The outcome of Zimbabwe’s 2023 general elections is going to be decided by the youth. They have the numbers to sway this hugely important election. We will have to see if they are prepared to register in the numbers that would make theirs the biggest share of the vote.
The biggest unknown is whether the deeply entrenched political and economic interests of the dominant political elite will not stand in the way of democracy and prevent a largely youthful vote to triumph. If the past is any indicator to go by then the greatly anticipated generational passing of the baton is not a foregone conclusion.
Sixty seven percent of Zimbabwe’s population is under 35 years of age. Most of these young people have only known unemployment and destitution. They are not likely want to vote the incumbent Zanu PF back into power as they hold the party responsible for the hardship and misery they face daily.
There is another statistic to consider –Zimbabwe’s rural population, which tends to vote heavily for the ruling party, is 68% of the population. Naturally, the youthful vote dominates this population segment too. And the rural youth are in a relatively worse situation compared to their urban compatriots.
Economic collapse, corruption and extreme poverty will characterise the environment within which the 2023 election will be contested. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF is to blame for the economic collapse, rampant corruption and suffocating poverty.
The Nelson Chamisa-led Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) claim to have the answers to all that afflicts Zimbabwe. As things stand, I am far from persuaded that Chamisa has what is required to dig the country out of the Zanu PF created morass.
I too, sense the palpable excitement for the possibility of something new and the desperate desire for change after 42 years of authoritarian rule that has blighted the country’s fortunes. There’s something in the air that suggests that Zimbabweans want to chart a new future. Sadly, I don’t see the principled, visionary and values driven political leadership required for the herculean task that stares at us.
Mnangagwa quickly squandered the tremendous good will from millions of Zimbabweans and the international community who saw the possibility of a better Zimbabwe. When the military staged the “cool coup” many Zimbabweans took to the streets in support and frenzied euphoria. Many took selfies with the military as part of this massive outpouring of support.
It is important to point out that soon after the coup both late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Chamisa refused to condemn it. Tsvangirai said the end justifies the means while Chamisa said: “I wouldn’t say that it was a coup. It was the citizens putting pressure. I wouldn’t want to say it was a coup. It was a collective effort.” Interim CCC vice president Welshman Ncube recently disclosed for the first time that the opposition had been warned not to condemn the coup which might explain the tacit approval from Tsvangirai and Chamisa.Zimbabweans celebrating the November 2017 coup that ousted former President Mugabe
For a population desperate for political change, it is very easy to light up passions of frenzy in political rallies. But it is not so easy to assemble an administration of competent men and women and harder still to govern. Oratory is the skill required at rallies while governing requires a different skills set and the courage to make decisions to administer tough love to the adoring masses.
There is no doubt that Zimbabwe is ripe for change. Unless we are clear about the change we want, then anything that looks like change will suffice. Have we waited this long to short-change ourselves? The country has been ready and at the cusp of change for a while now. Brute force, intimidation and daylight electoral robbery has subjugated the majority to the whims of narrow and selfish political, military and economic interests.
To many Zimbabweans, particularly the youth, Chamisa holds the keys to the escape door out of years of Zanu PF dictatorship. He has captured the mood and his speeches at rallies, while underwhelming on substance, have connected with many, especially the young.
There is a personality cult that says he can do or say no wrong. Any criticism is seen as sacrilege at worst and a reckless attempt to derail the peoples’ hopes and march towards the new.
Criticising Chamisa or pointing to his shortcomings is often equated to supporting Zanu PF. A fallacy has also emerged that says not supporting the two main contenders is neutrality that supports the ruling party. This is dangerous thinking that must be strongly pushed back as it has a tinge of McCarthyism. Zanu PF intolerance and dictatorship must not be replaced by updated opposition versions.
I don’t doubt Chamisa’s burning desire to be President and I actually wish him well. However, I have no clue about what he will do when he wins the keys to State House. And l don’t know if he has a competent team to craft a strategy to govern and execute on it. My hope and prayer is that he soon espouses a compelling vision that attracts men and women who are far better than him to add content, vision and a strategy to his ambitions.
Zimbabwe does not need a Messiah; it needs individuals of probity who will lead in rebuilding our broken society and poisoned national psyche. Zimbabwe does not need another strongman. It needs more of us to realise that we are the change we seek and the builders of a new nation.
Forty-two years of Zanu PF misrule has poisoned our national psyche and ruined all aspects of our lives. The greatest challenge that Zimbabwe faces after Zanu PF is fixing the damage done to the minds of so many. To rebuild, Zimbabwe will require a new inclusive politics. It will require a new political culture, common purpose and an intentional creation of inclusive and broad-based national institutions.
Zimbabwe is well endowed with talented people at home and abroad who must participate in the rebuilding exercise minus the partisan blinkers Zanu PF has put on many of us.
Witnessing my country slide from being the food basket of Southern Africa to an international pariah and butt of many jokes has been humiliating and painful to watch. l have often felt helpless and at times l have been encouraged by others to join initiatives that could contribute to a better future for our children and their offspring.
