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Rediscovering the new Zimbabwe

By Gil Harper, Executive Secretary, Africa Alliance of YMCAs

It has been many years since I visited Zimbabwe and the most

compelling images I have in my mind are those I have seen on TV or

internet of youth militia, women battling across rivers with babies

on their heads desperately trying to make it to the border, empty

supermarket shelves and cars left abandoned outside inoperational

petrol stations. I have heard the stories from my Zimbabwe

colleagues, friends and family members. I have also now heard the

stories of the slow and steady revitalisation and seen hope in the

eyes of those who have told me of the progress, no matter how small.

Two weeks ago, I was able to fill my mind with new and positive

images when I visited the Zimbabwe YMCA for the first Annual General

Meeting since 2007, and the launch of the Subject to Citizen (S2C)

and Transformative Masculinity programmes.
There definitely seems to be a revival going on, both in the Zimbabwe

YMCA and in Harare, the capital city, which I visited. I was there

during the Agricultural Show and there was much festivity around this

event, now in its 100th year and again attracting many exhibitors.

This year more than 700 foreign and local visitors were present, up

from 540 last year. Amidst the excitement, “properly planned

agricultural financing” for “appropriate strategies and

solutions” was called for by government. I didn't hear too much

detail about this though. That said, I spoke to many people who are

finding success in setting up their own businesses, and this is

really exciting and positive news. Gaps are being identified by

entrepreneurs, markets found and sales concluded. The Zimbabwe YMCA

Chair, Langton Mabhanga established his own business at this point in

Zimbabwe history to use his profit to contribute to community

As many NGOs struggled over the last decade in Zimbabwe, so too did

the Zimbabwe YMCA. As well as bearing the brunt of the economic

crisis, human capacity challenges and loss of funding, the

organisation lost some standing due to leadership crises (with some

leaders leaving the organisation and/or country in search of a better

future) but also a general governance crisis. Since 2008 an interim

national executive committee has been leading the way to re-vitalise

the organisation and staff turnover has been minimal in the last

year, even though the staff are working in trying circumstances and

for low wages. The current Acting National General Secretary, Jacob

Maforo, donated his first three months of service to the Zimbabwe

YMCA salary-free when he took over in October 2009.

I was privileged to join in and officiate at the launch of the

Subject to Citizen and Transformative Masculinity programmes. The

event was attended by about 60 youth from all five branches of

Zimbabwe YMCA, and the youth demonstrated in most creative ways their

understandings of and commitment to both these programmes. I spent

some time with a new youth member, Raymond Ncube, to understand what

masculinity means in terms of the local context and the programme,

and was most impressed by this 26-year-old's maturity and vision.

In fact, I was particularly struck by how articulate the youth I met

were. According to recent United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

statistics, Zimbabwe's literacy rate is once again the highest in

Africa, at 92%. This is despite the brain drain, lack of resources

and disruption in schooling in the last decade.
I also spent some time with famous musician Josh Meck who performed

an S2C song he wrote for the event, and it was interesting to hear

his perspective on how freedom of expression is opening up,

especially in the musical arena.
Early one morning on the way to the television station for an

interview, I kept remarking to Langton how normal everything seemed

– lovely houses, satellite dishes, well kept gardens, and clean

streets. After a very confusing search we found the studio and were

just about to go live when we were told that only one camera was

working, so Langton stepped up for the interview, which was great,

but unfortunately only those with generators in Harare could view it

as the electricity was out in the capital city. Ah well, I reasoned,

it's not so bad. After all, it was only three years ago in South

Africa where we had a patch of continual electricity load shedding,

and in the area where I currently live, electricity regularly goes

down. So I guess it is just the lens through which you look at things

that feeds your perceptions.
On that note, while wandering the tourist markets I kept announcing

that I was South African before engaging in animated discussions (and

bargaining of course) about the tourism industry which, according to

locals, is picking up again. At one stage, I wondered if it was wise

to broadcast my home country in light of the Zimbabwean xenophobic

attacks in South Africa, but again was impressed by the understanding

and maturity of commentary on this as being localised and within a

specific context.
The AGM was attended by about 80 participants with guest speakers,

the Hon Mayor of Harare, Muchadeyi Masunda, the Permanent Secretary

of the Ministry of Youth, Prince Mupazvirih, who represented the

Minister, and well-known businessman, Philip Chiyangwa. They

encouraged the movement to take advantage of government policies and

programmes that have been established to create an enabling

environment for youth development, poverty alleviation and wealth

For now, from what I experienced it seems that the country is in

precarious stabilising, albeit isolated mode. Again, normalcy is a

relative concept. The Zimbabwe YMCA has stabilised, and judging by

the programmes already running, is poised to make relevant impact on

youth empowerment in the country. It is now for the movement to begin

a process of re-uniting and dialoguing with former international

partners and donors, and continue to forge relationships with local

government and corporate partners. Ultimately, it is the youth in the

communities who will benefit from this.
Rider: This article is part of the Africa Alliance of YMCA News. For

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