Youth Integral to National and Formal Peace Processes in Zimbabwe

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Reconciliation in Zimbabwe remains a recurring question despite several interventions by government to respond to the challenge. According to the Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust (YETT) report on youths released last year, youths constitute over 67.7% of the population in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean Constitution stipulates that a youth is anyone between the ages of 18-35 while the African Union Youth Charter defines a youth as one between the ages of 17-29 years

Despite the existence of progressive policies and laws which present opportunities for young people to contribute towards democratic processes, there is limited participation of young people in national and local decision-making processes in Zimbabwe.

Despite the existence of progressive policies and laws which present opportunities for young people to contribute towards democratic processes, there is limited participation of young people in national and local decision-making processes in Zimbabwe.

The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) was established under Sections 251 to 253 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No. 20 Act of 2013. The NPRC’s core function is post conflict justice, healing, reconciliation, truth telling, rehabilitation, conflict prevention, dialogue facilitation, and social cohesion. The NPRC became operational in 2018 following the publication of a Government Gazette. The NPRC have set up peace committees across 10 Provinces of Zimbabwe. The establishment of peace committees is in line with the Commission’s strategy priority to enhance the resolution of the country’s conflicted past and healing process. The provincial peace committees consist of various stakeholders representing government, civic society organisations, church, business, academia, political parties, youth, people with disabilities and war veterans. In Midlands province, the peace committee was established in June 2019.

Taitos Mangona, the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) Midlands Coordinator who also sits in the Midlands provincial committee representing civil society organisations said the term “Youth” is associated with a number of harmful labels and stereotypes, such as both perpetrators and victims of violence. This labeling and stereotyping are limiting young people’s agency.

“The hyper-competitive nature of elections in Zimbabwe, as well as the ingrained culture of violence and militarisation of politics have characterised Zimbabwean elections since 1980, heightening tensions, destabilising politics as well as platforms and spaces for dialogue. However, the success of peace depends on the inclusion of marginalised groups, such as women and youth. There is need for young people to be in the epicenter of peace and security as key actors and contributors to peace and national healing”, he said.

Taitos went on further to state that for national healing and reconciliation processes to be successful young people should have ownership of the processes so that they are perennial champions of peace, reconciliation, democracy, and unity.

In Zimbabwe, political tensions often outlive electoral periods, spilling into post-election phases. In the immediate aftermath of the July 2018 elections, on 1 August 2018, citizens took to the streets protesting the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s (ZEC) delay in announcing election results. This led to a military crack-down that left 6 people dead, most of them innocent bystanders. In the aftermath of the August riots and shootings, a Commission of Enquiry was established by the Zimbabwean government, led by Former South African President Kgalema Mohlante. However, besides limited female representation, it was also devoid of a youth component. This inadvertently led to hem being left out of the process and treated as victims and perpetrators than stakeholders and part of the solution.

Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCOZ) Midlands Province Coordinator Vimbai Nhutsve highlighted that, “During the NPRC’s nation-wide public consultations to gather views on its strategic vision in 2019 between February and May, one consistent theme that emerged was greater inclusivity of young people in their full diversity in national healing and reconciliation process. I participated in the Midlands province outreach consultation and noted that there was lack of participation by young people. This was due to lack of trust of young people in the NPRC itself and as well lack of relevant and timely information about the NPRC and the scheduled public consultations.

Jasper Maposa of Zimbabwe Organisation for Youth in Politics (ZOYP) who sits in the NPRC Midlands provincial peace committee representing youth civil society organisations said “the inclusion of youth is a matter not only of justice but also of necessity, one on which the peace and stability of the country should be determined by”.

Jasper argued that there is need to transform systems that reinforce exclusion to address the structural barriers limiting youth participation in formal peace processes. Young people should be viewed as equal and essential partners for peace, national healing and reconciliation processes, hence young people should be at the forefront. In most cases young people are not viewed as mature and therefore unable to meaningfully contribute to political, formal peace processes and not worthy listening to.

Robson Tigere, a youth from Gweru who participated in some NPRC meetings noted that the NPRC lacks youth representation and this leads to lack of interest by young people to be part of the process.

“The establishment of the Midlands province peace committee was highly politicised and it is being led by Madam Ethel Mukwende from Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and she is being deputised by Cornelius Mupereri, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) Midlands Spokesperson. In such a set-up, it is difficult for young people to express themselves as they fear being victimised or arrested for speaking against the truth about gukurahundi’, he said

“Midlands province is conflict riddled with machete wars between artisanal miners. The province is endowed with vast minerals and the struggle to control and exploit these resources has bred a culture of violence presenting a challenge for peaceful coexistence”, he said.

Another youth from Gweru, Faith Makore said the NPRC should consider that for any reconciliation process to work, the affected people need to first openly acknowledge the problems that divided them to effectively engage.

“This is important to ensure that the people see the problem as shared, which fosters restoration or broken relationships. The NPRC process should embrace and promotes some fundamental prerequisites such as truth, apology, forgiveness, reparation and promoting encounter”, said Faith.

For the national healing and reconciliation process to be successful, it is important that government and NPRC itself invest in the capacities, agency and leadership of young people so that they may fully reach their potential to contribute to peace and national healing. Thus, providing an enabling environment for young people and making the political space more open and transparent so that young people can more easily participate. When young people are involved, they can provide invaluable and unique insights that can improve the depth, breath and quality of decisions being made.

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