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FILE: Attendees cheer as U.S. President Barack Obama (not pictured) arrives onstage at the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Mandela Washington Fellowship Presidential Summit in Washington, August 3, 2015.

Forty-two Zimbabwean youth will soon be heading to the United States for six weeks, as participants of the Mandela Washington Fellowship program, the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), that started in 2014.

The fellows, aged between 25 and 35, and who comprise business, civic and community leaders from different parts of Zimbabwe, will be placed in several U.S. colleges and universities where they will receive some training, ranging from academic, leadership and networking.

“This year we are really excited to be sending 42 Mandela Washington Fellows to the United States,” said Stacy Lomba, Information Officer of the United States Embassy in Zimbabwe.

“They will be participating in the different tracks we have in the program, both the civic leadership and the business entrepreneurship,” she explained.

According to the YALI official page, 700 youth from across Sub-Saharan Africa will participate in the 2019 fellowship, named after the late South Africa leader, Nelson Mandela.

Lomba explained that while the number of participants from Zimbabwe dropped from 60-last year to 42, Zimbabwe still has a larger number of participants than other countries with even larger populations like Nigeria and Ethiopia.

Lomba said the drop is due to budget cuts.

“It’s just broad budget cuts across the board, not specific to Zimbabwe. Its really something that affected all the countries that participate. But I will say that Zimbabwe still has, per capita, more fellows participating compared with countries that are with much bigger population like Nigeria, Ethiopia. Our numbers still compare, so we are really proud of that,” Lomba said.

YALI was launched in 2014 by former U.S. President Barack Obama, in an effort to empower young African leaders.

Executive director Mischek Gondo of the National Association of Youth Organizations applauded the Mandela Washington Program and the leadership opportunities it offers Zimbabwe’s youth.

Gondo also said the program was fitting as it honors Mandela, who was committed to service.

“There is also the issue of social-economic transformation,” said Gondo. “The program comes from one of our icon, which is Mandela, and Mandela was there to serve his community, so young people are trained to be responsible leaders at community level and also transform their community through effective participation.

According to the program website, all fellows are expected to return to their countries of origin after completion of the six-week program, to help develop their countries, “through support from U.S. embassies, the YALI Network, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S State Department and affiliated partners.”

However, there is an exception for 70 fellows who stay for an extended period.

“Seventy selected Fellows remain in the United States to participate in a four-week Professional Development Experience with U.S. non-governmental organizations, private companies, and governmental agencies that relate to their professional interests and goals. The PDE is designed to give Fellows practical training and the opportunity to learn transferable skills, expand their professional networks, and apply concepts learned at their Institutes to real-world situations in the U.S. context,” reads the YALI official website.

FILE: Obert Masaraure, president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe addressing his members in Harare, Dec. 20, 2018.

A leader of one of the top teachers’ unions is recovering in a Zimbabwean hospital following his abduction on Wednesday by suspected state security agents, who assaulted and dumped him outside a military base near the country’s capital, Harare.

Obert Masaraure, president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) claims that the assailants, wearing black masks and armed with AK47 rifles and pistols, forcibly grabbed him from his Waterfalls home and shoved him in an unregistered vehicle and drove off at high speed to a bushy area near Manyame Airbase.

“… They assaulted me using some sjamboks. They forced me to strip and when I did that they assaulted me all over the body and then they forced me to roll in mud. They left me in the bush seriously injured.

“I had to find my way home, thanks to a well-wisher who gave me clothes and coffee. Without that I wouldn’t have made it home as I was bleeding, I could not walk home and I had no money … They took my shoes, my wallet, everything. I had nothing.”

Masaraure said he was unable to identify his assailants as it was dark. “I couldn’t see the faces but some of the guys might be some of the people who abducted me in January, so they came back again.”

He has been leading a three-day industrial action by teachers demanding better pay and improved conditions of service. “They were accusing me of inciting teachers to withdraw their labor … I told them that we are demanding a living wage from our employee.”

Masarure said the suspected state security agents claimed that he was among people who wanted to remove President Emmerson Mnangagwa from power unconstitutionally.

“They couldn’t listen to that saying we are colluding to overthrow the president which is utter nonsense because the employer has a duty to deliver.”

Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi was not available for comment as he was not responding to calls on his mobile phone.

According to former Tsholotsho Senator Believe Gaule, who strongly backs President Mnangagwa, state security agents should investigate the case “as I’m not in a position to say exactly what happened to Masaraure.”

Gaule claimed that some non-governmental organizations are capable of staging such abductions in order to discredit Mnangagwa’s government.

“I don’t see any reason why someone who is pushing an agenda for demonstrations should be arrested. What for? I see no good reason why that can be done by the new dispensation. So, I think state security agents cannot do that (abduction).

“It should be made clear that anyone can come in and portray a very bad picture, especially those that one to tarnish the image of our government can do anything in the name of these abductions that are going on … To me its sabotage.”

The Movement for Democratic Change led by Nelson Chamisa condemned the abduction and brutalising of the ARTUZ leader.

In a statement, the MDC said, “A State which perpetrates violence on men and women who stayed behind to serve the education system even when most teachers were leaving the country is shameless and ungrateful. All they demand and rightfully so, is a living wage indexed in US dollars, better working conditions, reasonable teacher-student ratio and suitable facilities for the learners. That is not criminal.

“Masaraure has committed no crime, he is a patriot who is demanding better public delivery of education services. It is clear that he is being targeted for his dissenting views.”

USA Zanu PF chairperson, Frenk Guni, said, “We condemn the barbaric torture and abduction of of the ATUZ president Mr. Masaraure in the strongest terms. The state must leave no stone unturned in hunting the culprits by any means necessary and bring them to book! This is unacceptable and unpardonable in the new Zimbabwe! Whomever was involved are not only saboteurs and terrorists but an eminent threat to the national security of Zimbabwe as a whole and must be treated as such! Such banditry cannot be allowed in the second republic.”

Several civil society leaders are languishing in remand prison following their arrest two weeks ago on charges of attempting to topple President Mnangagwa. They were arrested when they landed at Robert Mugabe International Airport after attending a workshop on non-violent protests in the Maldives.

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