Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Emerging Informal Political Consciousness of Young Urban Zimbabweans

By Takura Zhangazha *

Explaining the contemporary political consciousness of young Zimbabweans is little explored social commentary in the country.  Except where issues relating to  levels of unemployment, pursuing technical courses and sexual/reproductive health are placed on the table. Where there is an increasing dearth of information is the character of their political consciousness and how it affects their understanding of the broader state of affairs in the country. 

It is a consciousness that has as its initial measurement point, their right to express themselves.  And in political matters, they have not sought so much to independently portray their views as opposed to finding homes in the mainstream political party youth wings, church organizations and civil society organisations.

In these latter organizations, their voices have been muted either by way of structured discourse that relates to what is seen as their mainstream but peripheral roles. Alternatively they are limited to the straight-jacketed discourse that comes with the globalised human rights narratives or understandings of ‘development’.

This has left them with little option but to discover new, informal and much more easily accessible means for organizing and seeking to explain their socio-economic predicament.  This is also reflected in the way they have taken to the informal sectors of the economy with greater enthusiasm and vigour. 

But because whatever they do they tend to find ways of expressing their views of it, it is this key measurement of their national consciousness that is the subject of this article. 

Contemporary younger generations of Zimbabwe rarely get platforms to express their own views on how they are governed or whatever direction their country is taking.  With universities and tertiary colleges functioning like personal fiefdoms of Vice Chancellors, schools being semi-privatised, churches remaining conservative in outlook,  the price tag for exercising their right to assemble or express themselves in these spheres remains too high. 

And this is where the not so new but increasingly ubiquitous phrase ‘ghetto youths’ has come into being.  It is also a quasi informal movement with common characteristics particularly for the sprawling high density suburbs of our major towns and cities.  It borders on representing ‘pop culture’ while at the same time being expressions of how realties, ideals and roles are envisioned by an urban majority of young people in our country. 
The latter youth have taken to social media via both mobile telephony (smart(ish) phones, Whatsapp, Facebook) or fixed internet to express their views of the society in which they exist.  It is haphazard usage but it is a new means of expression their new consciousness all the same.  It’s a medium that has been used both for serious issues but largely for entertainment purposes. Especially where it comes to music and videos that are distributed either via social media, including YouTube or DVDs.

Common themes that emerge in this new social consciousness that is becoming apparent are about pursuit of recognition (ma fans), money, love, football, unemployment and departing for the Diaspora.
There is limited direct reference to political matters in the main forms of expression about their existential circumstances. Except where it concerns some party activists and civil society activists.  This means broadly spoken for, politics is no longer at the fore of what young urban Zimbabweans consider significant.

The reasons for the nonchalant attitude toward politics is probably because it no longer speaks directly to their lives as experienced on a regular basis.  It only tries to do so during elections, and even then, its presentation is so materialistic, it does not exude any specific values.  It therefore takes on the character of temporary fashion, momentary material benefit impact. The t-shirts, mobilization allowances are welcomed but with the understanding that politics is essentially about those that have the money seeking to purchase those without. 

After that, its back to social media and the urban subculture of struggling to survive while making the most apolitical sense of their lives.

This in itself is not a bad thing.  The only problem is that most of the solutions to the current socio-economic malaise that is affecting their consciousness requires principled social democratic politics for it to be resolved holistically.

As it is, this new but haphazard  social consciousness of Zimbabwe’s urban young has taken on a life of its own.  It is multifaceted but also essentially no longer has confidence in politics as a vehicle of organic change.  The young do not really expect specific positive changes to the health, education or even economic circumstances that obtain. 

They expect to continue to hassle for the dollar, engage in escapist behavior that will straddle varying extremes which include the informal economy, leaving the country, religion and even materialist politics.  Their vision of their own country however remains limited in its optimism.  Each day may be indicative of them getting older but their lives not getting any better.

*Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity (