai Chipanga

Chipanga became a classical example of the extent to which senior politicians are willing and prepared to use the youth to advance their political egos as well as “testing the depth of the waters” in times of political turmoil.

Chipanga was showered with praises and when he was appointed to become the Zanu PF secretary for youth affairs in September 2016 after successfully organising the “Million Man March” in May 2016 in support of (the now late former President Robert) Mugabe as life President.

For that, he got promoted from an acting capacity to become the substantive youth league boss — with Mugabe personally inviting him to the podium to shake hands as he “anointed” him.

All seemed well with the young man and he became very blasphemous, describing Mugabe as an angel and even as Jesus’ equal.

‘He is our Messiah, just like Jesus Christ when he liberated the world. Jesus, when he came, liberated the world and when President Mugabe came, he liberated us in this age … we honour God, then Jesus Christ and President Mugabe.’

The former youth league boss was used to test the depth of the waters of the Nile with his legs only to be caught by the crocodile of guard.

‘‘I was ill-advised to read a statement which I and the youth league had not originated, neither authored. The document which I read I was handed it over by one Rodney Dangarembizi in the morning at around 8:30am which was denigrating your high office and your person,” he said in apparent reference to a letter denigrating then army general Constantino Chiwenga at the height of the Zanu PF factional wars in November 2017.

He later apologised but his masters and/or handlers were either safe, or had disappeared.

The path towards effective youth inclusion
The journey to inclusion may not be won immediately but it must start somewhere and starting has never been easy. Youth participation and inclusion should be progressively realised.

The first step in effective inclusion lies in partaking in the discourses. The Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No 20) of 2013 as we know it, is itself a product of popular discourses through the Constitution Parliamentary Committee (COPAC) that embarked on a series of outreach programmes to gather the views of the majority of citizens. The youth can claim far much more through discourses and dialogue about empowerment, engagement and involvement in community development initiatives.

Youth inclusion can also be realised by way of advocacy and the subsequent introduction of a youth quota in the National Assembly. In the same way, the Constitution of Zimbabwe (Section 124, 1b) provides for 60 women seats on proportional representation. If effective inclusion participation is to be achieved some arrangement of such sort for the youth should be incorporated in the supreme law of the land. This can only be realised if youth clamour, loud and without ceasing for continuous and effective inclusion in all sectors of the society.

Young wings in the main political parties are a noble thing any sensible party can do. These wings should be capable of addressing the under-recruitment of young people into the strategic positions within the framework of the party and the government. However, they are undermined by the excessive influence of the mother parties. This tends to alter youth input except for the purposes of ‘protecting’ those in the main wing. In doing so, the youth structures are diverted from advocating and standing for the youth. The route to effective youth inclusion can be found in partaking in discourses by way of sharing information and ideas as well as youth advocacy.

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