The article contributes to debates on intergenerational tensions between authoritarian regimes and the youth, through an analysis of the interface between youth and the Zimbabwe’s party-state formed by the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Specifically, the article contributes to understandings of everyday experiences of authoritarian politics from the perspective of ‘party youth’: ZANU-PF supporters that are actively engaged in its local structures. The research addressed the question of how youth political subjectivity is shaped by youth participation in a state-initiated fund for youth entrepreneurship, which tends to be used for ruling party patronage. Aware of the increasing unhappiness among urban youth about protracted socio-economic crisis, and urban support for the political opposition in general, ZANU-PF has targeted youth with entrepreneurship and employment interventions deploying a rhetoric of ‘youth empowerment’.  These interventions have been criticized for being heavily politicised and affected by corruption, and used by ZANU-PF to mobilise youth support and entrench ruling party patronage. This article is based on qualitative case study research with urban ‘party youth’ in Harare between 2021 and 2022, who were part of the ‘EmpowerBank’ intervention; the newest iteration of a youth revolving fund. Central to our analysis are young people’s perceptions of the intervention and how it shapes their relationship to the ruling party; and forms of youth agency, questioning the meaning of ‘youth empowerment’ in this context. The findings demonstrate that being a beneficiary has not always translated to increased political support from the youth. Instead, participation has often further antagonized the ZANU-PF government and youth cohorts. We argue that patronage through youth funds is insufficient for ‘tying’ youth into ruling parties.

Recent CMI publications: