This weekend, Zimbabweans will take to the polls to vote on a new constitution that will effectively determine the future of Robert Mugabe's presidency. A young electorate increasingly desperate for jobs is expected to curb the powers of their leader, who has overseen the disastrous collapse of a once flourishing economy during his 33-year rule. Perhaps that's why his Zanu-PF party is attempting to take control over one area in which the Mugabe name is still popular: fashion.
The BBC reports that Mugabe's party is currently trying to gain control of House of Gushungo, a fashion label that features clothing and accessories adorned with Mugabe's signature.
SCROLL DOWN FOR PHOTOS OF HOUSE OF GUSHUNGO'S PIECES
House of Gushungo was set up in 2011 with Mugabe's blessing, without the president owning shares in the company, Vogue notes. However, it appears his party now wants to capitalize on the label's success. While Zanu-PF says its claims to the brand are simply a matter of intellectual property, its opposition contends that the push to control the label is part of an effort to woo young, trendy voters in Zimbabwe's urban areas.
"The Mugabe fashion craze is a desperate attempt by his brand managers to catch the young voters," Luke Tamborinyoka, spokesman for presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai, told the BBC. "It's an attempt to seduce the young, first-time voters who are believed to be almost a million -- a very big number considering Zimbabwe's voting population."
But the efforts to garner votes through fashion appeal may be futile, as the increasingly popular garments could be considered more ephemera than political statement, in the vein of Che Guevara t-shirts that are worn "ironically" by Westerners who may or may not understand the revolutionary history of the Marxist icon.
"It's not about politics. It's about his legacy," Justing Matenda, CEO of House of Gushungo's parent label Yedu Nesu, told the Zimbabwe Mail in 2012. "[Mugabe] is an icon, culturally, socially, in many other ways. The people who are flocking here to buy these clothes? They aren't the sort you would usually call Zanu-PF supporters."
Reuters reports that now more than ever, the youth vote will be crucial to win Zimbabwe's election. The country's demographics are shifting toward a majority of "Born Frees" -- people who were born after the the fight to free the country from white-minority rule, which catapulted Mugabe to power. The nostalgia of past struggles appears to be wearing off, as a new generation of voters seeks to address the economic and public health crises facing the nation.
"The future lies in dumping this grandfatherly generation that came to power before many of us were born," 27-year-old engineering graduate Mthulisi Mpofu told Reuters. "They are old and tired and have nothing to offer us. If the youth does the right thing, I don't see how we are not going to have a new government, new policies, and jobs."