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Where are we headed and why do we care
Tenford Chitanana, BornFree Trust
October 21, 2012

This past week, a short documentary film that I helped make, was chosen as the winner for the best short documentary at the Silicon Valley African Film Festival. I (being the Director/Producer) received several congratulatory messages and invitations to screen the film from all parts of the world. Myself and the rest of the team at BornFree we still feel very elated by the results of the work we put into making the short film.

As with any well meaning storyteller, our intention with the story was to make people listen to what we had to say. As part of my personal reflection upon the receipt of the award, I wish to reiterate the question upon which the film is based, where are we headed and why do we care?

Zimbabwe like most developing nations has a very youthful population. The past few years have been a very decisive period in Zimbabwe's history. First, the 2008 elections offered a window into the possibility of an alternative government (a formidable opposition can win an election and change the status quo). Second and most important, the constitution making process which started 3 years ago is unique opportunity for the masses to rebuild the foundation upon which the future of this country will be based on. The third and last thing would be the impending elections as they hold a key to countless possibilities. Given the fact that young people are a significant number of the population both the next election and the constitution (to be delivered by the current processes) have a strong bearing on the youth than any other segment of the population both in the present moment and in the future.

On the outlook it looks as if there is a lot that can be done by young people. Some well meaning adults often say to young people, ‘in our days, we would have taken action'. I have no doubt there are lots of young people who would want to take action and change the status quo (some are already doing it-at the cost of their lives sometimes) but it is easier said than done. The participation of young people in the creation and function of these delicate yet decisive political instruments has been neither here nor there. As I have argued in the past;

The complex regime that governs the perception of politics, power, leadership, governance and decision-making in Zimbabwe is woven into a thoroughly strong socio-cultural tradition that relates authority, power and leadership to age. It is borrowed from a strong patriarchal tradition that places fathers as heads of families and chiefs and kings as natural rulers. This culture of fathers and rulers has found its way into modern politics: political leaders are treated as fathers who are, by some sort of divine ordinance, in control. They are fathers who, instead of leading, rule. The political participation of the youth in such an environment has automatically been reduced to that of children, subjects and servants who by 'fate' are expected to obey their fathers and serve their rulers with extreme subordination. Young women, like their mothers, are expected to occupy nothing but the kitchen and to bear children.

The term ‘youth', also sometimes wrongly used to mean the same as ‘youths', has been or is being used within a wide and elusive range of meanings in Zimbabwean society. In the domestic and social realm, ‘the youth' implies children. In political party doctrine, ‘youths' are the confrontational and mobilising arm that has little role in decision-making platforms. In police and security terms ‘youths' denote a collection of rowdy touts who are moved by indiscipline and violence; a population sector which the police have to confront with little remorse. In economic and human development platforms ‘youth' is synonymous to immature and undeveloped persons. They are the able-bodied labour force which has to toil, toss and turn for their employers regardless of their potential to be business-owners and employers if given enough capital, infrastructural and legal support.

In governance, ‘the youth' are treated as lacking experience, bookish freshers who have nothing to share but everything to learn. In social activism, ‘youths' are the needy partners who are often driven by excessive and misguided passion that will soon die down with experience and frustration.The youth remain treated as that segment of the population that is violent, unruly, undisciplined and underdeveloped. (Chitanana, T. 2010)*

Such an environment has contributed to the creation of a generation of young men and women who are strongly disenfranchised and apathetic to politics. Yet in that apathy, young people yearn to belong, they yearn to contribute and they constantly seek direction.

When we made Toindepi: Reflections from a Discarded Generation, our intention was to use a specific case to explore the broader phenomena of youth participation and role in society. The story of Moreblessing became an insight into the thoughts of the generation of young people created by the socio-economic and political environment we have lived with since 1980. A generation that did not fight in the war of liberation but has seen a lot, most importantly the downward spiral of our country's economy and governance. A generation whose concerns have not been adequately addressed, whose contribution has been underestimated and down-played.

It is my hope that the documentary will help contribute to the soul searching process as Zimbabwe writes its constitution and prepare for the forthcoming election. In the midst of all this grand political activity, there are some who are scheming and some who are planning, some are for personal gain and the present, some are for nation building and the future, to both I say, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men".

*Shouting to No One in a Vacuum: Mechanisms of Exclusion, Disempowerment and the Missing Voices of the Youth in Zimbabwean Politics. Published in Political Participation in Zimbabwe, edited by David Kaulemu (2010).

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