HARARE: Voter apathy has been an issue amongst the youths in Zimbabwe, even though they make up more than 70% of the 17 million estimated population.
The 2018 watershed elections instilled hope amongst the Zimbabwean citizens, catalyzing a voter registration rush amongst the youthful, who accounted for more than 60% of the eligible voters.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has been trying to register first-time voters and young people since the last election.
Despite the efforts and the notable effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, the commission only registered around 2000 virgin voters in 2021.
The civic society has raised concerns over lack of awareness and voter education as some of the reasons behind a sluggish response from the younger generation to vote.
Election Resource Centre(ERC) Legal and Advocacy Officer, Takunda Tsunga believes that there is a need for electoral stakeholders to synchronize efforts in engaging citizens, think innovatively and engage youths at their zones of comfort to avoid political lethargy.
“The voter registration process started slowly, as predicted. This was worsened by the lack of information by ZEC about the blitz, inaccessible identity documents amongst other issues. Registration Centers were only published days before the exercise, even though the blitz was scheduled since last year. However, it is likely to gradually improve due to the increase of information,” said Tsunga.
UNIZIM Trust Director, Brendon Malaba concurred that lack of information and awareness presented a hurdle in the voter registration exercise, especially amongst students.
“Most, especially students, are not aware of the ongoing blitz or even that the commission was registering before the proclamation. This has been further deepened by the digital divide that exists in Zimbabwe. Those from non-connected communities are still not aware of the ongoing processes,” explained Malaba.
He however pointed out that by not registering to vote, the youths are locking themselves out of the decision-making room, leaving someone else to decide their future.
“There is also a general lack of interest amongst the youth. From our surveys, most students do not see the value of voter registration. To them, voting is adding another five for someone in the office. They are not conscious of what is happening and the importance of having a voice,” lamented Malaba.
ZEC has in the previous bemoaned lack of funding for them to carry out effective voter registration campaigns.
Be that as it may, the commission highlighted that youths have been facing documentation challenges in the preceding years and now, which is a prerequisite for them to register as voters.
“Unfortunately, the major challenge that we are facing is that most young people do not have national identity cards. The Registrar General’s office has been facing issues with the inputs that they require to process the cards. Youths are coming in small numbers, mostly because of this problem. But, that also means many of them will be missing out on the upcoming by-elections.
We are hoping that in the second phase the situation will have improved in the hope that the registrar general’s office would have been capacitated,” said ZEC’s spokesperson Commissioner Letitia Kazembe.
The commission is mainly targeting fresh voters from those born between the years 2000 and 2004, who will be eligible to vote in the 2023 harmonized elections.
The younger generation has on many occasions been urged to engage, participate in issues of national interest, and desist from the free-rider symptom.
ZEC is currently running the first phase of the massive voter registration blitz from the 1st to the 28th of February. A second phase is due from the 10th to the 30th of April.