Mugabe shimmies up to youth vote in advance of election


ANALYSIS:Zimbabwe’s ageing president has little traction with the vital youth demographic

ZIMBABWEAN PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s appearance last week in a new music video is one of many recent indications that his Zanu-PF party views the youth vote as essential to success in next year’s proposed elections.

Aired repeatedly on state television, the amateurish video shows the ageing Mugabe (88), a known devotee of old-school British correctness, dancing with a group of hip youths with Mohawk haircuts who joyfully sing the president’s praises.

Zanu-PF has always availed of youth militias to intimidate and harasses its political opponents and the general voting population around election time.

But the former liberation movement has had little real traction over the past decade with the wider youth demographic, which has no direct experience of its activities during the war of independence against white rule.

In addition to bringing a youthful edge to Mugabe’s image, Zanu-PF has adopted a new strategy that sees Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped government give up to €775,000 to each of the country’s 10 provinces for businesses run by youths under its indigenisation programme.

Zanu-PF’s Chris Mutsvangwa told South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper last week that he believes the “empowerment” strategy will result in many young people voting for the party.

“Zanu-PF goes for the real thing. Your wealth is the basis of your prosperity. If you control wealth, the future of the youth is assured,” said the former director of Mugabe’s intelligence agency.

That remains to be seen, but recent international surveys show Zanu-PF has gained ground on prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change since the disputed presidential poll of 2008.

According to a survey by US-based Freedom House published in August, support for the MDC had plummeted from 38 per cent in 2010 to 19 per cent. Over the same period, Zanu-PF’s support grew from 17 per cent to 31 per cent.

Sections of the public have become disillusioned with the MDC, Freedom House said, blaming it for the failures of the power-sharing government into which it entered with Zanu-PF in 2009. A number of corruption cases linked to MDC party officials have not helped it.

Buoyed by these developments, Zanu-PF believes it stands a better chance of success at the polls, and securing the youth vote on the coming campaign trail could be just what is needed to tip the balance in their favour.

While the date for the coming poll has yet to be officially announced, Mugabe indicated in court papers last month that an election would take place by the end of next March.

The MDC maintains the country is not ready to hold free and fair elections, as many of the political reforms that were to be introduced under the power- sharing arrangement – including the adoption of a new constitution – have yet to materialise.

Both MDC groups have endorsed the draft constitution but Zanu-PF has indicated it wants extensive amendments made at a stakeholders’ conference scheduled for later this month. The MDC says there can be no election without a new constitution, as a host of political reforms would be realised when it was adopted.

A rise in the levels of political violence perpetrated by Zanu-PF youth militias has also been recorded recently, and Tsvangirai has warned he will pull out of the coalition and elections unless it is curbed. As he put it nine days ago, he would not “step on dead bodies” to get elected as the country’s president.