In post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, young people are driving political change

On the outside, Gift Ngwarati, who lives in rural Zimbabwe, is a supporter of Zanu-PF, the party that has ruled his country almost since birth. But inside, he supports the opposition.

He doesn’t dare say it in public, because Zanu-PF militants can become violent. But Mr Ngwarati says he is just one of many opposition supporters in his area who are fed up with economic mismanagement and poverty.

Why we wrote this

Driven by a younger generation that wants change, the waning support for Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF party could be an indicator of the first democratic transition since independence in 1980.

Ninety percent of working-age Zimbabweans are out of formal employment, and annual inflation is nearing 100%. Government corruption is commonplace. The ground looks fertile for the opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change, which says it will target rural voters in next year’s election campaign.

The last time a party other than Zanu-PF appeared to win an election 14 years ago, the government unleashed an orgy of violence that left hundreds dead and all but destroyed the opposition. Mr Ngwarati is keeping a low profile at the moment, but “I will speak out when I vote, in next year’s elections”, he said.

GOTORA, ZIMBABWE

For years, Gift Ngwarati has led a double life. To his neighbors here in Gotora, a village in Zimbabwe’s eastern Uzumba district, the 40-year-old is a staunch supporter of the ruling Zanu-PF party, so dedicated he is even a member of a committee local.

But Mr. Ngwarati’s secret is this: he supports the opposition party. And here, in the rural stronghold of the party that has ruled since independence, often through violence, it’s an allegiance he fears will cost him his life.

“Deep in my heart,” says Mr. Ngwarati, “I support the opposition. I want to change.”

Why we wrote this

Driven by a younger generation that wants change, the waning support for Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF party could be an indicator of the first democratic transition since independence in 1980.

The Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front, or Zanu-PF – has long ruled districts like Uzumba, rural areas where much of a brutal seven-year bush war was waged against British colonial rule .

Like many people in Uzumba, Zanu-PF’s founding father, the late President Robert Mugabe, belonged to the Zezuru clan, which played a key role in liberating Zimbabwe from white minority rule in 1980. Subsequently, he rose to power and during the first years of his tenure, Zimbabwe prospered to become one of the most prosperous and educated countries in Africa.

Mr Mugabe, who died in 2019, continues to loom over the country and the party he led for 37 years is still in power. But as decades of economic mismanagement have caused growing hardship for ordinary Zimbabweans, officials are increasingly resorting to violence and intimidation to maintain their grip.

When Mr Mugabe was ousted by the military in 2017, many hoped for an end to the repression and mismanagement of his authoritarian regime. Instead, his party has further cracked down on civil activists, especially young people protesting as the coronavirus pandemic exposed rampant corruption.

As Zimbabwe heads into elections next year, the battle for the first democratic transition since independence is boiling. For the first time in a decade, Zanu-PF faces a serious challenge from the opposition. Led by the charismatic Nelson Chamisa, who is in his forties, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) is taking on the growing rumblings of discontent.

An opposition ‘Citizens Coalition for Change’ rally takes place at an informal encampment just outside Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, in March 2022. In next year’s elections, the CCC hopes to capitalize on disenchantment widespread with regard to the poor economic situation of the ruling party, Zanu-PF. record.

90% unemployment

Mr Ngwarati was only 2 years old when Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain. The same party has been in power all his life. At the age of 19, Mr Ngwarati became a regular member of Zanu-PF, which then presided over a booming economy and expanding schooling for black Zimbabweans as part of a general dismantling of white minority rule. .

But the glory days soon passed.

In 1997, the government printed and distributed so much money to some 60,000 liberation war veterans that the local currency plummeted. Three years later, in 2000, these same veterans led a violent and chaotic seizure of white-owned farms.

The takeover of these commercial farms, many of which ended up in the hands of Mr Mugabe’s cronies, spurred hyperinflation, unemployment and a political crisis that some experts say the country never really recovered from. handed over.

In theory, Mr Ngwarati’s position as a well-known foot soldier of the ruling party should have accorded him some status and benefits.

Instead, he has never had a formal job, which puts him among the 90% of working-age citizens who are unemployed, according to the Zimbabwe Trades Union Congress. Nor has he benefited from the periodic support given to veterans, considered a key demographic by the government.

