Zimbabwean Youth: Between Western Traditions And Own Heritage

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While the Look West policy has made possible gigantic financial gains for most African nations, rewarding them tremendously, many Zimbabwean young people are adopting Western lifestyles, which has left many cultural experts worried that local culture and tradition are being lost because of this trend.

Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown due to economic sanctions imposed on the landlocked nation by Western nations has been widely documented internationally. The meltdown has seen hundreds of Zimbabweans settling in Western nations in search of a better life.

Back home, the constant influence of Western forces in the molding of Zimbabweans in the diaspora, TV programmes, the internet, magazines, music etc. has led to an increase in the number of youths who closely follow European trends. Cultural experts have expressed their displeasure openly, stating that cultural practices and tradition are being lost by this latest phenomenon.

Zimbabwe’s history exerts strong cultural and traditional influences. History professes that before colonisation, young people closely guarded their cultural heritage. They had a high respect for everything traditional that stemmed from their being a unique ethnic grouping with a rich culture.

Twenty-year-old Miss Zanele Ncube is a university student in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, who hopes to become a chemical engineer upon graduation. While studying takes up most of her time, she constantly makes time to mingle with her friends and colleagues.

Zanele comes from a richly traditional family, but she is caught in a web as most of her friends have adopted Western culture as a way of life. 

As the young people of this generation, there is so much influence from the West mostly because as Zimbabweans we want to keep up with the latest trends in the way we dress, speak, eat, the music we listen to, and TV shows we watch. The West always breaks new ground in that regard,” she said. 

Zanele denies that hers is a lost generation, it’s just that they are keeping up with youth from the West. She attests that the educational and social trends of today are far different from those of long back, making it necessary for the young to embrace change.

“Yes, to some extent we have gone backwards as far as our culture is concerned. But it’s not like we have done so deliberately. We are just keeping up with the trends. We still value and respect our tradition. We respect our elders, we practice the daily cultural norms. Long back, our elders used to live in rural areas when they were still young, but today’s young people grew up and were bred in cities where they are exposed to so much more than yester years,” she notes, further stating that TV is powerful because young people who watch these Western programmes are likely to imitate what they see on their screens.

Soaps in Zimbabwe don’t show who we are as people, and do so for the sake of modernisation and westernisation,” Zanele said.

Cultural expert Mr. Muziwethu Mathonsi, who has lived in rural Lupane all his life, says that today’s young people have adopted Western lifestyles because of a lack of understanding of cultural traditions.

Mr. Mathonsi says that in the past young boys and girls were separately and individually groomed by their uncles and aunts (respectively) who mentored them strongly to value traditional practices in order to prosper in life.

Most of the youth of today are now living in cities, and it is difficult to teach them cultural practices because as you know life has greatly changed. In our day, we never saw girls wearing jeans like they are doing now. Adults sat down with us and prepared us for adult life with cultural discipline. That is the reason why we grew up preserving our culture and even today you will find that many older people who live in the cities still adhere to tradition. The lack of guidance from elders is the reason why today’s youths are losing this tradition,” Mr. Mathonsi states.

Today various cultural groups still employ traditional herbs to treat a host of ailments that include snake bites, malaria, headaches, and fibroids. But young people often shun these herbs, preferring Western medicine. 

When it comes to medicine, we have our own herbal remedies that we use to treat various ailments. This has always been a part of our culture. But today you hear young people saying that they do not want to use herbs when they can go to a chemist’s and buy Western medicine. Who will show the younger generation of tomorrow how to prepare herbal medicine? That is another cultural trend that is fast sinking into oblivion,” says Mr. Mathonsi, adding that negative, inaccurate portrayals of cultural practices for entertainment purposes is harmful.

Zimbabwe is a rich source of raw materials, but not good enough for industrialisation or to set up mineral processing plants. It is also a fertile land with a rich culture and tradition that go back centuries. This is why Zimbabweans are considered as a hard working lot and one of the friendliest people in the world.

Today’s young people have a lot of work to do in order to preserve that tradition, while at the same time keeping up with the latest global trends.

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