By Lloyd Takawira
Notorious for allegedly unleashing terror on opposition members during former President Robert Mugabe’s reign the National Youth Service Training Programme is set to be reintroduced.
Allegations of rights violations; rape, murder, torture, maiming, and burning down homes of mainly opposition party members and supporters rocked the controversial training programme.
History of the National Youth Service
The National Youth Service Training Programme was the brainchild of late former Youth minister and ZANU PF central committee member, Border Gezi and was introduced in the early 2000s. It was later discontinued in 2007 due to lack of funding and resuscitated in 2017 by then Youth Minister, Patrick Zhuwao before it was cancelled in early 2018 after Mugabe was toppled from power.
Graduates nicknamed the Green Bombers due to their light green uniform were reportedly used by the ruling party, ZANU PF to terrorize opposition supporters during election season.
As the 2023 harmonized elections draw near ordinary citizens, human rights activists, political analysts have expressed fear the same tactic will be used by the ‘new dispensation’.
For one Mai Ruvarashe Nyakabau in Mutoko district the return of the dreaded Green Bombers brings back tormenting memories.
” My father died after he was assulted by the youths during the 2002 election campaign. He had just come to the rural areas only to meet his fate after he was asked to produce a ZANU PF membership card. They beat him and sustained injuries which led to his death days after”. \
Writing on twitter, @mputailic recalled painful personal experiences with the Zanu PF affiliated group.
“End of December 2001, these militants beat me to a pulp, left me for dead for not possessing a Zanu PF card. My mom had bought one for me but I had left it in another car. It was towards the March 2002 presidential elections. I fell unconscious and had to be taken to town by ambulance.”
For student activist Nancy Njenje , Zimbabweans are caught up in useless things while important matters go unchallenged such as the re-introduction of the national youth service.
“So whilst y’all caught up with Njuzu’s nudes the National Youth Service, Border Gezi is back. This same program was condemned in 2018 for gross human rights violations. On top of bad governance, our ignorance is killing us as young people ! #StopHumanRightsViolations” she tweeted.
Human rights activist, Ashton Bumhira and Youth Forum Zimbabwe director, Ashton Bumhira described the timing of the return of National Youth Service as ‘scary.
“The timing of the program when elections are around the corner is scary for advocates of human rights and democracy for graduates of this program have a history of being used by the ruling party to intimidate, abuse and coerce people to vote for the ruling party especially in rural areas where they will mostly be attached”.
He added that the program is another exclusionary politics being pursued by government.
“It is another strategy for patron relationships. Beneficiaries will play loyalty politics. Its purpose is not really for national service but for ZANU PF and as a party it (Zanu PF) is always bend on doing anything and everything to remain in power. So its essence is to help it in consolidating power and from a human rights view, this is not a right move. In light of empowering the youth who are seriously disempowered, this program is not truthfully meant to do so”.
Youth Decide Zimbabwe executive director, Learnmore Munhangu however said there is nothing wrong with the National Youth Service.
“The only problem comes when politicians would want to use some of us as youths to terrorize our communities,” he said.
Political analyst, Frank Chauke speaking to this reporter said the return of the national youth service will likely see the reemergence of violence.
Political analyst, Pedzisai Ruhanya said “We all know what BORDER GEZI youth militias were doing; impunity and violent attacks against opposition supporters; there is nothing patriotic about this violent and unlawful conduct; so what will be different now. This is Old Testament political hogwash by unreformed people”
In an interview, MDC Alliance youth assembly spokesperson, Stephen Chuma said his party was gravely concerned about government’s decision to resume the National Youth Service Training Programme considering its history.
“In the past the National Youth Service became a reproduction machine for violent thugs for ZANU PF with neither skills nor sense of genuine patriotism. The ‘green bombers’ as products of National Youth Service are infamously referred to were trained as party militia who were unleashed on their very own parents ahead and post 2008 harmonised elections.
“Mnangagwa knows very well that 2023 is his Waterloo hence these desperate attempts to resuscitate a National Youth Service to be used as merchants of violence and intimidation as we head towards elections. As the MDC Alliance Youth Assembly we are totally against the re-establishment of the National Youth Service especially given that it is being driven by a political party to pursue their parochial interests,” he said.
For United Democratic Alliance president Dr Daniel Shumba , the return of the national youth service is clearly being as an instrument cohension and violence, “For Minster Kirsty Coventry to Naively accepting illegal instructions from the President’s Office. Cabinet must subject such lunacy to due process and not seek to negate the Legislative process. The motive and justification would be ventilated in that way”.