Social Capital has become a concept of growing interest in the past two decades. The presence of a high degree of social capital is argued to be one of the strong underpinnings of democracy, and the presence of varieties of civic and social associations is assumed to contribute to more active citizenship. In the West at least, there is increasing concern about the declining participation of citizens in elections, together with concern that citizens are also less interested in participating in social and civic networks and associations. This is interpreted as the effect of declining social capital.
Very little study of social capital has been carried in Zimbabwe, although it is implicit in the many and wide-ranging studies and discussions about the role of communities in Zimbabwean civic life. A previous examination of social capital as one aspect of active citizenship suggested that the component of social capital, trust, operated differently between rural and urban citizens (RAU. 2015). Trust was defined as either intimate, about relationships with other citizens, or institutional, about relationships between citizens and duty bearers.
Two more recent studies on the role of social capital in women suggested that the methodology could be usefully applied to the youth (RAU. 2018 (a); RAU. 2018 (b)). For these studies, a measure of social capital was constructed using six questions common to all three rounds of the Afrobarometer (2012, 2014, and 2017), and this was tested against seven measures of public interest and participation, as well as four demographic variables (age, residence, employment and education). These studies showed good relationships between social capital and measures of political interest and participation, but there were marked difference between rural and urban women. Social capital, as we defined this, is a property of rural rather than urban women. However, social capital is not a static property of individuals and communities and clearly varies both over time and due to socio-political events.
Thus, we used the same methodology to examine whether social capital operated in similar fashion with Zimbabwean youth.

The present study examined social capital in youth using the data from the last three rounds of the Afrobarometer surveys on Zimbabwe: Round 5 (2012), Round 6 (2014), and Round 7 (2017). A measure of social capital was constructed using six questions common to all three rounds, and tested this against six measures of public interest and participation, as well as four demographic variables (age, residence, employment and education). The measures of public interest and participation were also constructed from questions common to all three rounds: access to information, freedoms, political participation, agency, support for democracy, and political trust. A seventh measure, lived poverty, which was included in the women’s studies, was excluded on the grounds that poverty was so ubiquitous in youth that it would be unlikely to have any discriminating power.

For the components of the Social Capital measures itself, most were at very low frequencies and showed few changes over the six years. The only significant change was in “trusting neighbours”, which rose 12% from 2012 to 2014, staying the same from 2014 to 2017. There were minimal changes in the overall Social Capital index over the six years, which is not surprising in view of the minimal changes in the individual measures comprising Social Capital, and which is different to the women’s study where there were significant changes over the same period.
When it comes to Access to Information, all sources of information, apart from the internet, show a decline in the use of these media. This may represent a shift towards social media, but the use of social media was only sampled in 2017 and hence no comparison can be made with the previous years. However, in 2017, 43% of the youth (18-35) reported using social media every day or a few times a week. However, it does not necessarily mean that the youth are using social media as part of an increased interest in participation.
When it comes to basic freedoms –to say what you think and to join political organisations – there is a marked shift towards the youth seeing their freedoms being eroded from 2014 to 2017. The most serious change is in the freedom to say what you think, 22%, and this perhaps must be seen in the rise in the use of social media as a safer medium of expression. It is also worth pointing out here the very low numbers of youth that are not careful what they say in public, all suggesting that youth voice is deeply absent from the public domain. Voice is, of course, a crucial component of citizen agency, and there can be little Social Capital when citizens are constrained from speaking in public.
It is thus unsurprising that Political Participation is low amongst the youth. Active political participation, as in working for a candidate or party, is virtually absent, and even attending campaign meetings or rallies significantly declined over the six years. This may be a consequence of the 2013 elections where the surprising result and the massive disenfranchisement of the youth for that election may combine to produce this lack of political participation. Nearly 2 million (29%) persons were not registered voters in 2013 and there was good evidence of bias in registration, with urban youth being more seriously affected than their rural counterparts.
Given this minimal (and declining) Political Participation, it is surprising that there is a trend amongst the youth towards increased agency, and especially contacting local government councillors. This is encouraging and perhaps underlines a response to “big politics”. Are the youth giving up on political parties in favour of more local politics?
The evidence for increased Agency is bolstered by the findings on Political Trust. The youth report increasng levels of Political Trust for virtually every state agent included in the surveys. the trend is positive and significant for every agent – President, parliament, ZEC, the ruling party (ZANU-PF) and the courts. However, this is not the case for both the police and the army, where the youth show significantly declining trust in both. This needs to be considered in the light of the claims of support for the military in November 2017.
Perhaps it is the inevitable optimism of youth, butsome Zimbabwean youth show a trend towards believing that things are improving. From 2012 to 2017, a third of the youth show increasing support for democracy and that Zimbabwe is a democracy. However, two-thirds do not share this view, which indicates a growing pessimism about the country and its future.

A number of general conclusions can be drawn from this analysis.
• Firstly, as we have measured this, Social Capital is very low amongst the youth in Zimbabwe, and this has changed very little over the six years between 2012 and 2017;
• Youth access to the more formal sources of information – radio, television and newspaper – is declining, but they making more use of the internet (slightly) and social media (markedly). This is a general trend in the population however, and, on its own does not mean much;
• When the resort to IT-based sources of information is seen against the perception of freedom by the youth, then this may be more significant. Very few youth feel safe to express their views in public – only 8% in 2017 – and only a third (33%) feel that they have freedom to say what they think. It seems clear that Voice as a constituent of Agency is missing from the youth;
• This is amplified when Political Participation amongst the youth is examined, and Zimbabwean youth show a trend to decreasing participation, and a virtual absence of active political engagement in the formal sense. Zimbabwean youth can be characterised as “voters, but not yet citizens”;
• This pessimistic view is ameliorated by the evidence that there is a trend towards increased agency in the sense of engaging duty bearers. The numbers are not large, but suggest that the involvement of youth in local government and community may be a more fruitful area to consider when fostering youth agency;
• Political Trust is increasing in respect of many state agencies, but not so for the police and the army. The diminution in respect for these agencies is important, and especially in the light of all the concerns about “youth bulges” and political stability. The reasons for this shift need to be understood, and questions also raised about how “popular” was the support for the army in November 2017;
• Finally, Zimbabwean youth, like the general population, are losing faith in democracy. Although small numbers are increasingly happy with the direction the country is taking, more than two-thirds are not.

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