Introduction

The youth constitute the largest percentage of the population in Africa compared to other continents.1Mirjam De Bruijn and Jonna Both, “Youth between State and Rebel (Dis)orders: Contesting Legitimacy from Below in Sub-Sahara Africa,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 28, nos. 4-5 (2017): 779–798, doi:10.1080/09592318.2017.1322329; Patrick Dzimiri, “The Responsibility to Protect and the Youth: A Case Study of the Youth Activism in Zimbabwe,” The Anthropologist 17, no. 2 (2014): 441–454, doi:10.1080/09720073.2014.11891453. Nonetheless, many young people face economic and political marginalization across the world. In Zimbabwe, youth are relegated to low-level positions and activities in politics.3Obert Hodzi, “The Youth Factor in Zimbabwe’s 2013 Harmonised Elections,” Journal of African Elections 13, no. 2 (2014): 48–70. These activities include running errands for politicians such as canvassing for votes, intimidation, and perpetration of violence against political opponents on behalf of older and powerful politicians. Marginalization from top positions in political parties and government has seen more young men pursuing alterative channels of inclusion in national affairs, particularly peacebuilding, where masculinity is uncoupled from political violence.

Youth Masculinities, Peacebuilding, and the National Agenda

Age is central to the exercise of masculinity in Zimbabwean cultures, such as those of the Shona and Ndebele people, in which social relations are organized around rule by elders or gerontocracy. Rule by elders is also an integral aspect of national politics in the country.2Roger Southall, “Presidential Transitions and Generational Change in Southern African Liberation Movements,” Review of African Political Economy 46, no. 159 (2019): 143–156, doi:10.1080/03056244.2018.1536976. In this context, youth masculinities refer to deferential masculinities exercised by young people in their interaction with older men in all spheres of life. However, this deference does not necessarily mean that young people always agree with the elders. In as much as there are youths who perpetrate political violence at the behest of party elders, there are also youths who disagree with these elders and exercise alternative masculinities such as those that denounce and shun political violence and promote peaceful political change.

Peacebuilding in Zimbabwe deals with a wide range of conflicts that are domestic, communal, and political. The latter places people who are involved in peacebuilding at loggerheads with the government, which deems such peacebuilders enemies of the state. In this regard, peacebuilding in Zimbabwe is highly politicized and dangerous. The risks that peacebuilders face in such a hostile environment require selflessness, courage, and leadership, which are among the quintessential attributes of masculinity in Zimbabwean cultures. The masculinity exercised by youths in the peacebuilding arena gains social approval by eschewing and censuring violence perpetrated by other young men who are susceptible to manipulation and exploitation by senior and powerful politicians. This social approval derives from this masculinity’s consistency with cultural principles of equity, fairness, and justice.4Erasmus Masitera, “The Moral Significance of the Dare System in Seeking Justice and Peace among the Shona People of Zimbabwe,” in Violence, Peace and Everyday Modes of Justice and Healing in Post-colonial Africa, eds. Ngonidzashe Marongwe, Fidelis P. T. Duri, and Munyaradzi Mawere (Bamenda: Langaa RCPIG, 2019), 291–311. For instance, young people advocating peaceful political change such as Pastor Evan Mawarire of #ThisFlag successfully mobilized Zimbabweans to stay at home in July 2016 in protest against corruption, poverty, and injustice.

Peacebuilding also provides a platform for young men to invest their energy in activities that are conducive for national development and also have global resonance. Youths who engage in peacebuilding create platforms that transcend local politics and challenge the older generation’s localized mind-set, which has led to Zimbabwe’s continued isolation as a pariah and crisis-ridden state. The performance of a form of masculinity that focuses on the common good as opposed to individual politicians’ interests has global relevance at a time when many young people are using information and communication technology (ICT) to create civic space.5Manisha Pathak-Shelat and Kiran V. Bhatia, “Young people as Global Citizens: Negotiation of Youth Civic Participation in Adult-Managed Online Spaces,” Journal of Youth Studies 22, no. 1 (2019): 87–107, doi:10.1080/13676261.2018.1483074. This technology facilitates the transcendence of localized and individualized politics and connects people with shared values around the world. The youth have an advantage spreading their message of peaceful political change within Zimbabwe and on global platforms such as Facebook and Twitter because they are technologically savvy and can comfortably navigate virtual space unlike most of the older politicians whose skills in this space are basic and minimal. For example, groups such as #ThisFlag, Tajamuka/Sesjikile, and #This Gown utilize these media to share their messages of political participation and peaceful protest.6Simbarashe Gukurume, “#ThisFlag and #ThisGown Cyber Protests in Zimbabwe: Reclaiming Political Space,” African Journalism Studies 38, no. 2 (2017): 49–70, doi:10.1080/23743670.2017.1354052; Simon Matingwina, “Social Media Communicative Action and the Interplay with National Security: The Case of Facebook and Political Participation in Zimbabwe,” African Journalism Studies 39, no. 1 (2018): 48–68, doi:10.1080/23743670.2018.1463276.

