Despite the pandemic, youths must rise up
By Namatai Kwekweza
Zimbabwe has for a long time been synonymous with human rights violations. The situation has further deteriorated with the coming in of the Covid-19 pandemic. The ruling party, Zanu PF has used repressive state apparatus to clamp down on political opponents and fast-tracking the enactment of draconian legislation to consolidate power. The government of Zimbabwe has also successfully managed to disempower the low-income earners who are in the informal sector by imposing pro-rich lockdowns that deprive the former of a source of income for the duration of the lockdowns. The youths, who make up the majority of the population, have been the most affected. But as the repression increases; the resistance, courage and willfulness of youth leaders and must also increase to match this threat. Arrests and detention of young human rights activists and opposition political players have been a major highlight of the lockdown in Zimbabwe since 2020. This is because human rights violations increased during the lockdown and when the youths stepped up to defend the affected, the state tried to silence them by arresting them. Many of these arrests were of young people mainly because they constitute the biggest demographic in Zimbabwe and also because, in their diverse and numerous spaces, they kept on organizing, mobilizing and showing up in powerful ways. A quick analysis of the average age of the people arrested for mobilizing for community action or participating in pro-democracy, accountability and human rights protests since the first lockdown on 30 March 2020 to date, can lead one to appreciate that youth voices have remained the loudest in the struggle for human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe. Young people from both the human rights and democracy movements kept showing up in their diverse cohorts and risked abductions, detention, judicial persecution and torture for the work they were advancing. In the lockdown of 2020 youth leaders and activists experienced significantly more hostility while working to defend the democracy and human rights space. It can be stated that fluid movements like People Power, #NoToConstitutionalAmendments, Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) among other movements kept showing up at different intervals to address different issues that threatened democracy and human rights during the Covid 19 lockdown. No one can forget the efforts of the MDC Trio comprised of Joanah Mamombe (26), Cecilia Chimbiri (33), and Netsai Marova (24), who courageously led a demonstration against the indifference of the government to the socio-economic situation in Zimbabweans during the lockdown. We remember the arrest of Takudzwa Ngadziore (21), after a press conference outside of Impala Car Rental, a car rental business that was involved in the abduction and torture of 22-year-old Tawanda Muchehiwa ahead of the July 31 (2020) protests against corruption. A further look at more of the people arrested during the 31 July protests, reviews that young people consistently showed up for action. Fadzayi Mahere 35, Panashe Sivindini 22, Godfrey Kurauone, Vongai Zimudzi, Alan Moyo, Nancy Njenge, Terry Guta, Loveride Chinzende and Noxolo Maphosa are some examples of the younger generation who have fought to defend human rights during the Covid-19 era. Throughout history, the power of youths has always been in their numbers and their ability to organize, mobilize and come together to form social groups and social movements that demand social, economic and political change. This has been made almost impossible by oppressive regimes that have taken advantage of the Covid-19 regulations to criminalize social movements, youth mobilization and youth community organizing. It can be said that while the Covid-19 context is treacherous, human rights defenders should step up and defend democracy. A gender lens The use of rape and physical assault or threats of the same, has been a form of state-sponsored (GBV) Gender-Based Violence which dissected the Covid 19 lockdown targeting the young women who led struggles for human rights, accountability and democracy. Apart from the threats of arrest and judicial persecution, young women were subjected to state-sponsored violence through the police. In Bulawayo, two young women, Nokuthula and Ntombizodzwa Mpofu were brutally beaten by six male police officers for allegedly violating lockdown restrictions. The MDC Trio were abducted and sexually assaulted in circumstances that the state argues to be false. Noxolo Maphosa was also abducted and sexually assaulted. There is a need to pursue justice for the victims and hold perpetrators to account. Human rights networks, movements and organizations must develop Covid-19 context-specific measures to protect young women from violence especially in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Conclusion: The young have the upper hand, they must not hesitate to take proactive action in preparation for a Post Covid 19 world. Covid 19 presents challenges for today’s youth, economically politically and socially. It does however present opportunities that the young leaders, entrepreneurs and activists can take advantage of to advance democracy, accountability and human rights as well as build a better world. At present, youth leaders and activists need to develop Covid-19 specific strategies and tactics that allow them to advance their work in human rights and democracy. Young people must also make use of the digital world and social media as it is an effective way of making an impact while ensuring that the message is sent loud and clear to human rights abusers. There is a need for Covid 19 context-specific solidarity networks which offer support to front line defenders. In conclusion, those who violate human rights and undermine our democracy are not being slowed down by Covid-19 and the lockdown. Why should youth leaders and activists fall asleep? The Covid 19 context is the time for demonstrated youth leadership, youth activism and youth power! Namatai Kwekweza is a Youth activist, human rights defender and Director of WELEAD Trust.