HARARE-GOVERNMENT yesterday announced the return of its infamous National Youth Service programme for its youth militia, also known as “Border Gezi graduates”, with analysts saying the move was meant to instil fear in the electorate ahead of the 2023 elections.
This was announced by Information and Publicity minister Monica Mutsvangwa during a post-Cabinet media briefing in Harare, where she said the proposal was presented by Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation minister Kirsty Coventry and was part of consultations between the Youth ministry and the Ministry of Defence and War Veterans.
Mutsvangwa said the programme would be designed for youths between the ages of 18 and 35 years so that they are taught patriotism, discipline, volunteerism, survival skills, hard work, loyalty, tolerance, resilience, determination and honesty.
“Cabinet noted that National Youth Service is an important youth development programme which is crucial in nurturing young people into becoming responsible and resilient citizens with a clear sense of national identity and respect for national values,” Mutsvangwa said.
“The programme is a key strategy for youth empowerment in national, regional, continental and international development guiding frameworks to which Zimbabwe is a member. The frameworks include the Sadc Revised Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, the African Youth Charter of 2006, the World Programme of Action on Youth and the United Nations Youth Strategy 2030.”
She said after training, the youths would be encouraged to participate in development projects and disaster response activities, thereby enhancing national capacity to manage disasters.
Mutsvangwa added that they would be placed on community attachment for work experience and service to various government departments and local authorities.
“Graduates of the programme will qualify for further training, assistance in starting businesses, and for enrolment for careers in the police, the army, the air force, nursing and teaching, among others. The programme will also take on board the disabled, and maintain gender balance and fair regional representation, with recruitment taking place through district offices,” she said.
The Information minister said the National Youth Service programme would be funded by government upon enactment of the necessary legal framework.
Zanu-PF enjoys a two-thirds majority in Parliament, which enables the ruling party to push through constitutional amendments with ease.
With the recall of around 40 MPs aligned to the Nelson Chamisa-led MDC Alliance, Zanu-PF is not likely to face opposition in the passage of its proposed laws in Parliament.
“The programme shall also be mandated to generate its own income through engagement in commercial activities. The youths will not pay fees, but would be provided with uniforms, training kits and travel expenses, and would be accorded allowances as the economy improves. More details on the implementation modalities of the policy will be provided as the programme unfolds,” Mutsvangwa said.
But analysts yesterday described the programme as a subtle militarisation of Zanu-PF’s campaign machinery ahead of the 2023 elections.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director Blessing Vava said although the concept of the national youth service was good, past experiences do not augur well for the programme.
“The concept is good as long as it is not politicised. But we have realised in the past that Zanu-PF has turned it into a programme to manipulate the youths and train them to torment citizens. It is a good programme if people are involved and the idea is not politicised,” he said.
Political analyst Alexander Rusero said the politicisation of the programme in the past was the reason why Mutsvangwa’s announcement was sending shivers down many people’s spines as it was used as an instrument of violence by Zanu-PF.
“But I guess the logic is to disenfranchise youths from access to national opportunities. From previous experiences, the national youth service, itself a brilliant programme, was sacrificed on the altar of political expedience,” he said.
“Unless it is remodelled, rebranded and repackaged, it will remain a conduit for elections and electioneering where youths in the past were deployed to perpetrate violence on Zanu-PF’s political foes ahead of an election.”
Another analyst Rashweat Mukundu said: “I think it is just a regression looking at how it was managed in the past. It is a regression in the sense that there is no mechanism to protect the youth service from politicisation and for this present government, youth service simply means indoctrinating young people and using them as cannon fodder in political violence.
“It is not youth service, but militia for the 2023 election. Youth service must be protected from politicisation, but must be run by independent bodies and open in terms of its agenda, training curricular, and its objectives must be clearly spelt out.”
Mukundu said the main worry was that in the past, it produced what were commonly called “Green Bombers”, who terrorised opposition activists.
Zanu-PF acting youth secretary Tendai Chirau, however, described the reintroduction of the youth service as “necessary and important”.
“This is necessary and important. Thank you to the people’s Cabinet. We need to raise a breed of patriotic and entrepreneurial youth. I did my training back in 2004. The training strengthened my resolve,” he said.
The programme was introduced in 2001 by the late Youth minister Border Gezi, with trainees allegedly involved in the violence that preceded elections during the late former President Robert Mugabe’s era.
At its formation, the programme was meant to “transform and empower youths for nation-building through life skills training and leadership development”.
The programme was stopped after the fall of Mugabe via a military coup in 2017.
The resurrection of the dreaded youth militia is evidence that Zanu-PF is not looking back on creating a one-party State, and is forging ahead with its efforts to annihilate the opposition MDC Alliance ahead of the 2023 elections.
Last week, a Zanu-PF internal memorandum dated February 25, 2021 was leaked to the media which directed district co-ordinating committee (DCC) members to be trained together with traditional leaders, council bosses and employees for the party’s Herbert Chitepo School of Ideology indoctrination to help drum up support for the party ahead of the polls.
In the memo, the ruling party said in order to create a strong bond between the party and government, the DCC members would be trained together with Rural District Council chairpersons, chief executive officers, district development co-ordinators and chiefs.
Chiefs, according to the Constitution, are supposed to be apolitical, but have in the past been abused by the ruling party in successive elections in return for tokens of appreciation such as cars and allowances.