Rights group opposes youth service

HARARE - Rights group Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) has said President Robert Mugabe’s suggestion that the much-dreaded National Youth Service (NYS) be revived could result in violence.

The Jestina Mukoko-led ZPP claimed that youths —popularly known as “green bombers” — trained in various camps all over the country under the programme have been involved in acts of political violence.

This comes after Mugabe told guests at his 93rd birthday celebrations last Saturday in Matobo that “there must be national youth service; I don’t know why we have slowed on this one. We certainly must start the national youth service programme”.

ZPP said it feared that the youths will be used to violently campaign for the ruling party and Mugabe, especially as the country’s 2018 elections approach.

“The ZPP is concerned that the resuscitation of the youth programme under a politicised and polarised environment such as obtaining now will lead to more cases of political violence and violations of human rights,” the group said in a statement.

It further called on “Mugabe to reconsider his public utterances and instead, institute an investigation into the human rights violations perpetrated by the youths affiliated to his party in the past”.

Mugabe’s call came after Mountview Vocational Training Centre in Mashonaland East has closed its doors to make way for the youth militia training.

“This shows that plans to reintroduce the training were already in motion before the president announced the plans,” ZPP said.

NYS was inaugurated in 2001 by Mugabe at the Border Gezi Training Centre in Mount Darwin and by 2008, the programme had churned 80 000 graduates. Ostensibly aimed at instilling a sense of national identity and patriotism, the youth training programme was later to be shrouded in controversy as cases of physical abuse and torture emerged.

The programme was discontinued in 2009 after the formation of the Government of National Unity.

A report released in 2005 by the Solidarity Peace Trust revealed that the NYS cadets were being trained in paramilitary style and would readily unleash violence to those who opposed Zanu PF.

At some point, a NYS certificate was critical for one to get employment as the Zanu PF-led government gave preference for employment in the public service to those who were trained from the Border Gezi training camps.

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