By Moses Ziyambi
Masvingo City Council began implementing the mid-year 2020 budget review consultations at the beginning of September and most of the wards have already been covered but with a noticeable low participation of young people.
The consultations should have been held by June but they had to be deferred as the country was still at a more severe level of the Covid-19 national lockdown.
When the lockdown became way softer August, conditions became more permitting for the consultations to begin, but those interested in youth participation in decision-making and governance processes are disappointed by the underwhelming involvement of young people.
At the first consultative meeting held at Civic Centre in Ward 8 on September 07, a total of 57 participants attended, excluding council officials, and that is according to data on signed registers. Although the registers did not require people to provide their age details, participants who seemed to be 35 years and below were seven.
At another consultative meeting held at Rujeko Hall in Ward 7 on September 12, at total of 26 residents participated and a mere three attendants including this writer seemed to be 35 years of age or below.
Prior to the Rujeko Hall meeting, the writer had had a privilege of attending a similar gathering at Mucheke Hall in Ward 1 on September 09 where about 32 people attended, with 11 of them being young people.
Tatenda Mutemachimwe (28), a Rujeko resident who attended the Ward 7 meeting, told TellZim News that the youth seemed to be disengaged from issues of national interest due to the increasingly difficult economy.
“The youth have traditionally been apathetic in issues of governance and decision-making but I think it is getting worse as the economy becomes more difficult. The youth are most interested in things that bring quick material benefits or issues that bring entertainment to them. I can never have all the answers but I think those issues partly explain why young people largely ignore platforms such as this,” said Mutemachimwe.
When asked whether she had attended any of the consultative meetings, another Rujeko resident Teclar Mwoyo (27) said she did not even know that council had such a consultative programme.
“I did not attend because the communication did not reach me. I however guess the chances of me attending would have been 50-50 even if I had been told about them earlier on. As some of these meetings are held on work days, it is difficult to attend if you are formally employed. On weekends, I also have to be with my family as a mother,” said Mwoyo, who works for Empowerbank, a government-owned and youth-focused micro lender.
Prosper Dendere (32), who is a very active citizen in matters of civic engagement, said most young people lacked understanding on the importance of consultative processes in their lives.
“I have attended some of the budget review meetings recently and it was very sad to notice that many young people did not attend. At one of the gathering, there were only two young people there including myself. The youths have to be educated that it’s not the things that bring immediate material gain that matter the most,” said Dendere.
Prior to the mid-year budget review meetings, there were many other consultative meetings in Masvingo province.
The divisive political influence
At a consultative meeting for the controversial Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill held at Mucheke Hall on July 06, and hosted by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information and Communication Technology and Courier Services, there were many youths present.
It was apparent, however, that many of these youths were mobilised by their political parties so that they could make partisan arguments for or against the bill.
Known ruling Zanu PF party youth league members made contributions at the event, and they all supported the bill in its fullness. They argued that once passed into law in its current form, the bill would stem social media abuse which threatened to foment chaos in the country.
MDC youths opposed the bill on many basis including that it failed to protect whistleblowers and that it sought to vest too much power in the government-controlled regulator PORTRAZ by making it both a cyber-security centre and a data protection authority.
“We need more non-political actors to mobilise the youth to take part in these important activities because when political parties do so, they are not necessarily doing it for the national interest but primarily to further their own political ends.
“I think civil society must have some focus on youths in all their mobilisation activities so that they have greater control in conscientizing the youth. Many bills that are debated are political in nurture and even if they are not, dialogue on them often deteriotrates to political arguments. We cannot afford to surrender that mobilisation role to national politics.
“We want the youth to make free contributions in decision-making processes rather than for them to be shepherded to consultative platforms where they are made to push selfish political agendas. That’s tantamount to abuse of the youths,” said MyAge Zimbabwe director Onward Gibson, a youthful pastor who leads his own church.
MyAge is a youth organization working for the rights of youths especially in areas of reproductive health rights and livelihoods.
Meanwhile, TellZim also observed that less youths in Masvingo and Manicaland provinces participated in the Constitutional Amendment Bill II hearings that were spearheaded by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
At one such hearing held at Chivi growth point on June 17, it was encouraging that women, another marginalised demographic group, dominated the gathering but it was again a bit disappointing that fewer youths attended.
The digital space as a forum of engagement
Cathrine Mashavira (23), a runaway and editorial model who finished as finalist in the Miss Zimbabwe Grand 2020, said there had to be some means to tap into the potential of the digital space which she suggested was a friendlier platform of engagement for youths.
“As youths, we are more active on the cyber space. Raising issues on networking platforms could be more accommodative for us. For unemployed youths to attend a meeting in town, they have to walk or engage in the hassles of public transport going to an event where nicely-dressed older people come in big cars.
“That alone could dent an average youth’s esteem and they will not be confident enough to express themselves boldly especially if their opinions differ from sentiments of their older counterparts who by virtue of their better material circumstances will seem better informed,” said Mashavira.
She also said many youths feared the severe polarisation of all discourse in the country, more especially State-driven engagements where debate oftentimes degenerates into the disparate Zanu PF-MDC binaries.
“That is where you get labeled due to the nature of your contributions even if you made them in good faith and from a non-partisan position. And we all know the implication of being given political tags in a polarised community especially when you are a young person who still have a non-political professional career to build,” she said.
There are many civic organizations like the Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust (YETT) that are working to advance the greater involvement of youths, who constitute over half of the country’s population, in the country’s governance systems but many challenges do remain.