The disclosure by Zimbabwe Election Commission (Zec) chairperson Priscilla Chigumba that 60% of the registered 5,3 million voters for this years’ polls are aged between 18 to 40 means that this year’s elections to be held by July will be largely influenced by the youth.
By Kudzai Kuwaza
Chigumba said this when she appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs this week. She, however, did not reveal whether the registered youth are mostly based in the urban or rural areas.
The polls will be of interest to many Zimbabweans given that this will be the first time since Independence that former president Robert Mugabe will not contest in polls. It will be the first time that the country’s main opposition party MDC-T will not be represented by Morgan Tsvangirai who died recently. As things stand, Zanu PF will be represented by President Emmerson Mnangagwa (75), while Nelson Chamisa (40) is most likely to be the candidate of MDC Alliance candidate which includes the MDC-T.
This year’s elections will be the first time that those born in 2000 will be eligible to cast their vote to decide who governs them.
In past elections, Zanu PF based its campaign on ideological positions such as the liberation struggle ethos, the emotive land ownership issue and more recently the indigenisation programme, as part of its black empowerment drive. The party has been emphasising the need to protect farms grabbed through the chaotic land reform programme. The traditional Zanu PF message may, however, not appeal to the majority of the electorate given the demographic dynamics at present. The older generation, which witnessed colonial oppression and the bitter liberation struggle, easily identified with the Zanu PF message, but they are no longer in the majority as statistics availed by Zec show. This indicates that Mnangagwa, who represents the old generation, will have to tailor his electoral campaign and messages to suit the current dispensation. This will be very difficult as he will contest against Chamisa, who represents the dominant younger generation.
Youths are likely to vote for the party that is bound to provide jobs which will afford them a decent standard of living. This is an aspect where Zanu PF has dismally failed to deliver despite its 2013 electoral promise to provide 2,2 million jobs by 2018.
The last five years have been marked by massive job losses. Thousands lost their jobs as a result of the 2015 Supreme Court ruling which allowed employers to dismiss workers on three months’ notice without paying a retrenchment package, while many others lost their jobs through company closures.
The elections are coming at a time when most youths are struggling to find jobs, despite many of them having attained different qualifications, including university degrees.
According to a survey by the Vendors’ Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (Viset) conducted between February and April 2016, at least 2 187 graduates in the country’s two largest cities, Harare and Bulawayo, survived on vending. This is a trend which has worsened as the economic crisis deepened.
During his inauguration on November 24 last year, Mnangagwa emphasised the need to provide jobs as one of the cornerstones of his mandate. The creation of jobs will be critical in winning the hearts and souls of youths in the elections.
The demographics of the voters for this year’s elections means that social media will play a vital role in the mobilisation derive.
The majority of the youth now use social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and micro-blogging site Twitter to communicate, reducing the impact of traditional forms of communication such as newspapers, radio and television.
Mnangagwa recently opened accounts on Twitter and Facebook to interact with the public. He has, however, endured a torrid time on social media with frustrated members of the public slating him for not addressing key issues such as the provision of jobs. Chamisa is also very active on the two social media platforms.
Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza believes that statistics availed by Chigumba should be a cause of concern for Mnangagwa and Zanu PF. “It is significant and it conforms to the current demographic structure of the country,” Mandaza said.
“It reflects a good response from the young people. The establishment has every reason to be very afraid. I do not see any young person voting for Zanu PF.”
Mandaza said it is highly unlikely that most of the youths who have registered to cast their ballots in this year’s elections are from rural areas.
However, political analyst Eldred Masunungure believes that the impact of the statistic in this year’s poll is difficult to measure without any comparative analysis of the youth component of past elections.
He also pointed out that the question of where the 60% youth component is based is key. “The more fundamental question is where the 60% is located physically,” Masunungure said. “If the majority of the 60% are in the rural areas, we all know the political affiliation in all age groups in the rural areas, it would mean that it is likely that Zanu PF will cruise to victory.”
Masunungure warned the contesting parties that it would also be folly to concentrate on the 60% youth component and ignore the other 40% of voters that do not fall in this category.
He argued that personalities of the election candidates rather than issues on the ground will be decisive in this year’s polls.
Analyst Godfrey Kanyenze concurred with Masunungure saying that the single statistic is not adequate to make an informed analysis of voting patterns in the polls later this year. He said if the majority of the voters are in the rural areas then their votes could be influenced by the chiefs and the limited reach of social media in those areas. Kanyenze said just because Chamisa is young, having turned 40 recently, does not mean the youth will automatically vote for him, adding that his ability to access the rural constituency will be crucial in winning the elections.
Kanyenze pointed out that Mnangagwa’s focus on chiefs is telling as it shows that it will not only be the majority of youths in these polls that will decide who wins it.
“The next elections will be highly fluid and complex,” Kanyenze said.