By Nick Mangwana
It is just pathetic that in a battle of ideas some are trying to stir a generational conflict as a way of luring younger voters. There are a lot of things which we should have drawn a line under but which as a nation we have allowed to drift on unabated. We should learn from our apathetic approach to a lot of misdeeds that have haunted the nation.
In all our efforts to correct wrongs, we should never allow ourselves to overcompensate and therefore end up on the wrong side of progress. One of those things we should say no to is all kinds of bigotry. Among these displays of ignorance is ageism. It has no place in a contemporary society.
It is a fact of life that the youth comprise an overwhelming majority of our voting population. It is also common cause that they are also a big part of the most productive segment of our demographics. But it is wrong to now make age a political issue in the same way it is wrong to make gender an election issue. If someone is no longer of sound mind because of their age, then of course that is a legitimate political issue because it is not about a whole generation but that particular individual.
A highly discriminatory crusade against a population, which in our ubuntu is meant to be respected for its accumulated wisdom and the good, is wrong. But it would be wrong to completely ignore it. There is no doubt that the younger generation should be allowed the same opportunities, which the foregoing generation had. Most of those who became ministers in the first independent Zimbabwe Government were in their ’30s with a few more in their ’20s.
So it shouldn’t be an anathema for younger people to take over the reins of control of institutions as we trudge on as a nation. Those at the helm of our defence forces and other members of the security sector were in their 20s as well. So there is no doubt that their prime years provided them with opportunities, which the current younger generation is struggling to have. So objectively there is something to be said about the older generation dominating our institutions at the expense of our younger one.
This is the type of thing that causes the current narrative where some are trying to stir some generational conflict into a political narrative. This is the same narrative that is leading into the highly divisive slogan some are calling a “generational consensus”.
In the last instalment this column partially addressed this subject and said the only narrative that is not impinged on the ignorance of bigotry is an intergenerational consensus. But it will also be amiss to criticise this crusade without validating some of the legitimate national grievance within it. The older generation cannot in all fairness claim credit for all that is good within our country and disavow blame for all that is wrong in our country. It does not work like that.
You take the good and the bad. There is now an issue of entitlement with both the younger and the older generation claiming some bits of it. But it is time Zimbabwe addresses the issues of entitlement across these generations. The current ruling class has shown a spirit of entitlement because of what they sacrificed for our nation to gain independence and be where it is. Some paid through loss of life or limb.
Some lost their childhood. These things should be highly appreciated and their legacy forever venerated. But it should not entitle that generation the claim to every juice national fruit that ripens in the national orchard. This is the type of mindset which informs the psychology of the younger people who see themselves now as victims of their liberators and forerunners.
It is a privilege to have those with institutional memory in our midst. Their valuable knowledge and experience is something to celebrated. But it will only gain the intergenerational consensus if it is an opportunity for all the generations and not a millstone on the necks of the succeeding, stopping them from defining and realising their own dreams.
This is the kind of thing that creates a generational victimhood and leads to a so-called generational consensus under the guise of pushing back the older generation against their perceived stifling of their blooming until their own season is gone. The so-called generational consensus must be censured for its divisive and dissident nature but the reasons behind it should not be ignored because a lot those reasons are genuine. But we cannot couch a political grievance into a highly discriminatory if not inflammatory language.
Somebody once wrote that if our generational elders are going to remain selfish and prejudiced against the younger ones, they would create a Generation Victimhood. Well, we are partially here because of this same thing.
In Zanu-PF we dealt decisively with the G40 cabal and its toxic politics but only partially with its narrative. That narrative has now been taken over by the main opposition, dusted up and rebranded and is now being sold as a new wave and phenomenon.
It is nothing such. The fact that we continue to have some coalescing around this notion is indicative of the fact that there is something genuine there that needs addressing. As Zanu-PF we can snuff it as we approach the elections to make sure it doesn’t gain traction because of its bigoted nature, which is against our national Constitution, but we cannot ignore it. After the elections this area should be an area of transformational reform. This is because there is a legitimate grievance there.
Every generation should be considerate and none should have its favourable time occupied by those that have also utilised their most favourable time. There should be space for everyone. No generation owes the next one a favour but all generations need each other and should work in complementary unison.
That’s what builds a nation. The moral contrast narrative of those perceived as tired older generation against a vibrant and creative younger one has already been debunked by the wanton recklessness we see in the younger generation who are meant to be more thoughtful, genuine and progressive. But there is nothing progressive in any bigotry or politics of entitlement in a country that is coining itself as having ushered in a new dispensation that has created a new era.
What is forward looking about driving a wedge between generations? What sort of politics is constructed upon disregard of a certain segment of our society? We have heard the positions of people from rural areas being dismissed as inconsequential by those in urban areas. There is always a political price to pay for such anti-people political narratives. Now we hear a whole generation being dismissed. Again there will be a price to pay. Prejudice against people of a ripe age is still discrimination. And if discrimination is based on ignorance, then this is kind politics is some kind of philistinism. We allow this kind of political narratives to enter our discourse then what is next? Discrimination against the disabled? Let the whole country say no to this blatant ageism. It is still bigotry and if we allow one form then we elevate our tolerance to ignorance threshold.
How can young people with a lot of claim to being learned and exposed think it’s socially acceptable to actively discriminate? There is everything wrong with stereotyping any section of the community let alone a whole generation. As life expectancy improves in Africa there are going to be a bigger number of the so-called ageing population. We need to embrace this as great news that improvement in medical knowledge is making our parents continues to be relevant.
For a columnist that never had the privilege of seeing none of his four grandparents, there is always a feeling of great achievement when the previous generation witnesses and is there to hold the hand of the new generation. Our nations have a lot to celebrate and especially when every member of society is considered productive and continues to contribute to our nation. Let’s all embrace that and let individuals be judged on their own merit and not as an age group. That is not only stereotyping but its definitely wrong.
But thoughtless and ignorance-based discrimination of people of a certain age on the grounds of that age is bigotry. It should not be allowed and if allowed in our political narratives, it will turn into ageism in every sphere of our social lives. For example, people will be discriminated in medical care because society will begin to view treatment of people of a certain age as a waste of resources. That is ageism and against an article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that says; “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with a reason and conscience and should act towards one another with a spirit of brotherhood.” It is this spirit which we hope will be adopted as we embark in a our campaign season.