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Voices from below

When I started blogging for the New Internationalist I hoped to give a voice to the characters in this Zimbabwean saga who find themselves overshadowed in the international arena by governmental actors. The ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ of an African dictatorship. Often mainstream media can lead one to believe that those who will effect change in Zimbabwe, or those campaigning for it, are solely represented by the opposition party in parliament. One might be excused for forgetting that at a grassroots level there are networks advocating socio-political change in this Southern African state.

I know Biko from artistic circles. He is a local youth activist, gifted MC, poet and part of the Uhuru network, a local youth organization. As we stand in a car park in the midday heat ready to start the interview, his mannerisms and dress sense (including matching black beret) immediately speak of a person with revolutionary tendencies, a voice of the youth and its yearnings for a free society.  

Dikson: What youth projects are being run by Uhuru and other youth networks at the moment?

Biko: The Uhuru network is focusing on cultural activism, so we run a bimonthly community arts show. We are based in five communities; Highfields, Glenora, Glenview, Chitungwiza and Mbare, and we rotate the hosting of these shows in the various communities. At the shows we have our artists from the Toyi Toyi Arts Collective within the Uhuru Network as well as an open mic session, so that artists and young people in the area can find a platform for expression. Our second project is on the media side of things – a way of promoting media rights and freedom of expression. We produce a bimonthly community newsletter, we have contributions from community members and from Uhuru members. We edit the newsletter collectively and then distribute the publication into the communities. Our current campaign concerns transitional justice and good governance so, although we do have articles that speak to other issues affecting the communities. We have found that young people feel that the constitution-making process, which is taking place at the moment, is the best opportunity to address issues of transitional justice, so we’re getting into 2010 with the hope of accelerating our campaign for a democratic constitution. 

We also run a bimonthly film night where we show films/documentaries and discuss them afterwards. It is a project run by the Popular Education Collective with the aim of building awareness and consciousness as to the politics of Uhuru. We describe ourselves as an anarcho-communist organization and we try to build notions of anarcho-communist politics through these platforms. We find that the film screening is an extremely effective way to get the youth to engage in political discussion. We also run study groups where we circulate pamphlets from some of our partners, especially the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front in South Africa. It is by and large this selection of pamphlets that makes up the Uhuru library and provides the basis for political discussion. We have also been involved in recording and producing music, including a community radio CD, to express ourselves. We want to demystify the whole notion of community radio and we are hoping that in this new constitution there will be a framework whereby we can open up the airwaves and at some point establish a community radio station. These are the projects that we are running.

D: You’ve emphasized the new constitution-making process, something many critics of the regime are sceptical about, as they view it as a politically motivated distraction for the Government’s critics. Can you explain more about it and why you feel it’s an important process for you to be involved in?

B: As a result of the Global Political Agreement between the MDC and ruling Zanu PF there was an all-stakeholders conference convened in July where members agreed that they needed to create a new and more democratic constitution. So in the last six months the Constitutional Commission, which consists of members of the political parties and civil servants, should have been set up and started engaging with communities to hear people’s views as to what should be contained in this new constitution. However, what has happened as a result of the bickering between the MDC and Zanu PF is that the outreach process has not started. As recently as last week the Constitutional Commission and its various thematic committees were set up and we are expecting that from January to December 2010 the commission is going to be engaging the people. Hopefully towards the end of December the views gathered from around Zimbabwe will be presented to the drafting committee and then maybe sometime in January or February of next year we will have a constitutional referendum.

Our strategy is that in the five communities in which we operate in Harare we should be able to attend every constitutional outreach meeting and articulate each community’s demands. However, the most important thing for you to note is that that I am not very optimistic! We still think that Zanu PF and the MDC will seek to manipulate this process and come up with a constitution that suits the politicians and their parties. They have deep vested interests and we think that they dominate the Constitutional Commission. However, the reason we are aiming to participate in this process is that only through participation will we be able to use a blueprint of what was demanded in the meetings as a measurement against the final outcome. This is the only way we will be able to challenge what is finally decided in the constitution.

D: Youth have been used effectively by government in the past as a militarized tool to maintain power. How can this be addressed so that this generation is reintegrated into society?

B: We have names of people who have undergone militia training at the hands of government who have certainly been involved in political violence, because the process of recruitment was systematic. Only when we have a legitimate government, not this transitional authority, can we embark on a process of national healing, and one of its key components must be the rehabilitation of these young people. There are initiatives currently being run to help victims of violence, sexual abuse and torture, such as the Tree of Life programme, which a number of our membership have been through. However, we think that only through legitimate governance can these rehabilitative healing processes be done on an overt national level rather than on an underground level.

D: How do Uhuru and other networks keep in touch with global youth movements?

B: Our link has been primarily ideological and in the region our strength is mostly in South Africa, where we have been attending the Khanya College Winter School where we network with social movements. There we share a commonality of issues surrounding community service delivery. We have also built a solid link within the Southern African Solidarity Network; we belong to a community of practice called the Cultural Activist Network, where we maintain contact with groups mainly in South Africa. We are part of the global Indymedia collectives and Uhuru is also affiliated with the International Anarchist Federation which gives us a platform for international solidarity. We have been working with an organization called Kufunda Village and they belong to a network called the Berkana exchange, through which we have been able to meet comrades from Los Angeles, Oaxaca in Mexico and some movements in Canada. These are our links now, but we think we need to expand and concretize links globally so that we can have practical solidarity initiatives and enhance the voice of our struggle.

D: Whilst youth movements in Zimbabwe are focused on achieving basic freedoms, do we have a role in addressing wider global issues?

B: Wider issues such as climate change are important to us. However, we feel that it is the industrial players, the corporations, and the governments that sanction certain development paths. So it’s a bigger fight and a necessary struggle because we can see it affecting us here as rain patterns change and climate fluctuates. We are reliant on agriculture, so the change in climate affects us greatly. All the same, we have tried to address these issues at a community level due to our capacity. We are struggling with waste management, we have been advocating for recycling, we have a permaculture collective in the Uhuru network and we have been establishing organic urban gardens at disused community centres. However, we feel that our capacity and current political situation inhibit us from having much effect. What we need to focus on before we can join wider movements such as those addressing climate issues is ensuring freedom in Zimbabwe. We know a bourgeois government is not enough and the struggle will go on but we urge people to support us. Our New Year’s resolution is a people’s democratic constitution!

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