With annual inflation climbing to 96% last month, the economic devastation is visible in other ways. Two of the three shops in the village of Gotora were closed and fell into disrepair. On a recent afternoon, Mr Ngwarati walked past the only functioning shop, watching villagers counting change to buy their wares. A few were sitting on the front veranda, taking turns sipping beer from a single shared pot.

With each passing year bringing more economic hardship, Mr. Ngwarati says, he has slowly become more and more disillusioned. Two years ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic ripped through the country, he was horrified by reports that the health minister illegally skimmed millions of dollars in a deal to buy medical equipment to fight the virus. That year he threw away most of his Zanu-PF badges.

Last year, when the government began cracking down on street protests, arresting key activists and shutting down the internet, he began secretly attending opposition rallies, hoping no one would spot him in the crowd. . Recently, he has started going door to door in the villages of Uzumba on foot to canvass neighbors whom he knows are equally unhappy.

“This year I decided to support CCC, like many others here who do so in secret,” says Mr Ngwarati. “[I] speak when I vote, in next year’s election.

However, when he saw another villager approaching on the road, he covered his face with his cap. “He must not see me here,” said Mr. Ngwarati, fearfully.

(Left to right) Lynnette Karenyi, Co-Vice Chair of Citizens Coalition for Change; party chairman Nelson Chamisa; and National Vice President Job Sikhala attend a CCC opposition rally outside Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, in March 2022. In rural Zimbabwe, many opposition supporters are afraid of identify themselves in public for fear of violent reprisals from the ruling Zanu. party PF.

Expensive exit

Zanu-PF officials appear optimistic even as rumblings of discontent continue to grow. “People will naturally get discouraged; it’s the new generation,” says Christopher Mutsvangwa, Zanu-PF’s national spokesperson. “People are allowed to leave Zanu-PF as much as they are allowed to join; this country is a democracy.

But leaving the party has cost many people dearly.

In 2008, skyrocketing inflation sparked a wave of support for former Western-backed labor leader Morgan Tsvangirai. This June, after a runoff election that Mr Tsvangirai was widely believed to have won, an orgy of government-sponsored violence left hundreds dead and the opposition all but collapsed.

In Mukonzi, a village near Gotora, longtime Zanu-PF supporter Rangarirai Kaseke returned home after losing his job in the capital, Harare. He said he was badly beaten by Zanu-PF thugs, who were allowed to roam with little consequence.

“I lost loved ones who were killed by Zanu-PF supporters; I almost got killed. I will not return to Zanu-PF,” says Mr. Kaseke

“Nothing has come of my support for Zanu-PF over the years,” added Mary Mtegude, Mr. Kaseke’s wife. “I only work as a housekeeper from house to house trying to raise money for us to survive.”

Let’s go to the countryside

Earlier this year, the CCC party launched a campaign it called handei kumushameaning “let’s go to the countryside” in the local Shona vernacular.

“We have developed a strategy to penetrate rural areas,” explains Fadzayi Mahere, national spokesperson for the CCC.

In strongholds like Uzumba, she adds, “Zanu-PF is militarizing food aid, unleashing intimidation and violence, and capturing traditional leaders to rig elections in its favor.”

But Ms Mahere was reluctant to share the CCC’s rural strategy, saying it could give its tactics to the “enemy”.

Some analysts say the opposition will need all the help they can get to overthrow the government, which still has strong supporters.

Taura Kandishaya, a 30-year-old man from Nhakiwa, another village in Uzumba, says he couldn’t imagine supporting any other party. “There is no way a sane Zimbabwean can leave Zanu-PF,” he says.

Mr. Kandishaya and his family members acquired land during farm seizures in 2000, he explains.

“I will support Zanu-PF to the grave. I took advantage of it,” he explains. “I can’t afford to leave.”

But the government no longer counts on voters like Mr Kandishaya, says Farai Gwenhure, an independent analyst based in Harare.

“Zanu-PF has shifted its reliance from popular support … to the military, corporations and other powerful institutions like the judiciary,” he says.

“A ruling elite that is not in power because of an election is not accountable to the people,” Mr Gwenhure said. “The country will therefore continue to ride from one crisis to another with no solution in sight, unless the Deep State self-destructs or the citizen finds a formula to deal with it,” he predicts.

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