Youth must not allow themselves to be emotionally blackmailed into voting for the governing party.
Three years ago, a curious poster on a window at the Road Port Bus terminus in Harare caught my eye. It was a campaign poster for President Robert Mugabe. Elections were going to be held in a few months’ time and the ruling Zanu-PF, scarred from the previous election that had plunged the country into chaos, was in serious election mode.
Although the president was already looking frail and aged, the photo in the poster was of him looking younger and healthier, his eyes sharper and hair fuller. It was most likely taken in the early 1990s.
But it was not the photograph that caught my attention. It was the accompanying text, which read: “Vote comrade RG Mugabe. We did it in 1980, let’s do it again!”
In 2013, the economic and socio-political instability was overwhelming. Industry had all but collapsed, leaving scores of Zimbabweans out of work and impoverished. Millions had left the country in search of better opportunities in the diaspora. The dollarisation of the country was pushing the poorest of the poor into a corner while the political elite was milking the country.
Political violence, though not as extreme as it had been in the 2007-08 elections, continued. Zimbabwe was in state of instability.
And yet, here was Mugabe, a man who had presided over the collapse of the country, imploring Zimbabweans to give him another chance.
And while the masses were starving and graduates left sitting at home unemployed, facing an uncertain future, the ageing despot was regaling tales of the struggle and using the role that his party played in the liberation of Zimbabwe as a form of emotional blackmail.
This served two purposes: Firstly, it was an albatross around the necks of Zimbabwean people. They were being reminded that they owe their eternal gratitude to a Mugabe who liberated them in 1980.
Secondly, it was used to undermine opposition parties, particularly the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which some regard as illegitimate solely on the grounds that it does not have struggle credentials as the MDC did not fight in the second Chimurenga that led to the country’s independence.
There is an undeniable similarity between the language of election campaigning that is used by the Zanu-PF and the one that is used by the ANC.
With the local government elections taking place on Wednesday, voters are being bombarded with campaign narratives that centre on liberation struggle credentials.
These find expression not only in the statements made by ANC leaders during election debates and campaign speeches, but also in emotionally-loaded advertising.
We are reminded, on a daily basis, how South Africa was liberated by the ANC and how the party alone can move the country forward.
The message is clear: as a former national liberation movement, the ANC alone has the legitimacy to lead the people of South Africa and this inherently translates into capacity to make the country better.
Two of the ANC’s biggest opposition parties, the DA and the EFF, are dismissed using the same language as that used by the Zanu-PF.
The accusations levelled against the DA have great legitimacy, because it is indeed an organisation that seeks to serve and protect white interests.
The demographic composition of its executive leadership, coupled with its liberal policies, are a clear indication of this.
The EFF, on the other hand, is painted as an organisation without Struggle credentials and therefore no real legitimacy to lead South Africa.
An intellectually weaker argument could not have been levelled. That an organisation was born in a democratic dispensation does not make its importance and contributions less legitimate.
The EFF is a young organisation but its struggle is informed by a historic mission determined long before the ANC itself was born.
The deliberate vulgarisation of South Africa’s Struggle history, which finds expression even in the basic education curricula that has been stripped of all historicisation, would have us believe that until 1912 black people were not actively engaged in progressive forms of resistance.
But they were, and a lot of what they were fighting for informs the politics of the EFF. And until those historical objectives have been realised, the Struggle continues.
The vehicle that must drive this struggle need not be 104 years old – it only needs to be progressive and committed to the liberation of black people, who remain oppressed and disenfranchised.
It is for this reason that, as a young person born into a democratic South Africa, I vehemently refuse to have Struggle history used as a tactic to win my vote.
And lest I be misunderstood, I am not saying the history of the country is not important or it should not inform the choice that the young make when voting.
On the contrary, young people have a duty and a moral obligation to vote for a party that has an appreciation of the violent and oppressive history of our beloved country – and not in the simplistic fashion of parties like the DA which view history merely as past events.
Such a party should have policies that are aimed at redressing injustices of the past. It would have the political will to implement such policies.
It would have the ability to discipline capital – something the ANC has proven incapable of doing.
Young people must refuse to be held prisoner by fear. Former national liberation movements in Africa generally thrive on fear, giving them a margin of terror. Firstly, they use fear as a weapon of control. When challenged by radical new parties, they use words such as abomafikizolo (newcomers) not only to ridicule and undermine but to make voters nervous about voting for a new party.
It becomes a case of “better the devil you know”. It is a subtle method of coercion to whip voters into line. And when all legitimacy has been eroded, they resort to physical acts of intimidation and violence.
For now, ANC members are slaughtering each other for positions. However, when the party begins to lose power – and that day will come – the guns will turn to opposition leaders.
When we vote, as young people, it should not be because we feel that we owe eternal gratitude to a particular movement for liberating us.
In reality, the liberation was the product of the contributions of several organisations and, most importantly, of ordinary people who fought hard against an immoral regime.
No one organisation should claim to have liberated us and we should reject with utmost contempt any attempts to pass off such lies as truth. We should vote both because of the appreciation of our past and of a future that our children will inherit.
I am a 24-year-old black woman, who is cognisant of this country’s history.
I don’t take for granted the sacrifices that many made, sacrifices that have enabled me to live in a better South Africa than my mother was born into.
However, I am also a young person with dreams for myself, my family and my country.
And it is precisely because of this that when I vote, it will not be for who did what in 1912, but for who will create a better tomorrow for Mwalimu and Paidamoyo, my unborn children.
[Wa Azania is a student at Rhodes University and author of Memoirs of a Born Free: Reflections on the Rainbow Nation.First published 31 July 2016 on The Sunday Independent]