The sober view: Our politics in generational transition

It seems there is a growth in the number of younger candidates being nominated to represent the parties in the upcoming polls.

ONE of the most stubborn facts is that the old die, and the new are born. This is the natural order of life that is demonstrated by Darwinian evolution. It is both an existential necessity and a progressional imperative.

I have recently been reflecting on this philosophical matter as I observe the unfolding political trends in Zanu PF and Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC). It seems there is a growth in the number of younger candidates being nominated to represent the parties in the upcoming polls.

This trend gained credence in 2018, not as a few exceptions defying the odds, but as firmly a visible shift and is not abating. This is a pleasant break from the past where political leadership aspirations of youth have always been smothered on the altar of “youth are leaders of tomorrow.” The problem with this dear reader, is that it is a deceptive declaration because tomorrow never comes.

Tomorrow never comes

I have recently been reading Ngugi waThiongo’s political satire, Wizard of the Crow set in the fictional Free Republic of Aburiria — quite an interesting read. I am fascinated by one Tajirika, who would play a cruel joke on desperate job seekers.

Tajirika, a successful businessman had a vast business empire enjoying state patronage and thriving through unbridled corruption. He erected a banner outside his offices written, “for jobs, come tomorrow” and would always refer a job seeker to the banner and ask them to come back tomorrow only to play the same practical joke and ask them again to come tomorrow.

As personified by Tajirika’s bad joke, society has for a long time etched into the annals of cruel humour, the notion that ‘the future is young’. The statement evokes hope and excitement as it appropriates the youth imagery of vitality, innovation, energy, creativity, and cultivates hope.

Presented as a promise for the fulfilment of their political ambitions tomorrow, it is but a cruel deferment in perpetuity, of the aspirations of youth to a tomorrow that never comes. Ndebele’s say “ngumncantsha webusika ubungeziyo!” (Its food reserves for a winter that never comes).

When the old refused to die

Zimbabwe’s political commentators in recent times characterised as a Gramscian interregnum, the tension between the older generation of politicians variously referred to as “the old guard, the gate keepers, the godfathers etc” and the younger generation.

Our politics have for a long time been an isomorphic mimicry of Italy’s 1930s crisis which, according to Antonio Gramsci consisted of the fact that: “The old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”.

This is the political asphyxiation of the young by the old and has had notable consequences in both Zanu PF and the opposition over the years. The diagnosis of these morbid symptoms in our major political parties can be attributed to incessant splits, boardroom coups, autocratic tendencies and in one instance, ‘military assisted transition’ to solve a succession impasse.

I swear I am not exaggerating, dear reader. In the then MDC, when the older generation of Morgan Tsvangirai et al refused to hand over the reins to the next generation, Tendai Biti and others split to form the ill-fated MDC Renewal.

The same happened in Zanu PF when Simba Makoni’s generation was being asphyxiated by the liberation war generation, they split and formed the also ill-fated Mavambo-Kusile-Dawn. Both these ill-fated new political enterprises expressed the desire for the new hence they aptly declared a ‘renewal’ and a ‘dawn’.

Fidel Castro characterised a revolution as, “a struggle between the future and the past”. What is clear, and pleasant to behold is that young people — as the future, are taking up spaces in mainstream political parties and, the older generation – as the past, is making way.

It is making way willingly or embarrassingly. Some are making way in dignity and others in disgrace. You know them dear reader, I need not mention them.

An apt question warranting inquiry is where this shift is coming from, what inspires it and what is the content of this evolution or revolution in our political parties?

The ill-fated Generation 40

Generation 40 emerged as a faction of young turks angling to take over power in the Zanu PF’s succession manoeuvring. It is safe to say that the G40-Lacoste tussle and tumble partly had a generational dimension.

It was a tussle for the transition from the liberation war generation to the next generation, which had positioned itself to take over. The trio of Saviour Kasukuwere, Jonathan Moyo and Patrick Zhuwao were the self-styled Machiavellis who would midwife that transition.

This resulted in a host of younger leaders rising both in the party and in government. The mentioned trio occupied strategic ministries in government and more young turks gained influence like Psychology Maziwisa, Acie Lumumba, Godfrey Gandawa, Kudzai Chipanga, Makhosini Hlongwane, Anastacia Ndlovu and notable others.

But the old could not die, and the new could not be born. Jonathan Moyo was to later assert that the coup represented an arrested or blocked generational transition. These are some of the morbid symptoms of the interregnum!

He still insists though, that, “If the future belongs to the younger generation as it certainly does, then young people must take charge of public positions of responsibility and secure their future today; and not tomorrow when it might be too late!”

