…we’re here – and we aint gonna leave!

..standing our ground against Zimbabwe's sickening culture of 'ageism'

I feel patriotic these days. And before the feeling wanes and recedes into the indifference that often informs the limited involvement of young people in anything important in this country- I think I should speak up.

For in keeping silent I perpetuate a grave injustice to those of my kind – the youth of Zimbabwe.

Combined with these patriotic sentiments are the sentiments of Deborah Meier that I happened across the other day. She wrote, “There’s a radical – and wonderful – new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world. It’s an idea with revolutionary implications. If we take it seriously.”

I can trace my blossoming patriotic sentiment to the three weeks I spent cooped up at the University of Ghana with two and a half dozen young women from 21 African countries and to the fact that in nearly deliberation Zimbabwe was used as a reference point for one bad thing or another.

It is one thing to daily hear Zimbabweans speak negatively of their own country, to listen to them and join them in denigrating their own country but quite another to listen to outsiders take similar liberties.

Indeed it is the one thing that will make you defend your country without stopping to examine your reaction but simply because it is your country, your home and ultimately it is who you are – Zimbabwean. It is also what will force you to scrutinize the condition of your country and how other people have come to perceive you as a people.

By omission or by commission every Zimbabwean is responsible for the leadership we have and for the mess we’re in.

Whether through indifference, greed or fear – we’re all guilty of allowing this great land to sink to its knees.

I have joined on occasion, when I could muster the breathe, in the mud-slinging, bad-mouthing, finger-pointing and hurling of insults directed at those in power and those aspiring to be in power. I say on occasion because for the greater part, I simply have been too nonchalant to even care.

Perhaps, that is the real problem for me and the youth, we have believed that we are too weak, too young to be of any consequence and in believing this fallacy we have sought refuge in nonchalance.

...to fight or flee? To live or die? To watch or act?

It doesn’t help too that there is so much romanticising about the past that we always feel that our unavailability to be drafted into the liberation struggle automatically makes us less qualified to have a say in the running of our country.

I mean if there is one thing ZANU PF has perfected it is the art of using its formidable credentials as a revolutionary party to bring the Zimbabwean electorate and youth to heel with a cocktail of nostalgia, sentimentality and the incessant reminder of the insurmountable debt of gratitude owed to them by every citizen who lives in a free Zimbabwe.

The MDC, on the other hand; wisely discerning that they cannot do much to beat the revolutionary party card that ZANU PF loves to draw – have made it a point to totally ignore the liberation struggle and by doing so attempt to rule Zimbabwe and its people outside the contexts of our history rendering them rather superficial.

I will not strain self trying to untangle the relevance (or lack thereof) of the splinter factions that are now a ZAPU pulled out of ZANU and an MDC pulled out of an MDC-T; too much ink has been spilled de-bunking these political specimens.

However, if the youth hope their participation in the nation’s politics to be meaningful; this is the political menu of parties that is availed to them.

One that is stuck in the past and bogged down by its distrust of young people and new ideas then another with a vibrant youth visibility but suffering from the acute deficiency of denial and a tragic refusal to own Zimbabwe’s liberation history (without which they would not enjoy the very autonomy that allows them to aspire for political power).

I have opinions about Zimbabwe, I have thoughts about the conditions of Zimbabwe, I have theories and hypotheses about what is wrong with this country and about why we are where we are today.

I have no idea how long I have held these views but they must have been simmering in me, stewing for a long time because when I was in Ghana I said, for the very first time, in a lecture room full of strangers what I thought.

And I was surprised by the vehemence with which I leapt to defend my beloved country, astonished by the passion with which I narrated the course of events that had brought us to this present miserable condition and even more shocked by the utter convictions with which I spoke.

I was amazed that I cared that much about Zimbabwe; surprised that I cared at all for over the years the pretense of being indifferent has become second nature to me such that I began to believe that it was normal.

How dare we sit, fold our hands and watch the demise of our country as if we had another spare Zimbabwe stashed somewhere to live in as soon as this one folds up and inexorably crumbles?

