I met a young man the other day in town. I parked in front of Karigamombe centre and he waved frantically at me from across the road and jogged towards me. “Ndakatarisa mota sister, musatye,” he said. I forced a smile, making awkward noises and glancing at the Easipark attendant a few metres away. For fear of paying the clamping fee, I ended up handing my dirty, crumpled up dollar to the Easipark dude. When I came out, the young man was still there, and he explained, quite painfully, how he would take any job I could give him. He offered to braid my hair, mow our lawn or wash the car – all in about 20seconds as I backed out of the tight parking space. He came right to the window and said he couldn’t find a job and didn’t have the money for university. He was hoping to earn some money so he could start a small business. I handed him another crumpled dollar, drove off, and glanced back at him through my rear view mirror. He jogged over to his next customer.
This incident happened just before I clawed my way through First Street, almost missing vendors’ cardboard tables and zambias filled with vegetables, phones, books, airtime, accessories and much more. I watched as people my age and younger called out to passers-by, advertising whatever they could so they could make a couple dollars. As I left, I thought about the millions of youth that are in their same positions – hustling on street corners, pulling together what strength they have to make it through the shambles of an economy that has done nothing but lowered their expectations for the future. Again, as I backed out, I glanced back at them, guiltily, acutely aware of my privilege. The people forever in my rear view mirror, almost out of sight, reduced to a loud mass shouting marketing gimmicks at and pleading to be noticed.
Tomorrow marks President Mugabe’s 91st birthday. This year’s 21st movement celebrations are set to be held in Victoria Falls and, as usual, the Youth League is pulling all the stops. The movement was established in 1986 “to encourage Zimbabweans, ‘the youths in particular’, to emulate Mugabe’s revolutionary ideas, charismatic leadership and selfless policies”. The Youth League is aiming to raise $1million for the event, and many a well-wisher and private company are dishing out buckets of money that’ll most likely be declared ‘missing’ in next year’s audit. So what’s in it for the youth, you may ask? Well, 100 children who were born on the same day as Mugabe will be attending the event, free of charge. They’ll most likely have their share of the elephant, buffalo, lion, impala and sable meat that’s being served there (*Cue cringe from animal conservationists*). Oh, and we’ll all undoubtedly be inspired by the ‘supreme leader’s’ revolutionary ideas and ‘selfless policies’. So what actually is in it for the youth, you ask again? Nothing, really.
For perspective, here are a few fun facts about where we are financially as a people from the 2014 Finscope Consumer survey:
- 26% of the population is made up of youth between the ages of 21 and 30.
- 36% of the population has primary education, 51% high school education, and only 6% a degree/diploma (So no, not everyone has a degree, let alone a grade 7 certificate)
- 65% of adults in Zimbabwe earn $100 or less a month, and by the looks of things, the bulk of that number comes from the youth.
- 74% of adults have said they do not have bank accounts because they can’t afford the charges. This may have a great deal to do with the $100 that 65% of us are earning a month.
These stats are pretty sobering. This does push me to side with the MDC (not sure which one out of the million of them) in saying the birthday bash is slightly ‘obscene’. But I’ve also thought of a few ways we could use the party as a platform to empower the very youth the event is meant to inspire:
1. Don’t have it. No money spent, no elephant-killing, no strain on hotels that probably won’t get the money they were promised, no endless articles in the press about how terrible Zanu is.
2. Since number 1 won’t go down so well with the die-hard Gushungo-ists and may rob us of the potential the event has for transformation, perhaps the money raised for the party could be used to start a youth fund. A real youth fund that isn’t premised on party connections and boot-licking, but on the bright business ideas and hardworking youth that churn them out daily.
3. Share the money with companies that will develop their apprenticeships and internships for young people who need industry experience and who are forced to defer their degrees because companies won’t take them on.
4. Have ‘pitch events’ for young entrepreneurs from different sectors of the economy who have ideas for businesses that need funding. Hold these events in each of the ten provinces, throughout the month of February. Get the private sector involved and make your Minister of Youth take this on and ensure its success.
5. Make education a priority. There is a significant gap between primary school goers and high school goers, and between the latter and university students. Invest in schools and restore the pride and joy we had in our educational institutions. Give kids a fair chance to be great.
These are a few suggestions I thought of today. No longer should we be in the rear view of the government, almost out of sight, trotting after mediocre, low paying jobs. From what I’ve been seeing, we’re trying. But we need you to try too, Gushungo.
Your ever obedient daughter of an ordinary card-carrying member.