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Youth voters become important in Zimbabwe’s July 30 poll

By Tafara Mugwara, Gretinah Machingura HARARE (Xinhua) -- For Nigel Sibanda, a doctorate student based in South Africa, the youth vote in Zimbabwe’s forthcoming harmonized elections is a possible game changer on the country’s political landscape.

“In the past elections, young people, notably those in the cities, have been active in online political activism, but shunning active participation,” said Sibanda, who will be voting for the first time.

“The youths should reconsider their stand and take advantage of their numbers demographically to define the country’s roadmap. Young people have a significant impact on the electoral outcome provided that they participate on election day,” he said. “It’s time we transform online activism into active participation.”

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who visited Zimbababwe last Friday, urged people to go out and vote on July 30, saying tweeting and posting on social media is not enough.

Like most sub-Saharan African countries, Zimbabwe has a relatively young population.

According to the 2012 census, people in the 18-35 age group was about 3.5 million, constituting 53 percent of the adult population.

According to Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) statistics released in March, 60 percent of registered voters for the July 30 election were between the ages of 18 and 40.

Despite having the numbers to swing the election, traditionally many young people did not vote. The Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), an independent non-governmental organization, revealed that about 2 million eligible young people did not vote during the 2013 elections.

Archlove Takunda Tanyanyiwa, organizing secretary for Organizing for Zimbabwe (OFZ), a youth-led civic organization that focuses on mobilizing citizens for active participation in the community, said the highly polarized political environment have meant that young people become spectators of political developments due to their lack of autonomy.

“One of the major hindrances towards an informed active and peaceful participation of young people in electoral processes has been for long a lack of information to independently make a decision to choose their alternative candidates of choice,” he said.

Tanyanyiwa, who is also a Mandela Institute for Development Studies fellow, said with the current political environment, young people are likely to vote in their numbers.

“Hopefully young people will take the initiative and participate, particularly taking into consideration that the majority of registered voters are youth,” he said.

This year will be the first time in Zimbabwe’s history since independence in 1980 that former president Robert Mugabe will not be on the ballot.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, will battle it out with 22 other presidential candidates, but his main rival is 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, who heads the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance.

Mnangagwa has focused on reviving the economy and job creation, stressed that Zimbabwe is now open for business.

With Zimbabwe’s high unemployment rate, according to independent analysts, young voters are likely to pick a party that will create jobs.

“We are not asking for anything extraordinary. All I am asking for is a decent job. I just want dignity,” says 19-year-old street vendor Trynos Shayamano.

Tonderai Chinyamutenhera, a 22-year-old university student activist, expressed confidence in the current administration.

“ED (Mnangagwa) and his team will deliver. As young people, we are saying in this new dispensation Zimbabwe is open for business, under President Mnangagwa,” he says.

Chinyamutenhera said the age of the presidential candidates will not be a determining factor for young voters.

“It’s not the age of the candidate that counts. It’s what they stand for,” he added.

Young candidates have also thrown their hats into the electoral race aiming to capitalize on the youth vote.

“Young people have said enough is enough and it is now time to take charge of their destiny. Silence is no longer an option,” said Duduzile Nyirongo, a chartered accountant running for a local council seat in Harare.

“My campaign has appealed mostly to the youths. I speak the language that they understand and I have even recorded a dancehall song which I sang myself,” she added.

Another young candidate contesting for a local council seat in Harare, 21-year-old Esther Vongai Zimudzi, is also aiming to garner votes from the youth.

“It’s easier to engage them on issues that matter to us as young people and how important these elections are to our generation,” she said.

Zimudzi said that with the opening up of the political space, she hopes young people will have their voices heard. 


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