Young people using art to build peace in Zimbabwe – Part 1
Homeless and bitter at the age of 23, he could not grasp the new reality – a world with no home! About three years on, as part of a lively arts festival, the young man is at the centre of the stage, as onlookers are ecstatically reciting peace chants.
Epworth south-east of Harare is a semi-formal settlement characterised by a bulging population. The area is prone to a lot of delinquent behaviour, especially amongst unemployed youth. Epworth has been at the epicenter of various conflicts with regards to property rights, freedom of association and the abuse of human rights, given the political polarisation of communities across Zimbabwe. Against this background, the National Association of Youth Organisations (NAYO), through its annual Jacaranda Youth Festival of Arts, has created a window of hope in a divided and vulnerable community in dire need of transformation.
The festival is linked to the United Nations International Day of Peace observed on 21 September, when NAYO actively engages youth in non-violent processes. The blossoms of Jacaranda trees are a welcome sign of spring in Zimbabwe, emphasising new beginnings, a new harvest, new blossoms and coming fresh rains. The idea of a new start is important with regard to the reputation of Zimbabwean youths who are labelled as violent irresponsible rabble rousers, among other names. The Jacaranda Youth Festival of Arts is one of NAYO’s initiatives to showcase that youths are in fact willing and able to be positive examples in their communities.
It was part of the 2011 festival that NAYO intervened in the Epworth community and came across Chishuwo. Mayhem began in the life of this politically conscious young man when he was forcibly evicted out of his home along with his family, namely his wife and three children, during the violent Presidential Run-off Elections campaign in June 2008. Township residents lost their plots due to intensified differences on political ideology within their community, as coercion and intimidation became the order of the day. Some of them were even threatened with death. NAYO interviewed locals who talked about repeated heavy clashes between various political factions, with youths being largely the victims and perpetrators. All this tore the community apart.
As narrated by Chishuwo: “It was on a Sunday evening when my wife said I was not safe to stay at home because some people were coming to destroy our house. I don’t understand why they chased us from our home when we had not done any wrong to them, and why they wanted to harm us. We had to hide in the tall grass in the dark until early morning.” Another family from the same ward was told that they were no longer welcome in the community. The invaders marched to their homesteads, ravishing houses and reallocating land to residents sympathetic to their own political ideology.