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Zimbabwe vote: Old guard vs new

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The youth vote is key in Zimbabwe’s first election since its nonagenarian president, who sat tight for decades, was booted out. The poll on 30 July is expected to be a showdown with an entrenched old guard.

To have lived through a presidential poll that Robert Mugabe did not win, you would have to be over the age of 31. To remember a time he was not running the ruling party, you would have to be at least 43.

The political temperature is rising as parties traverse Zimbabwe to canvas for votes, in the run-up to a general election on 30 July.

The poll promises to be a showdown between the young and the old guard.

The main candidates for president are incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa and Nelson Chamisa of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

At age 75, Mnangagwa is a stalwart of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). He was chosen to replace Mugabe, now 94, when the army stripped him of the party leadership and booted him out of office in November.

Read more: Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe blames ‘coup d’etat’ for his departure 

Chamisa is 40 and already a seasoned opposition lawmaker. The former student leader succeeded MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai upon his death in February.

A group of ministers that make up Zimbabwe's new cabinet sworn in in December read their oaths of office – each holding documents in one hand and a bible held high in the other. (picture alliance/AP Photo/T. Mukwazhi)A new cabinet was sworn in under Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa in December.

Street vendors with degrees

Feelings are mixed among young Zimbabweans, who make up 43 percent of the 5.6 million registered voters.

Some feel let down by the old guard.

Mugabe’s policies isolated the southern African country and sent its economy into free-fall. Hyperinflation, a worthless currency, critical shortages and unemployment have lingered for decades.

Jobs are still so scarce that university graduates are forced to resort to small-scale street vending to survive.

“Based on the previous history of rigging, you don’t really know how much your vote will count. But it is very important to go and vote for the candidate we want,” comedian Mukudzei Kandora Majoni told DW in the capital Harare.

“The most terrible thing we have in this election is that Zimbabwe is still very far from having an ideal candidate. We have necessary candidates,” he said.

A picture of Nelson Chamisa, accompanied by a quotation credited to him, which reads: It's time up for a particular generation. This is the message of our liberation icon Mr Mnangagwa, just like Mr Mugabe. It's time for them to be warehoused and archived for national use as father figures, not for them to be runners of the nation at a time when we are meant to take up our responsibility. Nelson Chamisa became Zimbabwe’s youngest lawmaker at 25 in 2003 and went on to lead the main opposition party in 2018.

Optimistic but wary

Gift Ostallos Siziba said he was optimistic but wary of vote rigging.

“Major revolutions — be they political, be they economic — were pushed by young people. So, Mnangagwa must ensure that this election is free, fair and credible,” the 25-year-old told DW.

Fair and credible “because the danger of stealing an election is what we call a post-electoral disaster where those that govern will be governing without a popular majority. And to govern without a popular majority,  that has a dire bearing on the performance of the economy,” Siziba said.

A number of young candidates are among those vying on local government level and for parliamentary seats. Fadzayi Mahere, a 32-year-old barrister, is one of them.

Fadzayi Mahere@advocatemahere

Dear @edmnangagwa,

How do you plan to resolve the debt crisis? Is structural adjustment on the cards? If so, will it be more/less stringent than ESAP of the early 90s? What’s your labour policy given that your mantra is “open for business”? Will you reform our tax system?

Mahere is running as an independent member of parliament for the constituency of Mount Pleasant in the capital Harare.

She previously worked in the office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in the Hague and the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

DW asked her why she decided to go into politics.

“It’s a desire for a value-based political system where the issues and the daily struggles of the ordinary man and woman matter and are critical. It is also to try and inspire a new style of doing politics where the people in the community are the front and center and there is competent representation in the house,” Mahere said.

But Zimbabwe’s youth won’t have the final say in the elections, says political analyst Takura Zhangazha.

“The young and new voters will have a tremendous impact on this election, given the figures issued by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission that puts them in a slight majority over any other age group. So, essentially, they are the determinants of the victors but they cannot win that election alone. There is always need for intergenerational support for any party that intends to win the presidency,” Zhangazha told DW.

Source: DW