...always thrust in the background and barely discernable; the youth have none but themselves

For in the years to come, many who hold the reins of power will succumb to the inevitability of death and we shall inherit nothing but the shell of what once was.

I believe that Zimbabwean youths have been sidelined for too long and that perhaps we must come to a definitive age-range of what it means to be a youth in this country.

It bothers me no end that a person on the wrong side of 30 should strut around as a youth leader or presume to speak on behalf of young people in this country.

Moreover it bugs me terribly that young people have been willing to be used as arse wipes by those who aspire for political office only to be discarded after the elections and flushed into oblivion.

But I want to believe that the tide is turning. That the youth will be reckoned with, that we will be ignored no more, sidelined no longer and never again patronized.

As we enter the UN International Year of Youth running under the theme “Promoting Dialogue and Mutual Understanding” – I fervently hope that the would-be election candidates of 2011 and beyond will get off their high horses and engage young people as equals because we are not going anywhere.

The International Year of Youth is our chance to declare categorically that as Zimbabwean youths, we are here and we are not going anywhere. This is our country of birth and we have as much right to live and prosper in it as anyone else.

A woman should know her ‘place’

I used to be one of those women who would turn her nose up whenever politics was brought up thinking, “what a waste of time, I’ll focus on gender issues and advancing the interests of women.”

I have had occasion to change my mind about politics and the discourses of governance and decision-making in the highest echelons of power.

In fact, I would go so far as to say I have set my mind firmly on pursuing politics as an overarching goal in my activism career.

Once I realized the influence that politics has on my life and its bearing on the choices availed to me as a woman, as a youth and as an African, I became convinced that being a woman must of necessity require one to be a politician.

I figure if politics determines what I can afford to eat, what kind of bed I can sleep on, what kind of shelter I can call home, what kind of lifestyle I can lead (power-cuts, water-rationing and all) – if politics can impact on what kind of clothes I can afford to wear or the kind of educational and career opportunities availed to me – then clearly politics is exactly where my head needs to be and precisely where my heart should set its sights.

If politics determine what kind of future my children will have or the kind of road I must travel on daily and the texture of my journeys (bumpy dusty roads, potholes and all) then I figure politics is exactly where I need to be.

If politics will determine which embassy will shut its door in my face, if politics can deny me the chance to see the world beyond the borders of my nation, if politics has the power to detain me within the confines of my continent – then to change the narrative of my life and to exceed the limitations imposed by my nationality (tainted by bad governance, skewed politics and all); I must delve into politics.

If politics determine what laws will govern my conduct and which laws will legitimize my oppression – then by all means I must become a politician to change the status quo from within and not from without.

If politics can give immense power to a minority and perpetuate the discrimination and marginalization of certain sects of society – then I should be a politician to use the same vehicle to turn the tide of social injustice.

If politics can determine the quality of my life and my fate when I ail (no drugs in hospitals and no health personnel and all) as well as the kind of burial I am likely to get from my well-meaning but financially stunted nearest and dearest – then politics is my business.

If politics determines my diet, keeping the best brands just out of my reach so that I have to be content with the ‘no-name’ average products (with local industry struggling and all) then clearly, politics is where I need to be.

If politics influence the kind of security afforded to me and my property as a citizen (with underpaid cops and corruption being the order of the day) then I have to be a politician or be doomed to a life lived according to the dictates of others.

If politics gives one the voice, to speak on behalf of others then politics is my kind of brew – for no one speaks for me; I will speak for myself and if need be, I will speak for those on the receiving end of life’s endless tragedies and political intrigues.

A woman’s place is in politics. A woman’s business is to shape a tomorrow brighter than our own past and greater than our present circumstance.

So I sold my soul to the ‘dirty’ game of politics for if it is a game then I refuse to be a casualty, a pawn and a bystander caught in the middle and paying the price for decisions made without my consent or footing the bill for events sanctioned without my permission.

So hear me when I say, politics is my business for I would rather pay the price of being one than suffer the penalty of standing on the sidelines while others recklessly play God with my life.

I figure every woman should know her place – and I have resolved my place is in politics.