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  • Politics, youth empowerment and the Constitution: Interview with George Makoni, Information and Publicity Officer, Youth Forum
    Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa ,
    August 05, 2009

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    George MakoniHow did you get involved in working with the Youth Forum?
    I started as a member, then after having contributed much as a member, I was recruited as the information and publicity officer.

    In your work with the Youth Forum have you found that the youth want to be engaged in changing things in Zimbabwe?
    Youth actually want to be involved from the initial stages of all the processes. What is happening in most cases is that they'll be just called to endorse things. Where they have been involved from the initial stages, they'll be proud owners of whatever programme that is formulated. And they will be very responsible in implementing those things.

    What legislation or issues is the Youth Forum lobbying right now?
    We are working on the National Youth Policy. The current National Youth Policy that we have, which was ushered in, in year 2000 was made by commission and consultation with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee and the Ministry. The youths didn't have any input. Since the National Youth Policy has to be in line with the Supreme Law of the Land, that is the Constitution, the Youth Forum is collecting the views of the youths so that they will also lobby Parliament to include those views. Then regarding the Constitution, there are notorious Laws, which are in the Constitution to do with the youth, like for example, the Zimbabwe National Youth Council Act, it gives too much power to the Minister at the expense of the youth. We are also looking at fundamental freedoms, which are critical for youth, like the right to education, academic freedoms and so forth.

    What is your stance on the situation at the University of Zimbabwe, which is the only public university?
    We are very disturbed with that situation. To say the least it's really pathetic. And we are lobbying the Ministry of Youth, which we mainly work with. We are lobbying the Ministry to push the Ministry of Higher Education to consider reviewing fees and probably engage other stakeholders, such as the government itself and other NGOs and so forth. So that maybe subsidies can be offered. Because honestly speaking they are just limiting education to the elite and we feel that it is a fundamental freedom. And also the issue of residences. You find that it's very difficult for students because in most cases they'll be forced to board two commuter omnibuses and it's quite expensive for them. Something must be done about accommodation at the University of Zimbabwe. Listen

    What issues do you feel are facing the youth in Zimbabwe today?
    The major issue that the youth are facing is lack of empowerment. I think they are the least empowered group in our nation. I think for female youths, its even more - they are more vulnerable. And as such it becomes for the politicians to take advantage of the youth, and just use them. You find that in most of the violent incidences to do with politics youths were both perpetrators and victims. They are just given tokens, very small tokens to carry out criminal activities. The only way youths can be liberated is to empower them. Not only through tangible resources or material resources, but even intangible resources such as information. I think if they participate from an informed position, they'll be able to make better decisions. They are uninformed in most of the things that they do in terms of the consequences and so forth.

    How do you feel about Minister Kasukwere's statement saying he was going to lobby Parliament to make youth service compulsory?
    I think the issue of making National Youth Service Compulsory, per se, is not a bad thing. In the sense that even in some developed countries like America and the UK, National Youth Service is compulsory. It is used as a breeding ground upon which the youths are trained to be not only leaders of tomorrow but also the leaders of that day. But there are things that should be addressed before National Service is taken up. Like for example you find that as the youth forum we tried to ask for the syllabus that they were using for the past four years. And they've been concealing it because mostly those people in the National Youth Service were being used as militia. They were being told that if you are not ZANU PF then you are an enemy and so forth. National Youth Service is not necessarily bad. It's the principles and procedures, which must be addressed. And I think considering that we do not have adequate resources National youth Service must be part of the curriculum in our education system rather than having a totally different institution. I think considering the economic crisis that we are having it's a waste of resources.

    What do you think will be the final outcome of the arrest of MDC MPs. Will ZANU PF be able to gain a majority in Parliament?
    I don't think so, because, ultimately, there's a clause within the Global Political Agreement, which says that in the event that an MP is no longer in his, or her position there won't be by-elections for a period of about a year. I think this will just give MDC a chance to field another Parliamentarian. Honestly speaking, in terms of support on the ground MDC is still in control. Even if that period of no by-elections lapses the MDC is most likely to win the elections.

    Do you think there are activists, particularly youth activists for hire in Zimbabwe?
    Yah, actually there are many of those. As I said earlier on, the politicians take advantage of that. They are the most affordable hire, in the sense that even with a pint of beer or two a youth can be told to do whatever the MP deems necessary. Most of those politicians are winning as a result of youth's participation and they do what they would have been told to do. So youths have no other way of living besides being used. And to them they'll be thinking that maybe that's how they can survive because they do not any other alternative. Listen

    For a youth who finds themselves in that situation where they are being exploited by politicians or by other people or groups, what advice do you have for them to empower themselves?
    What I can advise the youths is that they do not have to wait for those in positions of authority to give them the empowerment which they need. I think it's high time they should start demanding for that. I think it should be one of the basic tenets of their demands in their struggle. To fight for participation. I think the most effective way to empower them is to make them participate in the exact meaning of the word. They should demand, say for example in this Constitution making process, that they must have a certain percentage of representatives in Parliament and also find ways that their voice is heard. As long as they do not have an adequate voice in these highest decision making bodies, then they won't be able to make the change that they want. Listen

    What does empowerment mean to you?
    Empowerment to me means being self sufficient in all aspects. That is being able to sustain your livelihood, being able to get all the basic necessities, being able to be a proud citizen unlike just being a second class citizen and affording all the things which you want. Not at the behest of anyone but out of your own will.

