The strikes against them
Many youth have left the country to scrounge for jobs in rich neighbouring South Africa and beyond. Zimbabwe, blessed with abundant minerals, has over 90 percent of its adult population unemployed.
Those who remain have joined the vast informal market where they trade in miscellany, such as phone airtime recharge cards, cell phone handsets, clothes while some wash cars for a small payment. But even in that, they endure daily police harassment for illegal trading.
Zimbabweans who go to university tell their own story. Many promising students have dropped out for failing to meet tuition fees. It's not uncommon for sex-starved, moneyed older folks to prowl university campuses looking for disadvantaged youngsters.
Not unrelatedly, HIV/AIDS is now common among college students. At over 13 percent, Zimbabwe's HIV/AIDS infection rate is among the worst in the world. The pandemic is wreaking havoc on the future of its youth.
With elections on the horizon, 2013 could prove a pivotal year for Zimbabwe. But how much hope is there for a generation struggling to free Zimbabwe from Mugabe’s oppressive rule? RNW spoke with Blessing Vava, a human rights blogger frequently heard on national radio debating key issues with authorities.
By Nkosana Dlamini, Harare
“These old politicians have over-rewarded themselves for waging the liberation war,” says Vava. He's referring to President Mugabe’s inner circle, starched with veterans of the 1970s war of liberation. “They have a war hangover that has taken us no further than where we were during the British rule. They are failing to respond to the fast global changes.”
Vava comes from a tribe based in Chipinge, an area in eastern Harare that has constantly voted against Mugabe. During college, he took a liking to student activism and became involved in the country's biggest student movement, the ZINASU. Afterwards, he joined the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), one of the few organizations that continues to challenge Mugabe and his coalition partners.
Despite once frequent confrontations with the state, today the 29 year old is the proud holder of two diplomas and a few certificates. He considers himself lucky to have found a job with a local NGO. But his heart goes out to his millions of young compatriots who long for the same opportunities in their resource-rich but poor Zimbabwe. Why the disparity?
Out of touch
Vava blames Zimbabwe’s "greedy" rulers who continue to cling to influential political posts despite having no clue how to solve the country’s economic woes.
“This political arrangement has totally failed to work. It has largely been characterized by a policy discord, infighting and backbiting, and we cannot pin our hopes on any of its policies,” he says.
The dreadlocked young man, a qualified graphic artist who now does art only in his spare time, says he sees no hope even beyond this year’s elections. He insists there is no leader among the current presidential hopefuls with clear solutions for youth.
“They seem to have inherited Mugabe’s culture of corruption and are no longer in touch with the aspirations of the people. Zimbabwe now needs a party that responds to the suffering that we are going through,” he says.
Neither should young Zimbabweans base their aspirations on handouts from the rich West, which has its own interests in the resource-rich former British colony, says the blogger, also a militant campaigner for constitutional rights.
“We have put too much faith on foreigners to provide solutions for us. Yet we are Zimbabweans who can do better with their own solutions to their problems. We will never be Americans,” he says.
It won’t be easy for youth to emancipate themselves, as some Zimbabweans are very comfortable playing servant to old and manipulative politicians. In fact, some youth respond opposite to Vava, instead displaying a distinct non-interest in politics – be it out of fear or due to other factors.
But Vava is resolute. “Our old politicians have failed us. They come and use us during election campaigns while promising millions of jobs, but that fades away as soon as election results are announced,” he says. “We are the ones who can make this country work again."