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Zimbabwe's Notorious Youth Service Program Set for Overhaul, Depoliticization


The 2008 Global Political Agreement for power sharing called for a new national youth service to replace the so-called Border Gezi militia that was implicated in the deadly political violence that occurred during traumatic elections that year

The Youth Initiative for Democracy in Zimbabwe, a civic group, called Wednesday for sweeping reforms of the country's national youth service scheme to make sure government plans to overhaul such programs do not perpetuate youth militia rights abuses.

The 2008 Global Political Agreement for power sharing called for a new national youth service to replace the so-called Border Gezi militia - named for a deceased youth minister of the longtime ruling ZANU-PF party - that was implicated in the deadly political violence that occurred during the traumatic 2008 elections.

Youth Initiative Director Sydney Chisi told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that his organisation wants to see the youth program reformed and reshaped into a non-partisan youth empowerment program.

Chisi noted that many Zimbabweans speak of the "youth militia" rather than national youth service, which became a virtual wing of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF and whose members continue to be engaged as "youth coordinators" in many rural communities.

"This isn’t surprising given how many youth service graduates have been manipulated into being agents of political violence," said Chisi, adding his organisation, as a result, is launching its campaign for the reform of the youth training program into a non-partisan scheme.

The Zimbabwe National Youth Service Program was established in 2001 with the aim of instilling the nation's youth with patriotism and self-reliance.

Chisi said that while training at Border Gezi camps has been halted, graduates of such camps continue to carry out partisan political work though they are on the public payroll under vague titles such as "youth officers."

Nine years after the launch of the Border Gezi program, with an estimated 80,000 graduates, "the curriculum of the program still remains top secret," Chisi said.

He expressed his organization's concern at the "limited engagement of the key stakeholder, the youth, in this process" of youth training. "In 2001 the program was implemented without the input, consent and involvement of young people and the general public. If this program is intended for the benefit of young people, then this oversight cannot be repeated."

Chisi said Zimbabwean youth want "genuine reform and consultations in the development and delivery of the national youth service program."

Deputy Youth Development, Indigenization and Empowerment Minister Thamsanqa Mahlangu of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said the government is consulting with stakeholders on the new service.

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