Death of Activism – Tokenism and Tokens of Appreciation



Tokenism is a growing trend in the civil society where a small number of people from under-represented groups are invited in order to give the appearance of inclusiveness and they are usually accompanied by a token of appreciation which is a small gift in gratitude but can also be

viewed as giving one incentives.  Tokenism and tokens of appreciation has been and still is a culture  of motivating youth that has created many problems when it comes to voluntary work, attending workshops as well as urging young people to register to vote and might be termed the death of youth Activism. According to one McGregor X and Y theory in business it is said human beings are lazy, they need to be motivated, coerced and supervised. Embracing this definition has negatively affected active participation of youth in development initiatives.

In the recent months the topical issue on everyone’s lips has been the voter registration exercise underway in Zimbabwe.  According to the reports by the Zimbabwe Electoral commission (ZEC) and supporting partners, young people exhibited a lot of apathy. There have been a lot of explanations to that one major cause being young people are no longer used to standing up to build communities without a token of appreciation.  To encourage young people to register to vote civil society organizations and other players have gave away free t-shirts, free beer, musical concerts, sports tournaments, transport to the registration centers and so on.

Most civil society initiatives offer young people t-shirts and other publications as part of their strategy of disseminating information to the communities. However do these t-shirts relay the information to the communities or the youths have different opinions on the regalia? Transport reimbursements are meant to cushion equal participation when activities are centralized, however lately young people expect transport reimbursements even if initiatives are in their backyards. At the end of the day should youths be motivated or given tokens to change the systems that have denied them of many opportunities?

Many-a-times when young people are invited to a workshop, community programs the main question often asked by many is ‘what I will get in return’ without considering that the gist of the engagement is content being offered. The issue of tokens has destroyed the culture of volunteerism and ultimately activism among the youth in Zimbabwe. Many youth nowadays are turning down volunteer opportunities availed to them by many civil society organizations. Voluntary work is not only an opportunity to make a difference in a community but also a way of grooming youth into their chosen career paths, it’s meant to give the young people direction and better skills as they prepare for their respective fields. However this has changed and it has been viewed as a substitute for employment. Though pros and cons can be debated, it is important to bring back real activism.


Article by

Brighton Ncube

Media Officer

Youth for Innovation Trust




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