African Youth as Non-Citizen: The State Has Disappeared
In 2011, Herbert Jauch and Deprose Muchena edited a book “Tearing Us Apart: Inequalities in Southern Africa” and argued that Southern Africa’s political economy was characterized by systemic entrenchment of all forms of inequality, tearing whole communities, people and societies apart. Fast forward to January 2019, Zimbabwe’s urban areas goes up in flames and the partystate machinery claims it is an ‘MDC Alliance/Western world’ conspiracy. They cannot see that it is rising poverty and inequality that are the core drivers of the protests. One of the most important phrase that summed up the ‘turmoil and tenacity’ that gripped Zimbabwe in the week commencing the 14th of January was a social media ‘meme’ which said the following words: ‘residents of Borrowdale are concerned about what is happening in their neighbouring country Zimbabwe’.
In very few words this phrase summed up what can be called the ‘geography of poverty, resistance and revolt’ in Zimbabwe where wealthy areas remained calm and the urban ‘ghettos’ erupted with barricades. We at Gravitas have been consistently arguing that Zimbabwe needs to build an inclusive economy in which all citizens participate, create their material lives and fulfil their dreams. When the dams burst after the 150% fuel increase the mayhem that ensued; the unsightly burning of tyres; the widescale looting; the violent crackdown by the state; the ZANU PF militias that roamed freely; the midnight abductions confirmed by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) and the live bullets that topped off the orgy were all targeted at the poor of urban Zimbabwe. The ruling elites were not so impressed that the urban poor can try to resist so brazen primitive extraction, so they can gallivant the world in hired jets, spoil their wives with Gucci bags and import more Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Bugatti Veyrons and go for shopping in Manhattan, New York. Apart from the lingering electoral legitimacy questions the meme we sighted above speaks to the rising poverty and widening levels of inequality, and thus, represents a potential powder keg not only in Zimbabwe but across Sub-Saharan Africa. From the popularity of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and swinging of younger voters to the Democratic Alliance (DA); the run around in Kampala where Yoweri Museveni is playing a game of brinkmanship with Bobi Wine; the eruption of urban Sudan (Khartoum) against the tyranny of Al Bashir; to the very tense pre- and post-electoral landscape in Kenya and finally in Zimbabwe the African youth has simply become a non-citizen. Why do we say this? The economics pursued, has created Mbeki’s ‘two nation theses’ and seem to entrench what Mamdani called the ‘bifurcated state’ but this time centered on class rather than race. From the slums of Mathare in Nairobi, Caledonia in Zimbabwe, Cator Manor in Durban and Mutenderi Compound in Lusaka, the urban and rural poor are condemned to the vagaries of perpetual poverty and inequality. They are not citizens in the ‘New Africa’.
To make matters worse, the education they get is useless and not fit for purpose; the lucky ones go on to acquire degrees, certificates, diplomas and remain largely unskilled and unemployed. For those from the rural hinterland who migrate to the urban areas, most find themselves in the urban slums where to quote Franz Fanon, ‘they live on top of each other’. The urban poor often get involved in the low paying informal economy, petty crime and when push comes to shove they spread their bodies for a few shillings, so they can survive for another breadth. Ngugi Wa Thiongo summed it up in The Devil on The Cross. When Katswe Sisterhood in 2018, pressed the panic baton on the scourge of rising poverty levels in Epworth driving the girl child into sex work, they were arrested for spreading falsehoods. Oblivious to the authorities is how poverty has condemned some of the supposed citizenry to being the ‘wretched of the earth’. This is how the arrogance of privilege has blinded Zimbabwe’s elite.
* Tinashe L. Chimedza & Tamuka C. Chirimambowa are the Co-Editors of Gravitas a publication of the Institute of Public Affairs in Zimbabwe (IPAZIM). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org