ZIMBABWE’S National Youth Service training programme has created a marauding brigade of bandits freely roaming the country and ready to unleash violence
on people with impunity.
In a report due to be released today in Johannesburg, Solidarity Peace Trust, a joint Zimbabwean/South African human rights group headed by church leaders, says the project has bred a brutal army of gangsters involved in murder, abductions, disappearances, torture, rape, arson and intimidation.
The report, titled National Youth Service Training: An overview ofthe youth militia training and activities in Zimbabwe, says the scheme has also produced a political powder keg that might explode with disastrous consequences.
It says the totalitarian programme has eroded the rule of law and created anarchy. The youth brigade, disparagingly referred to as Green Bombers in Zimbabwe because of the colour of their military-style fatigues, are used by government and Zanu PF to harass the opposition, control people in food queues and to man roadblocks along with the police.
“In the last two years, Zimbabwe has seen a new National Youth Service training programme moving rapidly from a supposedly voluntary, small-scale, training allegedly aimed at skills enhancement, patriotism and moral education, to what is now intended to be compulsory, large-scale paramilitary training,” the report says.
“In contradiction to claims that the training would not aim at imparting military skills, military drills, including weapons training, are shown to have been major elements of the youth training since the first youth intakes in 2001.”
This, the report says, has led to crimes reminiscent of those committed during the 1980s when Zanu PF brigades killed and maimed with impunity.
The report says youths, brain-washed by ruling party propagandists during their 120-day intensive drilling at the Border Gezi Training Institute, have been used as crude electoral tools.
The indoctrinated youths have been involved in illegal roadblocks, disrupting opposition rallies, inti-midating voters and manipulating elections.
The reports says the militia, moulded in the form of China’s Red Brigades and other such instruments of terror, have denied real and perceived opposition supporters food relief.
“Accounts of the militia being implicated in theft, vandalism and usurping powers of law enforcement agencies are multiple,” it says.
“On the whole, the youth militia have impunity, often working under the direction of war veterans and alongside government agencies in their illegal activities.”
The report says conditions at training camps are deplorable, while systematic rape of young girls by their instructors and the subsequent spread of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/Aids is rife.
It warns that the arming of youths purportedly to fight “imperialists, neo-colonialists and local enemies of the state” is dangerous.
“The implications of the current youth training for Zimbabwe are serious indeed,” it says. “The social fabric has been deliberately destroyed through encouraging the nation’s youth to commit terrible crimes against their fellow citizens with impunity.”
Southern African church leaders meeting in Johannesburg will today release a statement condemning the militaristic programme.
The statement says: “It takes great wickedness for those in power to be prepared to sacrifice a whole generation, the youth of the nation, in order to maintain their own hold on power.
“Behind the mask of a programme bearing the innocuous title ‘National Youth Service training’ lurks a pernicious evil that threatens not only to destroy the nation’s youth but also to subvert many of the core Christian values upon which the nation was built.”
The statement demands that “the appalling danger posed by the youth militia training be faced with utmost urgency”.
It urges government to close all training centres, surrender weapons in the hands of militias to the lawful authority, investigate crimes perpetrated by the Zanu PF gangs and rehabilitate them into society.
Solidarity Peace Trust has a board consisting of Southern African church leaders. It is chaired by Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube.