Young People Must Take the Lead: Daniel Molokele
17 August 2021
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“The country will never die; young people will save it.” (Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo)

Congratulations are indeed in order for the people of Zambia who have successfully managed to elect a new President despite all the political odds being heavily weighed against them.

Daniel Molokele

I would also like to wish Hakainde Hichilema, who is affectionately known as HH, a very successful tenure as the next popularly elected President of the land of the mighty Zambezi River, to the north of our border.

The fact that a long-standing opposition leader such as HH, has successfully deposed an incumbent via the ballot process, is not just most welcome news for Zambia but also for the rest of Africa.

This is so, when one considers as to how rare it is for a ruling party to concede its leadership mantle after losing the popular vote. Most ruling parties in Africa actually find easier to simply rig the elections results and unilaterally continue to remain in power.

This has unfortunately adversely affected Africa’s democratic credentials since millions of its electorate have increasingly become disillusioned and have started to lose faith in capacity of the continent to respect the wishes of its electoral majorities.

As such, it is therefore hoped that the ascendancy of HH into power after an electoral victory, will certainly go a long way into restoring millions of Africans trust or belief in democracy or indeed elections as both a viable and sustainable means to effect political power transfer across the continent.

And nowhere will this point resonate most as in the country’s southern African neighbour of Zimbabwe.

Historically speaking, these two countries share a common colonial history. At one stage they were once bound together as the fabled Siamese twins; being known as Southern and Northern Rhodesia. Added to that, both countries once teamed up with Malawi to set up the ill-fated Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

It is thus not a surprise that of all the countries across Africa, it is in Zimbabwe that the latest elections results will be the extensively discussed and analyzed especially in the contest of the country’s forthcoming harmonised elections that are due to be held in 2023.

There are various factors that could be used to help explain the impressive victory that the opposition has achieved in Zambia during this past week.

However, I tend to agree mostly with some political analysts who are already explaining that HH actually owes his electoral victory to the young people of Zambia.

You may recall that during 2016, he narrowly lost to the incumbent Edgar Chagwa Lungu (ECL), amid allegations of him rigging the results.

Yet now in 2021, HH has somehow successfully turned the tables against his erstwhile rival.

A closer comparative view at both the 2016 and 2021 elections results clearly show a massive increase of the voter turnout by over a million in terms of numbers.

Further, the results also clearly reveal that within a short period of 5 years, HH did not only manage to overtake ECL, but he also overwhelmingly defeated him by almost a massive million votes.

According to a pre-elections analysis that was recently done by Kennedy Gondwe from the BBC, elections in Zambia are largely influenced by young people, including first-time voters. More than half of the eight million registered voters are under the age of 35. In the past, along with urban dwellers, they have been the bedrock of the Patriotic Front (PF) support.

But amid the economic turmoil, Mr. Lungu and his party can no longer take their votes for granted. “I am not voting for anyone in this election – I am voting for my job. I can’t go four years without a job,” says Silvia Mutila, a 25-year-old unemployed nurse who graduated in 2017.

Nomsa Maseko, who is also part of the BBC News offices at Lusaka also wrote about the crucial role of the Zambian youths; there is certainly no doubt that those political winds of change were ushered in by young people who are often accused of being reluctant to vote. They turned up in high numbers and generally rejected President Edgar Lungu. “We want jobs, young people want jobs,” chanted throngs of people as they filled the streets of the capital shortly after Mr. Hichilema was declared the seventh president of this copper-rich nation.

Further, both the CNN and Reuters also claim in their news reports that the youths of Zambia played a crucial role in the electoral victory for the opposition by asserting that there was a huge turnout of mostly young people, some who came dressed in their academic robes to protest lack of employment post-graduation.

Joseph Kalimbwe, a youth representative of Hichilema’s UPND party told CNN. “Young people gave us the vote. Four million young people between the ages of 18 to 24 registered to vote. It was a huge turnout and it was very personal to them. They want to ensure the mistakes of their parents were corrected. They have voted for our leader on basis he has better policies and ideas and can strengthen our state institutions’’.

A similar view has been propounded by Jonathan Clayton who recently wrote a feature analysis in the Times of England newspaper. In his analysis, he also emphasized that it was the young people of Zambia who led the successful deposition of ECL from the State House.

As such, most of the credit for his landslide victory must be given to the young people of Zambia who took an active role in this year’s historic plebiscite. It really appears that it is indeed, the youths of Zambia who have decisively helped to redefine the political destiny of their country.

And so, for me, the most important lesson from the recent Zambian elections is that the youths of Zimbabwe must now rise up and take an active lead as we prepare for our own 2023 harmonised elections.

It is my considered view that if our young people finally stand up and get counted, we will certainly have Advocate Nelson Chamisa as our next President come 2023.

In this regard, I do have a very clear and unequivocal stance that the 2023 presidential elections will once again be a two-horse race. Forget about all the other pretenders, especially those aligned to the controversial POLAD, that has already proved beyond reasonably doubt to be a mere extension of the incumbent. Ultimately, the real contest will only be between Emmerson Mnangagwa (ED) and Nelson Chamisa.

I can dare say that all the other presidential candidates will be mere political tokens in order to placate the multi-party democratic interests of our country.

Personally, I am convinced that I have already proved myself as a role model to our current generation of young people.

My political journey officially started in July 1995 when l accepted my nomination as the next Secretary General of the University of Zimbabwe students’ union. I was very young back then since l had recently turned 20 years old.

It was also during my fourth month as a first-year student at the Faculty of Law. Yet, l did not hesitate to respond positively to this national call of political duty. Even though it meant that l would not necessarily prioritize my academic studies in favour of my responsibility as a students representative

At that very nascent stage of my political career, l was already capable of appreciating that when it came to building the nation, my personal interests immediately assumed secondary status. I was already clear and unequivocal in my personal stance that whatsoever l set out to do, l must always put my beautiful motherland of Zimbabwe.

I was only 5 years old when Zimbabwe celebrated its inaugural Independence Day in April 1980; but that memorable experience left a lifelong indelible mark in my entire being. Young as l was, l grew up in Zimbabwe in the 1980s with a full appreciation that for the colonial experience to end formally at the Lancaster House conference in December 1979, it had taken thousands of Zimbabweans to sacrifice their lives.

Indeed, for the nation of Zimbabwe to be born, it took many thousands of lives to die. A lot of Zimbabweans, most of them young, had to die both at home and in exile for the new nation to born on 18th April 1980.

It was in such an inspired political context that in July 1995, l fully made up my decision to context in the next Students Representative Council (SRC) elections. And as fate would have it, l was soon elected as the Secretary General of the 1995-96 SRC before l had even written my first major academic exams at the university.

Later on, l accepted my nomination to be the Acting President in April 1996 when l was barely 21 years old.

Then in October 1996 l further accepted my nomination to be the next President of the University of Zimbabwe students’ union. I eventually contested and lost the said elections. But still, I gracefully agreed to serve the students union as its Vice President under the presidency of the late Learnmore Jongwe.

In April 1998, l was once again nominated and then elected as the next President of the UZ students’ union. I was only 23 years old.

Added to that, since July 1996 l had also played a leading role in the process of reviving the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) in my capacity as the Acting President of the UZ students’ union. This process culminated in my election as the revived ZINASU Vice President in February 1997. Once again, l dutifully served my nation as a deputy to the late Learnmore Jongwe, who was elected as the President at the same Congress. I was only 22 years old.

But why am l writing about my early days or humble beginnings as a students leader?

My point is very simple.

We are never too young to start our lifelong journey of serving our beloved nation.

Our youths of Zimbabwe today must be challenged by the yesteryear generations that were led by the likes of the late Joshua Nkomo who responded positively to the call of national duty in their youthful days.

Our youths of Zimbabwe today must be inspired by the likes of Nelson Mandela who also took up the challenge of their generation to dismantle the racist apartheid regime.

Our youths of Zimbabwe today must learn from the class of 1976 in Soweto that played a catalytic role in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa.

Our youths of Zimbabwe today must be challenged by the generation that was led by the famous students leader, President AGO Mutambara who in the late 1980s stood up and faced the challenge of their generation to fight the One-Party State agenda and also confront excessive corruption as evinced by the Willowgate Scandal.

Our youths of Zimbabwe today must learn from our own generation in the late 1990s which got actively involved in the key political events that helped to define the political destiny of our country.

Indeed, when the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) was launched in 1997, my generation and I were actively involved. I was actually one of the student leaders who used to attend its National Taskforce meetings that were chaired by the late President Morgan Tsvangirai.

Also, when the Movement for Democratic Change was launched in September 1999, my own generation as led by the late Learnmore Jongwe was also there in the thick of action.

Our youths of Zimbabwe today must also learn from the youths of Zambia who have in the past week helped to redefine the political direction of their country.

Our youths of Zimbabwe today must emulate those from Zambia by making sure that with immediate effect they step up their active involvement in the following three crucial political fights.

