Zimbabwe: hope lies with the young

First published on Progressonline in the Young progressives column

As the foreign minister of Tanzania says of the situation in Zimbabwe, ‘there is little chance of the elections being free and fair’. The mind of progressives must be focused on the battle for peace, justice and democracy that our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe’s trade unions have to wage.

It is well known that the Zimbabwe Trade Union Congress established the Movement for Democratic Change but the role of its lesser known sister organisation, ZINASU – the Zimbabwean National Students´ Union, is often overlooked. The local and national student leadership have also been on the receiving end of beatings and violence in the struggle for democracy.

During my time in the British student movement, colleagues and I wrote more letters to the Zimbabwean Ambassador calling for the release from prison of ZINASU President – a guy called Promise – than I care to recall. His harsh treatment by the authorities for organising students to defend and demand the affordable education, access to books and fair treatment to which their predecessors had become accustomed was a disgrace. Promise’s commitment to education was uncompromising and his passion for the student and democratic movement relentless.

When I was lucky enough to meet Promise (and his colleague Washington, ZINASU General Secretary) in Johannesburg (the only safe place for Zimbabwe activists to meet each other, let alone foreign supporters) he said to me, ‘Students are the conscience of society – it is our role to be at the forefront of the fight for democratic rights and Zimbabwe´s freedom’ I was pleased to he that he was later selected as a MDC candidiate.

ZINASU continues to work with progressives and democrats for a just outcome to the forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe. As I write, members of Labour Students, Young Labour, NUS and the British Youth Council are meeting with ZINASU activists in Jo’burg to talk about what young progressives in Britian can do to support their struggle.

These young people, part of the second Actsa (the legacy organisation to the anti-apartheid movement) delegation to southern Africa, will hear as I did this time last year about ZINASU´s campaign for democratic, educational and women’s rights. They are fighting for basic organisation rights, libraries filled with books, lecturers in the classroom and for students to be able to register to vote.

What I found most amazing was how each time these young male leaders spoke of rights, women’s rights were never far from their minds or mouths. They understood that democratic and educational rights were nothing without the equal treatment of women. They had learnt – the hard way – as their trade union cousins had, that Mugabe´s retribution had come down hasher on women, from the mass taxation of sanitary products to the use of rape by the police and security forces.

The British delegates can talk with pride about the Dignity.Period campaign their organisations have supported but there is much more we must do. As their universities are closing, their lecturers go unpaid and fellow students are being cast from the electoral register, the youth of Zimbabwe are in the front line and need our help.

Even the smallest act of solidarity that we progressives can muster can make a difference. I hope you will join me and others this Monday, 23 June 2008 at 12.30 outside the Zimbabwean Embassy (near Charing Cross tube) to call for democracy and justice. While we will stand on the safe streets of London, Lovemore Matombo (President of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and Wellington Chibebe, General Secretary of ZCTU) are due in court to face charges of spreading falsehoods prejudicial to the state.

It is time Mugabe gave up his guns, stopped the violence and brutality so the world can hear the genuine voice of the Zimbabwean people in genuinely free and fair elections.

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Richard Angell is national chair of Young Labour

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