Youth Development, Indigenization and Empowerment Minister Patrick Zhuwao has caused an uproar in Zimbabwe after vowing Tuesday to revitalize the controversial national youth service programme.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change and People’s Democratic Party and some human rights groups have raised serious concern over Zhuwao’s plans, coming ahead of the 2018 general elections and the factional fights in the ruling Zanu-PF as the battle to succeed President Robert Mugabe intensifies.
The youths have been accused of terrorizing innocent Zimbabweans with claims that they normally force people to buy Zanu PF cards.
Zhuwawo said he is mobilizing 80,000 young people to help in national development programs.
“We are also working to establish a Youth Secure, Youth Feed and Youth Build Zimbabwe programme for the country. The year 2016 is of consolidating the people’s power and the 80,000-strong force will help us to move the economy. The National Youth Service will become the ground force with which we will be able to move this economy,” said Zhuwao.
But human rights lawyer Dewa Mavhinga told VOA that Zhuwao’s move is very disturbing.
A statement released by The Youth Advocacy for Reform and Democracy (YARD) led by expelled Zanu-PF Member of Parliament, Temba Mliswa, said it “maintains a resolute and audible stance against the government's move to reignite the dreaded National Youth Service.”
It added that, “the rebirth of this blatant initiative towards state-funded terrorism against its own people has a multiplicity of effects and sharp contradictions to the government's duty and responsibility.”
“It is a shame to the youth to hear Minister Zhuwao, through abundance of his intelligence or lack of it thereof, to publicly announce the need for government to invest in a personal army, when the same government is unable to provide salaries for its own workers. This move describes the chameleon-like behaviour of government, where they announce empty coffers and contradict themselves by choosing to channel funds in this terrorist cult.
"For every one (1) Green Bomber, YARD will recruit 3,125 peaceful YARD members! We will not be overcome!!! For the youth, this movement represents the father of all human rights violations as the history associated with this movement is aligned to the ruthless butchering of hundreds of Zimbabweans.”
According to Solidarity Peace Trust, a human rights organization, the early government youth policy documents focused on the need to provide the nation’s youth, referred to as those aged between 10 and 30 years of age, with a “sense of national pride and history, as well as skills suitable for employment.
However, the group says, “contrary to early claims that the youth militia training would not be politically partisan, there is overwhelming evidence that the youth militia camps are aimed at forcing on all school leavers a Zanu PF view of Zimbabwean history and the present.
All training materials in the camps have, from inception, consisted exclusively of Zanu PF campaign materials and political speeches. This material is crudely racist and vilifies the major opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).”
Solidarity Peace Trust added that the militia have an ambivalent relationship with law-enforcing agencies including the army and police. "On the whole, the youth militia have impunity, often working under the direction of war veterans and alongside government agencies in their illegal activities.
They are seldom arrested or prevented from breaking the law. However, there are a few cases on record of the youth militia attacking police or army, and being attacked or arrested in return. The courts have also at times condemned their activities and passed judgement against them.”
Human rights groups have warned that the implications of the current youth militia training for Zimbabwe are serious.
They further argue that the legitimacy of providing politically partisan and military training to tens of thousands of youths every year must be questioned.