Generational consensus movement

Within the opposition, when it became clear that the founding generation of the then MDC had become an albatross around the opposition itself, the ‘generational consensus’ emerged.

This was a movement of young people, who were pushing for a change of guard in the party to give way for younger generations to take over the mettle of leadership. The party was dominated by the old generation, especially at the top, while the young generation was pushed to margins occupying peripheral roles in the powerless and exploited youth wings. As such, the generational consensus was composed of youth calling for a renewal and a fair share of the cake.

With Nelson Chamisa as the touted torchbearer of the new generational consensus in the opposition, the seeds had been sown. The results are visible with Chamisa himself emerging to lead the opposition after the demise of Tsvangirai, ahead of the older generation in the form of Tendai Biti, Welshman Ncube, Thokozani Khupe, Elias Mudzuri, Douglas Mwonzora amongst others.

But this shift was more perverse than just being limited to the top. In Parliament the Jessie Majomes, James Maridadis and others fell and made way for younger generation of parliamentarians in the mould of Joanah Mamombe, Happymore Chidziva, Yvonne Musarurwa and a number of others.

Post the constitutional court coup that ousted Nelson Chamisa from the top echelon of the MDC Alliance, the new party that has emerged as the main opposition, CCC has a clear generational shift.

A clear disruption of the business-as-usual order of the old guard. This has seen the emergence of people like Fadzayi Mahere, Ostallos Siziba, and Gladys Hlatywayo as key people in the founding court of the party. The generational shift is clear. There are also reports filtering in that the nomination exercise in CCC has seen an overwhelming response from the younger generation standing up to lead.

Not so ill-fated G40

While G40 framed the 2017 ‘military assisted transition’ as having been a battle between the past and the future, the results in the past five years are an antithesis of this framing. What is clear is that the seeds for generational renewal had already been planted in Zanu PF.

Post 2018 elections, a number of younger politicians occupied parliamentary and government positions replacing the old guard that had to retire to their farms or to Zanu PF headquarters.

This saw the rise of younger government ministers and MPs like Mangaliso Ndhlovu, Kazembe, Tinotenda Machakaire, Dingumuzi Phuthi, Justice Mayor Wadyajena, Yeukai Simbanegavi, Tatenda Mavetera, John Paradza and others.

The recently held Zanu PF primaries have removed any doubt that the party is firmly transitioning to a new generation. Big names fell to younger candidates. Maybe Generation 40 as an idea was not so ill-fated. It could have been the approach of its proponents that rattled the old guard to move in to asphyxiate it giving the semblance of an interregnum that was not.

But, is there content to this generational shift?

One problem of this generational shift that we are witnessing is that it does not seem to be content based. I have always had problems with youth whose only credential is that they are young. Woe to the folly of youth exceptionalism!

Being young is not a qualification. It must be clear what the younger generation is bringing to the table beyond naivete and inexperience. You may protest, dear reader, that youth bring vitality, innovation, energy, creativity, and hope. Granted. But all this without content is in vain.

It was Frantz Fanon who declared that: “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it”.

The current generation is seemingly fulfilling the first task of Fanon’s challenge – to emerge from relative obscurity. What is not yet clear is whether it has discovered its mission and whether it will fulfil it or betray it. Is the political narrative shifting? Is there a new message?

I am not convinced, dear reader, that this generation XYZ has discovered its mission yet. For now, I cynically view the generational shift as content free. I will, in my next instalment, attempt to frame the national question of Zimbabwe from which the mission of our generation can be read.

The most disturbing pitfall linked to this is the observation that this generational transition might not be based on values. Democratic values. As such, it may be caught up in the vicious trap of perverse self-serving patronage, unbridled corruption, undemocratic tendencies, and primitive accumulation.

To back this up, the Afrobarometer study of 2021 found that the young are less likely to reject military rule, less likely to support elections as the best method to select leaders, and less likely to support democracy overall. It must be clear that the transition we are witnessing is not also within this disturbing characterisation if it is to inspire hope in our dejected society.

The sober view

All things considered, whether you like it, or know it, Zanu PF is on a generational renewal. CCC is on a generational renewal. What is important is that this shift must not just be demographic.

It must necessarily have public content, which actuates the generational purpose in a way that fulfils it and not betray it. It must be advancing fundamental principles and values that expand democracy and delivers public goods for the populace. It has to signal a clear break from the political ills and sins of yesteryear and embark on a new path of servant, ethical and democratic leadership.

Dumani is an independent political analyst. He writes in his personal capacity. — @NtandoDumani





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