Young men involved in peacebuilding contend that their future lies not with older politicians who anchor their power on violence, repression, and self-interest, but with a peaceful Zimbabwe driven by the youth. They express this view under the banner of “generational consensus,” which calls for youth participation in the economic, social, and political spheres of life in Zimbabwe. For example, a youth league leader in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF), Godfrey Tsenengamu, stated that he was now “joining hands with other young men and women to rescue our future and that of our children from these corrupt cartels.”7Andrew Kunambura, “‘Threats Won’t Stop Me,’” The Independent, February 14, 2020, https://www.theindependent.co.zw/2020/02/14/threats-wont-stop-me/. He was expelled from the ruling party for referring to the existence of “cartels” that he accused of corruption and for criticizing President Emmerson Mnangagwa for failing to fulfil his election promises. Weeks after his expulsion from the party, Tsenengamu issued a public apology to Zimbabweans in which he stated:

“Today, I humble and submit myself [sic] before you all my fellow countrymen, especially those Zimbabweans whose activities, views and opinions I would not appreciate, tolerate or accept and all the Zimbabweans in general, to say I am sorry for all the negative things I ever said, did or caused on you and your loved ones in any way that you may remember or have experienced.”8[i] Fungai Kwaramba, “Tsenengamu Pleads for Forgiveness,” Daily News, March 26, 2020, https://dailynews.co.zw/tsenengamu-pleads-for-forgiveness/.

Tsenengamu’s renunciation of his past political activities and statements resonates with the message advocated by young men in citizens’ movements such as #ThisFlag and Tajamuka/Sesjikile. The masculinity exercised by youth peacebuilders subverts the masculinity exercised by politicians especially in the ruling party whose leadership is male and elderly. In traditional Shona and Ndebele cultures in Zimbabwe, it was the elders who had the responsibility to keep the hubris of the youth in check, for example, through lessons provided in the male space called dare in Shona.9Chenjerai Shire, “Men Don’t go to the Moon: Language, Space and Masculinities in Zimbabwe,” In Dislocating Masculinities, ed. Andrea Cornwall and Nancy Lindisfarne (London: Routledge, 1994), 146–157. In contrast, the current situation shows role reversal in which it is the youth who rebuke older politicians for behavior that defies hunhu/ubuntu or humanity –the cornerstone of Zimbabwean cultures. Young men who engage in peacebuilding have thus converted their political marginalization from a weakness to a strength in which youthfulness as the antithesis of old age has turned the tables on the latter by appropriating the very values that traditionally legitimized rule by elders.

Conclusion

The masculinity exercised by young men in peacebuilding is anchored on the idea that Zimbabwe needs leaders rather than rulers and an ethos that promotes selflessness rather than self-centeredness. There is a generational gap between young men who are concerned about the country’s status in Africa and the world at large and an older generation, which is inward-looking. The global orientation and the position that the youth are the future inform rejection of a system that benefits the few and elderly at the expense of the majority and young. The masculinity that is observable among young men in peacebuilding organizations and citizens’ movements focuses on the common good or national interest. It is opposed to individual and narrow selfish interests, and has the potential to move Zimbabwe towards a positive trajectory. However, it remains to be seen whether the youth espousing peace will eventually wrestle the reins of power from the elderly male ruling elite, and realize their vision of a prosperous Zimbabwe for all citizens regardless of political affiliation.

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