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Youth vote will be the game changer in Zimbabwe’s elections

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Zimbabwe votes

By Veneranda Langa

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Posted on August 8, 2023 08:34

 © Youths look at posters outside polling stations prepared ahead of general elections in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 2018. (Reuters/Mike Hutchings)
Youths look at posters outside polling stations prepared ahead of general elections in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 2018. (Reuters/Mike Hutchings)

If the 23 August polls in Zimbabwe are free and fair, youth participation will be the deciding factor of who rules the country, analysts say.

Zimbabwe’s youth, which constitutes 67.7% of the population, has historically been used for political exploitation by the ruling ZANU-PF party. Opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) member, Tinashe Chitsunge – who was stoned to death on 3 August in Glen View, Harare, by alleged ZANU-PF youth – is the latest victim.

Being identified as part of the opposition is exactly what 21-year-old Jane (not her real name) is trying to avoid.

False pretences

Jane lives with her family in Ushewokunze, an illegal settlement created by ZANU-PF land barons in Harare. She tells The Africa Report that violence and intimidation will not deter her from voting.

“At Ushewokunze we are forced to attend rallies. We go there pretending to be ZANU-PF supporters to avoid violence and losing the land that our parents got through ZANU-PF,” says Jane.

“We know our votes are secret and I will certainly vote for change.”

Zimbabwe’s youth have a demographic superiority, which means that they could skew the 23 August elections, Project Vote 263 executive director Youngerson Matete told The Africa Report.

“If they participate in huge numbers, they have the power to decide who wins the elections. It will have a negative effect if they don’t participate in numbers as it gives room for rigging or vote manipulation by the ruling party,” Matete says.

Outstanding legal cases

With several electoral challenges before the courts, Matete says it is also possible that the courts will be the ultimate decider of Zimbabwe’s polls.

“Given that the courts are overwhelmed with electoral disputes and are deciding who gets to participate or not, this has taken away the power of voters to decide and has cast negative energy on young people which could affect their turnout,” he says.

“There is a general feeling by young people that the election is already rigged.”

Two of the high-profile court challenges are independent presidential candidate Saviour Kasukuwere’s bid to contest, which was dismissed by the High Court and Supreme Court, and the 12 CCC candidates’ case claiming CCC handed in their nomination papers late.


Matete says while the ruling party gives young people food, money and beer to commit political violence there is also concern of the proliferation of cyberbullying by opposition youths.

“ZANU-PF is manipulating young people to commit violence against opposition supporters; and young people within the opposition are committing cyber violence on social media. Zimbabwe has become a violent society because of polarisation,” he says.

New research by the Elections Resource Centre (ERC) says 71% of youth in Zimbabwe who are registered to vote are keen to do so. The top motivation is the wish to see new faces in government and to end years of economic misgovernance.

The ERC says 71% is a huge improvement from past figures of 44% of youth who voted in 2018 and 22% in 2013.

‘Geriatric’ government

With the same old faces having featured in successive ZANU-PF governments for the past four decades, the ERC survey reveals that 26% of young people want to see fresh faces in government.

Many voters will have to travel long distances to vote due to delimitation confusion.

Samson Ncube, 25, from Nketa, Bulawayo, says elections in Zimbabwe do not benefit the youth.

“We are not motivated because the geriatrics want to rule forever.  Political parties only solicit votes from youth but there is nothing to improve their livelihoods after elections. During campaign periods, it is always a scramble for t-shirts, caps, free booze – nothing more,” he says.

“There is no motivation to vote for geriatrics,” Ncube adds, referring to the freebies that potential voters are given.

“The delimitation of constituencies by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) led to a shift of polling stations, and many voters will have to travel long distances to vote due to delimitation confusion. That is another demotivating factor for youth,” he says.

Already decided

Billiat Morgan, 24, is a vendor who sells airtime in Harare. He tells The Africa Report that despite holding a business management degree, he is struggling to get a job.

“I am certainly going to vote because I want to see a change of government. There is no hope for young people who have now resorted to drugs due to stress and unemployment,” says Morgan.

The ERC research indicates that a small minority, 6%, says they will not cast their vote because they are no longer confident with the election process, with 42% of that group saying they don’t think elections work. The survey found 23% failed to get their documents on time, while 10% said they lived too far from where they are registered to vote.

Interestingly, the ERC says an overwhelming majority (97%) of young people in Zimbabwe have already decided who to vote for in the upcoming election.

“I am hopeful that my vote will count,” Morgan adds.

Tired of exploitation

Young people in Zimbabwe are wary of the whole political process, the ERC report says.

“A study of Bulawayo youth in 2018 raised concerns about the dread of exploitation by political parties, and indifference to voting as a civic duty,” among other issues.

But Samukeliso Moyo, 19, a newly registered voter from Nkulumane, Bulawayo, can’t wait to vote.

He says young people are tired of seeing the economic deterioration in the country.

“If the youth vote in large numbers, certainly there will be change,” Moyo says.

Some of the barriers to youth participation in politics are structural, the ERC says.  These include:

  • increased costs of running for office
  • age restrictions for voting (18 years) and for holding office (21 years)
  • social and cultural traditions that promote certain groups in office ahead of others
  • growing distrust in the political systems as well as the ZEC.

Repressed voter registration

Zimbabwe Election Advocacy Trust director Ignatious Sadziwa says voter registration to encourage youth participation has been lacking after the ZEC failed to mobilise and promote voter registration.

“The mass exodus of Zimbabwean youth in search of better opportunities is another deterrent to youth voting. Civic society, which used to take a leading role in voter education, has been immobilised due to government censure,” Sadwiwa tells The Africa Report.

“The youth vote will not have a big influence on the outcome of the election. Over two million potential first-time voters are still unregistered,” he sayss.

The Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) says data from the latest Afrobarometer survey suggests that political violence, sustained economic deprivation and a lack of political trust have resulted in a youth cohort that displays little agency.

“However, when it comes to voting, the youth might provide a major surprise if the elections meet the conditions of a bona fide free and fair election.

“But it is doubtful that an election that fails their expectations will result in the youth protesting in any serious fashion,” RAU says.

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