The Sunday News
THE evolution taking place in technology, finance, politics and economics is scaring to a young person as it is to anyone. While the introspection and thoughts of what the future holds for a young person today are happening at an individual level, there is urgency in a national conversation on what the Fourth Industrial Revolution brings and what political parties as institutions of aiding development can do.
A stubborn fact that remains is that the way young people think is totally different from what the elders think. The changes that we are seeing in public attitudes about homosexuality, identity creations, dressing and cosmo-nationalistic politics are just the tip of the political iceberg in what the younger generation is enticed to. As Bob Dylan once sang, performing to the Baby Boom generation when it was challenging the prevailing political orthodoxies in America, “something is happening here. But you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mr Jones?” Zimbabwe’s political parties would do well to listen to Dylan’s song.
There are two new generations of Zimbabweans who have entered into their adulthood, now in their late 20s, 30s and 40s, who are starting to become more influential in the electorate, and as I was wrote a series in 2017, our politics “ayinayo that thing”. Ours is always a contest of how the experienced should be discarded and the new are inexperienced. We fail to acknowledge that a fusion of generations is central to protecting our gains. When we begin to realise that our difference from the rest make us the best from them and whatever we have should make us proud.
When I wrote a piece in March of 2017, I couldn’t help but comment on the impeccable display of talent and neatly woven fusion of generations art by Nobuntu and Black Umfolosi, two of Bulawayo’s talented high culture acappella and well-travelled groups. Many high culture revellers would testify to the packed Robert Sibson auditorium. A new culture emerged in Bulawayo, we have to admit. Bulawayo began to appreciate fine art, as long as it’s worth your dollar. Undoubtedly Nobuntu — an all-female acappella group will leave you begging for more with its harmonious kasi-gospel-high culture rhythm which traps you if you are spiritual and want a touch of the almighty, yet at the same time can send you in a trance if you are a regular of konaKhero. Since then, I have fallen in love with their blend of mbube and 60s marabi reminiscence. Much can be said of the legendary Black Umfolosi, an all-male group made up of our grandfathers and fathers. A group as old as this country with its monumental “Unity” song which became the emblem of unison in 1987, to me that song not only remarks the beginning of a new Zimbabwe but the end of violence. Their show was a blend of two generations, different sexes, distinct rhythms but one philosophy; music as a tool of joy, peace and happiness. These were two generations blending to give a formidable feel to the arts industry and complementing each other with experience and skill fused with dynamism and a new harmonious appeal. Such is what our politics is still lacking; the fusion of generations to propel Zimbabwe.
Mind the gap
A new generation is coming of age in Zimbabwe and politicians ignore it at their peril. Generation Y or the Born free, as it’s been called, is expected to be as large as the Baby Boom Generation, and when the full group is of voting age, it could have as much political significance. It is a generation that has thus far shown itself to be disdainful of politics, cynical about political parties and more likely than any other age group to support third-party candidates. At the same time, these young people are engaged in the life of the community and expect to improve it. To write them off politically is to risk someone else mobilising a sleeping giant.
Political parties as key institutions in national development have largely chosen to communicate the same, older-oriented message to all voters. But young voters have a different set of concerns than their elders. Young voters’ concerns about education, accumulating wealth, gadgets, securing a job or travelling abroad are consistently one of their top interests. The young voters of Generation Y in many ways represent the culmination of years of disaffection with politics and traditional political institutions. Their grandparents or great-grandparents are the Silent generation, the electorate’s strongest partisans whose enduring ties to the Ruling Party were forged during the Second Chimurenga years and the formation of the modern welfare state. These seniors grew up at the height of civic engagement and collective community in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, banned in some streets, walking into Mozambique, the oldest of them helping the freedom fighters with food and clothes. And as study after study has demonstrated, they continue to participate in politics at much higher rates than their progeny. Nonetheless, the overall picture is unmistakable.
The view from the 20s
The nation’s youngest voters are by far its most socially liberal voters. Younger voters are also more supportive of affirmative action than the rest of the electorate and hold a more positive view of immigrants. But this liberalism is not necessarily tied to other social issues. It does not translate into more support for abortion rights, feminism or relaxed sexual mores. People under 30 are emerging to be more pro-choice than their predecessors who fought for abortion rights in the ’60s and ’70s. Unlike the X Generation, which linked many issues such as civil rights, abortion choice, women’s rights and sexual freedom into a coherent agenda, Gen Y is untroubled by simultaneous expressions of open-mindedness and traditionalism, they are concerned by the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, confused, between the anxiety of life made easier and the prospects of losing a job to a machine.
While everyone bemoans the fact that young people do not participate in politics, neither major party has done much to reach out to them besides seeing them as mere voters, and not policy makers. In the last three election cycles, the government of Zimbabwe has focused on youth through the empowerment programmes and the somehow sceptical-toned National Youth Service.
Nonetheless, it is remarkable that the Government has maintained an edge with young voters given this utter disconnection from them, but its stances on evolving rights and the environment have been fundamentally at odds with young voters’ values.