    What are your thoughts on the Constitutional Conference that was organised by the ZCTU?
    I think their cause was noble. In the sense that they feel that the one by the government is not people driven and they want to dwell more on the Kariba Draft and so forth which is not democratic to the people.

    Do you believe that it will result in a people driven Constitution?
    I think the ZCTU should find common ground with the government. For as long as they fight for their own document, that document won't be having enough legitimacy. I think the document, which they have together with the NCA, will just be relevant as a reference document. I don't think it will really make sense if they just come up with their document without the government. I think there must be common ground with the government and see how best their differences can be harmonized. I don't think that this time we can afford not to have a Constitution again and then go back to the Lancaster Conference (Constitution). Maybe there can be a need for a mediator. I don't think it is impossible. I think its quite possible. Obviously there will be compromises, which will be made, but I think this time we must have a people driven democratic constitution in the exact meaning of the words.

    Within the framework of the two Constitutional processes that are going on, is it likely that we are going to see a people driven constitution from either process?
    Obviously we are going to see it. We are definitely going to come up with a document and I personally hope that there are compromises, which are going to be made between these two parties. I think one fact which should be known by everyone is that the MDC still has the sympathy of the majority of people in Zimbabwe, and there is that euphoria although there's criticism that they haven't reached the levels which people expect. People still feel that in terms of democratization we are going somewhere. As such people will definitely vote for the Constitution in which the government is taking part. And I want to repeat that it's the MDC that still has the control of the majority of people, and as such it will be easier to go and tell their supporters just to support the document that will be in place. Listen

    What do you think about the recent developments with regard to the Media Commission?
    Personally I think they are very positive. Particularly in terms of the licensing of the Daily News; the invitation of BBC; the invitation of CNN. I think those are positive moves. It's something that we have been calling for. I want to see what the Daily News will be like. Will it be as thorough as it was before being banned; are there no other restrictions that are going to be associated with that. If there is nothing like that, then its one of the greatest moves which this inclusive government has made.

    What about the freezing of the interviews for the Media Commision?
    Personally I think its quite ok. I was also questioning the larger number of people who sympathize with ZANU PF you know the likes of Rino Zhuwarara, the likes of Tafataona Mahoso, the likes of Kindness Paradza. Most of those guys were more inclined to ZANU PF and they were most likely to play the tricks they played. But I think very soon they'll be able to gather those interviews. I hope it won't be used as an excuse to take even more time reviewing it. They should simply have a balanced composition of people who make up that commission.

    In your opinion will the GNU succeed in fulfilling the terms of the Global Political Agreement?
    Yes. But it is a process and not an event. Personally I think that it won't be done in accordance with the two years that were set. I think the time is too little for that. It might even take up to five years, considering the friction that is there between MDC-T and ZANU PF. If you look at MDC-T their support is mainly based on the generality of Zimbabweans. Those who have nothing to offer except their votes and support. Whilst ZANU PF is supported by critical pillars of governance, such as the judiciary, the army and they are still in control of the media. And if you look at the type of propaganda, which they are mechanizing right now in both electronic and print media you find that they are still very far from relinquishing power. So it needs more time to see how best they can be allowed to leave power. If we go for elections again, people are still afraid because of the June 27 experience. And ZANU PF still says the legacy of the liberation struggle will not just go like that. So there is need for great diplomacy and strategies to ensure that eventually ZANU PF relinquishes power. I predict that there will be a compromise of some sort at an elite level that people on the ground won't know. It's going to take more time than we expect. Listen

    What kind of compromise do you see?
    A compromise which I see is that maybe ZANU PF and MDC can agree that constituency A is for party A, Constituency B is for party B. One lesson that the Government of National Unity has depicted is that the people's power can be done away with in preference of the politicians' power. I think the people will be complaining. They'll be crying and moaning and so forth but for the politicians I think they'll be able to remain in control. Listen

    Would you say this compromise is democratic?
    It's not democratic. I think, as even the Prime Minister said, it is the most workable agreement, so it's just a marriage of convenience. The most democratic thing was expressed on the 29th of March 2009.

    In the run up to ZANU PF party elections, ZANU PF has been quick to endorse President Mugabe, Party Secretary John Nkomo has even been quoted by the Financial Gazette as saying that there are no vacancies within the party structures. Why do you think this is so and do you then that ZANU faces stagnation as a party because of this?
    I think Robert Mugabe has succeeded as a personal cult of ZANU PF. He has succeeded as a demigod of the party. Robert Mugabe is ZANU PF and ZANU PF is Robert Mugabe. It has been realized that as long as they maintain the status quo, then they will also be preserved. There is a mutual agreement that the likes of John Nkomo, Emmerson Mnangagwa and most of the guys in the party, there are some dissenting voices that are saying, no you should give us a chance. There's been an alliance against that. Those guys are taking advantage of the control of resources and institutions of governance to ensure that no one will remove them from power. It's just an agreement to cling to power.

    Is ZANU PF likely to survive Robert Mugabe leaving?
    The death of Robert Mugabe, or anyway in which he will be removed will leave ZANU PF as the weakest party in Africa. He had centralized everything on himself. It will be very difficult to find a person to replace him. In the party there are factions already. The Mujuru faction and the Mnangagwa faction both feel that they will be able to fill the vacancy. You will find that there will be massive intra-party violence. I don't see ZANU PF surviving after that fight.

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