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The urban youth vote: high stakes for Zimbabwe elections 2013

30 July 2013 | By Farai Chiunda

When my niece Vimbai (*not her real name) turned 18, she was really excited about her new found ‘adulthood’, with her life and career plans well laid out.

Just three years later, armed with a business degree from the local university, she is disillusioned by the serious lack of employment opportunities in Zimbabwe and urgently wants to register as a voter in the presidential elections this week.

A group of young people in Zimbabwe
Young people in Zimbabwe

Build up to election day

Together with my two nephews, we agreed that they would take advantage of the 30-day mobile voter registration blitz. They decided that Saturday 22 June would be the big day to register as voters. They asked me, as their guardian, to prepare paperwork declaring proof of their residence with me.

As the excitement bubbled up in our house I decided to join them and check my name was still on the voters' roll, as there have been numerous reports that up to 1 million people’s names have been deleted from it without their consent. 

So, we agreed we would leave the house early the next morning to be at the registration centre for 6am - early birds catch the fattest worms, or so we thought.

At the polling station

We had already heard stories of long, chaotic queues, but nothing prepared us for the scene we were greeted with on arrival.

The queue, at 6am, was already about 1km long and was packed with young women with sleeping babies strapped to their backs. 

There were lots of first time voters aged between 18 and 22, just like my niece and nephews, while the elderly leaned on walking sticks and talked in the hazy sunshine.

The mood was of great excitement, among the young people especially, many of them on the threshold of becoming eligible voters for the first time.

In a country where most freedoms are curtailed, the opportunity to vote creates an intense feeling of exhilaration and enthusiasm.

We joined the back of the queue and were immediately given our position number by cards (99–103). We knew we were in for a long wait, but nothing was going to stop the exuberant young people I was with.

Inadequate system

Soon after we arrived, rumours filtered down the unmoving queue that staff inside were working with just one computer, at a painfully slow pace.

After about three hours, four buses suddenly arrived carrying a group of young police recruits, complete with clean shaven heads and kitted out in their blue tracksuits with a bright yellow stripe.

They were immediately ushered to the front of the queue, causing grumblings from those waiting, which were quickly stifled by the dark penetrating stares of the recruits’ commanders, armed with their assault rifle of choice: the AK47.

Of course, the officials did not even think of moving the elderly and young mothers with babies on their backs to the front of the queue so we continued to wait in uncomfortable silence.

Agitation among the youth

After 12 hours, with only one hour left until the mobile office was to close, with nearly 100 people in front of us, we decided to call it quits. 

I could see the disappointment and frustration on my young niece and nephews’ faces. It was obvious that they felt cheated and that they had been deliberately disenfranchised – one of the few small freedoms that they could claim had been cruelly taken away from them. 

Unfortunately, this discontented group of young people is growing by the day in Zimbabwe and they are becoming more and more agitated.

My fear for the July elections is the possibility of yet another stolen vote and subsequent descent into the abyss in which the country found itself in 2008.

As we trudged back home, jacaranda trees dropped beautiful purple flowers on the streets, creating a vivid contrast to how we felt inside.

I didn't know how to deal with my niece and nephews' disillusionment and I couldn’t help feeling that being forced to walk away was exactly what they wanted.

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Farai's blog was also published on Reuters.

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