This is precisely why I supported Dr Simba Makoni’s Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn and the Dr Nkosana Moyo-led Alliance for the People’s Agenda (APA). In both instances, I could see the prospect of a new political culture driven by values, issues, strong institutions and meritocracy. I am proud of my small role in these initiatives.
It is the same spirit of making a difference instead of complaining from the side-lines that persuaded me to accept the invitation to join the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC). I was clear from get go that I was serving the nation and not an individual. I said as much in my public remarks at State House at the official launch of the PAC.
I said to President Mnangagwa that many saw my membership of the PAC as a sign that l had been captured by him and pointed out with all listening that l had accepted the appointment because I wanted the generation of my then 13-year-old daughter to have a better future. I was convinced that if Mnangagwa succeeded Zimbabwe would benefit. With benefit of hindsight l now realise l was too trusting and eager for Zimbabwe to succeed.
I am proud of my role in the PAC and only wish we had succeeded as a collective. Advice is freely given and freely accepted. When I realised that l had been wrong to stand up at the Sheraton at an ICAZ meeting to say “give Mnangagwa a chance” I did the honourable thing and left the PAC over a year ago with a clear conscience. Being in the PAC helped me gain insights about what is wrong with my country which l would not have known had l not served the nation in this capacity.
I genuinely believed that Mnangagwa’s desire to succeed late former President Robert Mugabe was motivated by the public good. I was convinced that he wanted to correct Mugabe’s errors of commission and omission and create a positive legacy for himself in the process. But soon a culture of human rights abuses emerged that troubled my conscience. Mnangagwa then embarked on a systematic mutilation of Zimbabwe’s new constitution.
The most frightening outcome has been the effective capture of the judiciary. A select group of businessmen and politicians dominate government decision making and are milking the exchequer and have cornered the country’s natural resources. The lives of many Zimbabweans have gotten worse since Mnangagwa took over.
The choice for Zimbabwe in 2023 is likely to be between Mnangagwa representing all that has gone wrong with our country and a promise of the same and a youthful Chamisa promising change. While praying for a change in our fortunes I am not signed up to the change at any cost brigade. I believe that those who love Zimbabwe must disabuse the opposition of a sense of entitlement.
We owe it to Zimbabwe to demand an opposition that is far better than Zanu PF in all respects. The opposition must be held to a higher standard of transparency, tolerance and accountability. The leader of the opposition must build a credible team of leaders and lead with wisdom, courage and integrity.
The fact that the opposition has presided over the continued collapse of governance, service delivery and infrastructure decay in urban areas is a serious indictment. At the heart of this failure is the calibre of men and women who have offered themselves up for service. The same applies to the quality of ruling party and opposition Members of Parliament.
It behoves the “yellow movement” to seek out individuals with the capacity to lead and govern far better than Zanu PF at both national and local government level. The Zanu PF way of choosing leaders based on who recites party slogans best as well as sycophancy cannot be the same way an opposition hoping to inspire and rebuild a broken society should choose its leaders. Merit, skills and discipline must occupy central ground in building a functioning and effective opposition and future government.
Some in the military, unhappy with the “new dispensation” so far, are hedging their bets and indicating their support for Chamisa. Will those that have benefited from accessing currency at the official rate and doing business at the black-market rate give up this privilege? Will those who have benefited from lucrative infrastructure tenders yield this advantage?
Ultimately for many in Zanu PF this is what the 2023 election is about, not improving the lot of the electorate. How much are they prepared to use the influence of the military to hold onto their loot? The Zanu PF G40 elements out in the cold are also working to aid the cause of the opposition.
I get the sense that 2023 will not be an ordinary election. My other hope and prayer is that those with Chamisa’s ear, whisper to him that the tide that currently favours him requires individuals with the vision, talent and tenacity to deliver real economic and political change. The nation’s predicament does not just need new leaders it also needs a new type of Zimbabwean to show up.
In all this, the role of social media, public and private media will be important. For our part at AMH, our Pledge to the public, the Public Ombudsman and the Editorial Advisory Board will ensure our journalists are accountable and our content serves all Zimbabweans. We have an unblemished 26-year track record in this space.
We believe that vigorous debate and even strong disagreement are necessary ingredients for real democracy. We believe that our society is well served by all of us expressing our opinions freely. Zimbabwe will benefit from a vibrant marketplace of ideas, not the fear that pervades our society and opposition efforts to corral us into agreement.
As 2023 fast approaches, we must remember the lessons from our recent history. Sycophancy, blind loyalty and intolerance enabled the creation of a dictator –Robert Mugabe. The euphoria after the coup brought us Mnangagwa.
Euphoria is not a political strategy. Hope alone, no matter how desperate and genuine, is not a substitute for visionary, principled and values-based leadership. Let us be more circumspect or at least demand better from those aspiring to lead Zimbabwe beyond the empty promises that have characterised the last 42 years.
- Trevor Ncube is a Zimbabwe entrepreneur and Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) chairman. AMH are the publishers of NewsDay, The Standard, Zimbabwe Independent, Southern Eye and Weekly Digest and operates Heart and Soul Broadcasting Service