1.    The Fight for National Awareness and Consciousness

It is very sad and disappointing to take note of the low level of political consciousness among the youths of Zimbabwe today. There is currently a disturbingly high level of political apathy among most of our young people. It seems as if most of them have by now already given up on their ability to influence the country’s future by playing an active role in matters of national importance.

Indeed, most youths seem to be more enchanted by the distractive penchants of socialites such as Madam Boss, Mai Titi, Sandra Ndebele, Pokello Nare, Kikky Badass, Njuzu, Mudiwa Hood, Passion Java, among others. But when it comes to issues of justice and democracy in the country, they suddenly disappear into thin air.

Right now, we currently have the topical case of Makomborero Haruzivishe. He is an outspoken youth who is under an unjustifiably prolonged incarceration and desperately needs some active solidarity from his fellow youths.

Please do not get me wrong, I am not against our youths having some fun; but it must not be at the expense of not just their own future but also for those who will come after them. Our country is currently facing a perennial never-ending political and socio-economic crisis that has no solution in sight.

Worse still, most of the strategic positions of all our three separate arms of State (Executive, Judiciary and Legislature) are clearly being led by geriatrics who have long passed the recommended age of retirement. Honestly, how on earth do our young people expect these old people to be emotionally interested in the long-term prospects of our nation?

Our youths must now wake up from their political slumber. They must take up the challenge of their own generation by actively participating in the national quest to find a lasting solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe. Enough is enough! Our young people must stand up and assume their rightful place in the national development agenda.

2.    The Fight for National Inclusion

Zimbabwe is by far a very youthful country. Most of its adult population is currently between the ages of 18 and 40 years. There is no doubt that we have one of the youngest populations not just in Africa but also across the world.

Yet when it comes to inclusion in the key decision-making processes our youths are mostly conspicuous by their absence. We have a disappointing low number of youthful leaders in all key decision-making structures of our country. Our youths are currently officious by-standers in the process of all the key priorities of our nation.

Recently the national Constitution was amended under controversial circumstances but the youths did not actively stand up against this clear abuse of power by the geriatric political elite of this country. In particular, where was the youth outrage when Chief Justice Malaba successfully extended his term by another five years after reaching the original age of retirement?

Where are the youths when the current incumbent at State House openly boasts that he plans to remain in power till after 2030? Yet he will soon be turning 80 years old in 2022; about 20 years over the recommended age of retirement for the civil servants in the country?

A new quota system was also introduced for youthful representatives in the Parliament of Zimbabwe but it was a drop in the ocean. Youths should have actively campaigned for a much higher percentage allocation of seats in Parliament.

Also, with regards to the candidate selection process for the forthcoming elections, the youths are not clearly demanding for a much higher allocation of seats especially when compared to the disappointingly low levels of youthful candidates in the 2018 elections.

3.    The Fight to Protect the Electoral Will of the Majorities

By all accounts it seems that the incumbent in Zambia actually tried to rig the elections. However, this time around the youths were more than ready for such political shenanigans. In some cases, they blocked some vehicles that were suspected to be carrying fake ballots meant to boost the poor numbers of the incumbent. They also opted to stay near the polling stations in large numbers and insisted that they were more than ready to react if any attempts were made to tamper the electoral process. Our youths of Zimbabwe normally retreat to their social media platforms. This time around, our youths must use social media platforms such as Twitter and WhatsApp to actively defend the democratic voice of our electorate.

In Zambia, it was said that a large turnout of voters made it impossible for any desperate attempts to rig the elections. Most of the turnout was largely consisting of youthful voters.

But for such a thing to happen in Zimbabwe during 2023, we must first start by witnessing a clear rise in the number of registered voters who are young people. This is more crucial with regards to first time voters. In Zambia, we had a massive increase of the 2021 voter turnout due to the concomitant increase of youthful voters who only got registered after the 2016 elections.

This situation must equally apply in Zimbabwe to enable the youths to play a very decisive role in 2023.

The MDC Alliance national Youth Assembly has already set the ball rolling by launching its own ‘One Million Votes’ campaign. The campaign is still yet to gain full momentum and find real traction with most young people across Zimbabwe. So, efforts need to be stepped up to ensure that the campaign becomes more effective or successful in terms of its impact.

We also need to see other youth led or student led organizations across all political spectrums also launching their own string campaigns to encourage young people not just to register as voters but to also actively participate in the crucial 2023 elections.

Daniel Molokele

Honourable Member of Parliament

Whange Central Constituency

Zimbabwe