HARARE – With the youth constituting close to 60 percent of the country’s 12,9 million population, political parties find themselves clamouring for their vote as the July 31 election nears.
However, questions still remain on whether any of the political parties will be able to attract the much-needed vote, considering the poor state of the local economy and unemployment figures, a sore thorn for them, are currently hovering at more than 80 percent.
“I think the political parties have not done much for the youth, looking at the employment figure that we are seeing in the country and the percent of them benefiting from any of their programmes is still very little considering their numbers,” University of Zimbabwe political scientist, Charity Manyeruke said.
She said the contesting political parties’ manifestos fail to clearly address how they intend to address current challenges faced by youths.
“We are still a long way in addressing the youth’s concerns, even looking at the political parties manifestos, not many solutions are provided.
“I have always wondered when parties say they are going to provide employment, but the question is where, looking at the state of industry and the economy at the moment,” Manyeruke said.
She said a high voter turnout from the youths was likely as they seek solutions to their problems.
“The youths are definitely going to be coming out in their numbers to vote this time because they are sick and tired of the political games and will choose a party that provide real solutions,” the political scientist said.
According to the 2011-2012 Poverty Income Consumption and Expenditure Survey, the rate of unemployment in Zimbabwe is higher in urban areas than in the rural areas.
Political analyst Takura Zhangazha said despite the potential influence of the youth vote, many of them were unlikely to exercise their rights, with frustration being a likely factor.
“The jury is still out on whether the youth will be the game changer for the coming election, given our demographics. Yes they should be, but the problem is most of our political parties tend to exclude them in key decision making,” he said.
“Yes the game changer element will be preferable, but less likely as the majority of them might not have much interest in voting for parties that they think only come to them at the last minute.”
Pro-democracy political commentator Charles Mangongera however, said youths will be a game changer in this year’s election, pitting arch-rivals, President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC and Welshman Ncube’s smaller MDC.
“What is clear from the data from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is a massive increase in number of people wanting to vote. Suspicions are; it’s the first time voters, mainly the youths who are interested in exercising their rights for the first time and a major force considering their numbers,” he said.
“I see youths voting for a party that will offer them jobs, training, and a better economy, as these are the factors that are seriously affecting them,” Mangongera said.
He however, said the mainstream MDC, through its manifesto, would provide answers to the country’s unemployment woes.
“The biggest challenge facing the youth is unemployment and you will find they are concerned about that and the MDC in its manifesto has outlined how it will deal with unemployment in the country.
“It has made a conscious effort to appeal to this age group,” said Mangongera.
“Parties like Zanu PF — campaigning on the liberation struggle rhetoric, will find it hard to woe them to vote for them but parties such as the MDC, offering them a voice will definitely get their vote,” he said.
According to the MDC economic blueprint, Jobs, Upliftment, Investment, Capital and the Environment (Juice), the party undertakes to initially deliver one million new jobs by 2018, engage the international community so as to unlock investment and a $100 billion economy by 2040.
Mangongera said Zanu PF’s indigenisation policy, which requires foreign investors to cede a controlling 51 percent stake to locals, will not be able to provide much relief to the country’s growing unemployment figures.
“Comparing to Zanu PF’s indigenisation, youths cannot come out of the classroom and straight to the boardroom.
“Youths understand thatindigenisation, as suggested by Zanu PF is on paper feasible, but its actual implementation will be difficult.
“For Zanu PF, which has been in power for the past 33 years, it would be hard-pressed to have people believe its election promises,” he said.
The liberation party through its manifesto, themed Indigenise, Empower, Develop and Create Employment, says through the indigenisation programme, its government will be able to create $7,3 billion in value from 1 138 indigenised firms across 14 key sectors of the economy.
In its 108-page document,it outlines 22 key areas that would define its policies over the next five years, with the initiatives creating 2 265 million jobs across key sectors of the economy and contribute to export earnings, food security and to government coffers.
It expounds on the programme driving the country’s average economic growth rate to nine percent by 2018 up from the current 4,4 percent, unlocking $2 trillion into the economy.
The party claims, through the Youth ministry, it has facilitated the setting up of youth empowerment funds such as the $11 million Kurera/Ukondla Youth Fund, $1 million CABS Youth Fund, the Tobacco Empowerment Fund with $12 million reserved for youths involved in tobacco farming, while Stanbic Bank has set aside $20 million to finance youth enterprises through the Wealth Creation Fund, as it seeks to address the youths concerns.
Although touted as a Zanu PF policy, the revised National Youth Policy seeks to address youth issues through strategic interventions that provide for the development of young women and men, such as ensuring that government approves a 25 percent quota of all indigenisation facilities in agriculture, mining, commercial, tourism, and industrial economic activity for youth, while paying particular attention to the empowerment of young people with disabilities, of which $4 million has already been distributed.