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Rewriting history: Youth Day

Opinion & Analysis

READING the national State-controlled daily paper this week was interesting. There is the big question of the Robert Gabriel Mugabe National Youth Day. Going by the report, very few would know whom the late Mugabe was as he was scantily mentioned in both the adverts and articles in the paper.

Mugabe was at the top of Zimbabwe’s political table since the 1950s. He was in the political party starting with the National Democratic Party, the Southern Rhodesia Africa National Congress, Zapu and Zanu. He became independent Zimbabwe first black premier in 1980 and served 37 years at the helm until his removal via a coup in November 2017.

Mugabe is paRrt of the young black leaders who were at the coalface of fighting for independence since his mid 20s. It can be safely said he was there for a cool seven decades in different shades, but mainly remembered for his nationalism and scientific socialism.

Mugabe was fond of four main things: land, education, health and labour. While his success may be debatable, it is hard not to see his success within the first two decades in these aforementioned areas.

Mugabe tremendously increased primary and secondary schools’ enrolment, opened vocational training centres, maintained polytechnics and founded new State universities to complement the University of Zimbabwe.

On health, he built hundreds of rural health centres and all primary health services were free. Immunisation for children was stepped up and eradicated most of the diseases that increase infant mortality.

Mugabe also changed the laws on employment that favoured whites and introduced the equal pay laws and maternal benefits for working women. He also introduced minimum wages for many shop floor workers that were in sync with the economic environment and above all encouraged the setting up of trade unions.

It is also a fact that he cared about the youth. His first cabinet after independence attest to it. There should be no debate that a healthy, educated and trained youth is good for development. Mugabe even initiated the 21st February Movement for youth and went ahead to establish a Presidential scholarship that was tenable at universities in South Africa, including his alma mater — University of Fort Hare.

After all this, Mugabe was a footnote in this year’s National Youth Day commemorations. Only two ministries — Local Government and Transport and Infrastructural Development — that in their adverts gave the day its appropriate title. Only one parastatal — Airports Company of Zimbabwe — also got the holiday name correctly. It cannot be a coincidence that all the ministries got it wrong. They were plainly and deliberately erasing Mugabe from history.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa did not do much better and failed to harness the national mood. In his speech, Mnangagwa only mentioned Mugabe in one line and in passing.

True to his history, Mnangagwa did not miss the opportunity to be partisan. He thanked the youth for voting Zanu PF in the August 2023 general elections.

“True to your pledge, you defended our independence, unity and peace, and rejected the opposition and its handlers. Takavasvasvanga (we beat them). Takavarakasha (we massacred them). Well done, well done youth of Zimbabwe,” Mnangagwa said.

He was in a bellicose mood and in the same stride gave a subtle warning to the West and the LGBT community in Zimbabwe.

“Musanyengedzwa netsika dziri kuparadza vamwe kunze uko (don’t be misled by foreign cultures that are destroying their countries), nenyika dzavo. Rambai makamira pahunhu hwedu (remain rooted in our culture),” Mnangawa said.

This simply dovetailed into Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s statement warning youth that they cannot apply for university scholarships that are being offered by the LGBT community organisations. 

It would be interesting to relook at what Unicef said last month during the International Day of Education commemorations about the state of education in the country.

Unicef country representative Tajudeen Oyewale said: “Only six children out of 10 aged three to five are enrolled in pre-primary education, and an estimated half a million children of primary and lower secondary school age are out-of-school, and this data reminds us to continue to work together under the leadership of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to address the challenges that keep children out of school.”  

The situation is further worsened by the low pass rate at Ordinary Level. In the November 2023 Zimsec Ordinary Level examinations, only three out of 10 students who set for the exam passed with five Cs or better, including English and Maths. This is beyond frightening. Many Ordinary Level students are left with nothing to do as they do not qualify to go to Advanced Level or go to a tertiary institution. They are only good enough to join the long queue for menial job seekers or slave yard – informal sector.

In short, they join the generation of the uneducated, untrained and unemployable. Read the three loaded words again — uneducated, untrained and unemployable. This is beyond sad.

These are the matters Mnangagwa skirted. He was thinking power and happy that he has it. It did not bother him that even numbers of students at tertiary institutions dropping out because of ever escalating tuition fees is getting higher with each passing year.

It may be important to bring in Russian political theorist Vladmir Lenin to strengthen submissions. He had an important question to the Russians in early 1900s in his thesis, What has to be done?

Zimbabweans needs to change their behaviour. We should be united. Every other State occasion should be seen to be embracing everyone in our diversities and addressing national issues. Lenin asked again: “If not now, when? If not us, who?”

These are the questions today’s youths should grapple with like Mugabe’s generation during their youth days. What is it they want for Zimbabwe now and in the future? Who should do it for them? They must rise to the occasion or simply they will become a statistic that had no vision or desire for anything.

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