Born in 1987, the same year Mugabe became president, Nkosilathi Emmanuel Moyo was political from a young age. “It’s more of an inborn thing. I remember when I was growing up at that stage where most kids would be interested in watching cartoons I could be seen watching news from CNN to BBC,” he said.
And Moyo watched as Mugabe, who originally fought for independence and assumed power as Zimbabwe’s anti-colonial hero, imposed an increasingly dictatorial regime. Mugabe’s ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and Zimbabwe’s security forces, went on to oversee systematic human rights violations. In the post-2000 era, during Moyo’s teenage years, Zimbabwe witnessed unprecedented political violence, leading to an economic freefall, with year-on-year inflation exceeding 1,000%.
Growing up in a small mining town, Moyo saw the young people around him manipulated by politicians to perpetuate this political violence, at the same time that they were pushed to the peripheries of political leadership and policy making. “The youth became ‘willing’ tools of abuse due to economic hardships,” he says, which included “victimising the electorate in election times.” So in 2010, at the age of 23, Moyo set up the Zimbabwe Organization For The Youth In Politics (ZOYP), along with Jasper Maposa, a community leader from his town. “We sought to enculture the youths to resist being used as agents of politically motivated violence,” he said.
ZOYP has now trained a small army of over 2,500 activists, with a new brand of peaceful politics to counter 92-year-old Mugabe’s violent regime. He has also trained 80 human rights defenders in a grassroots programme called the Community Human Rights Defenders Academy, working in remote areas of Zimbabwe.
Now author of four best-selling political books, Moyo has become an important critic of a regime notorious for disappearing, intimidating and arresting dissenting voices – criticism that has not gone unnoticed.
After publishing his book in 2015, Robert Mugabe: From Freedom Fighter to the People’s Enemy, Moyo faced increased state surveillance and death threats. He fled to the Netherlands for three months, staying with Shelter City in Utrecht, an initiative set up to protect human rights campaigners. As soon as he returned to Zimbabwe he published another book, criticising Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe: “Africa’s upcoming first female dictator.”
He’s been arrested in the past for his politics, after organising a youth event where former US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray was a speaker. Charged under the Public Order and Security Act – a repressive law used to silence dissenting voices, particularly from civil society organisations and ZANU-PF opposition – he was sentenced to six months in prison, later getting off with a fine.
“My arrest did not come as a shock,” he told Index. And likewise the reaction to Mugabe’s birthday gift is not surprising, but Moyo remains defiant. “I don’t regret what I did, indeed President Mugabe must answer for crimes against humanity which he committed. Justice must prevail in Zimbabwe.”
Moyo has now set his sights worldwide, working to establish an international platform for young with political aspirations. “Looking at what is happening in Burundi, Syria, Uganda only to mention a few, I think there is a need,” he says. “Developing young people in politics is a step towards creating a peaceful world.”