THE imminent return of the national youth service training programme has triggered jitters among many in the opposition who have bad memories of the project’s cadets.
The programme’s recruits were infamously referred to as “Green Bombers” during their reign of terror between 2001 and 2009, as the late former president Robert Mugabe battled to retain his increasingly tenuous hold on power, at a time that the MDC was on the ascendancy.
MDC spokesperson, Witness Dube — whose party’s supporters were terrorised by the programme’s recruits who had been converted into Mugabe’s and Zanu PF’s storm troopers before the controversial project was abandoned — was among the people who told the Daily News yesterday that they had misgivings about the return of the training scheme.
“The return of the national youth service is a cause for consternation to our party and supporters given that it has been previously abused to further partisan interests. We urge the government to halt implementing this initiative and take time to further consult with the masses if at all there is any place for it in our national youth development agenda,” he said.
MDC Alliance deputy youth assembly spokesperson, Womberai Nhende, was equally apprehensive at the prospect of the return of the Green Bombers — who got this derisive name on account of their trademark army-like green fatigues and violent disposition.
“The mere announcement of the re-introduction of this programme sent shivers down the spines of citizens because of yester-year’s horrors when the military-trained brigade meted out terror to citizens.
“They were a brain-washed lot who were specifically used against political enemies, and in this case it’s meant to counter the MDC Alliance’s citizens’ convergence for change.
“These militiamen and women from Border Gezi only serve at the mercy of their master who will be Zanu PF, and it’s a well-calculated ploy to have institutionalised political violence come the 2023 elections,” Nhende told the Daily News yesterday.
He also bemoaned the fact that the programme which had provided militia training to about 80 000 youths at more than 150 camps throughout the country between 2001 and 2009 was being re-introduced at a time that there was again high unemployment in the country.
“We don’t recommend its return because we know the modus operandi of the brigade, which will be made up of youths who will spearhead Zanu PF’s programmes — as evidenced by the Border Gezi youths being marshals at the party’s functions in their previous operations.
“If this programme continues, we must all be prepared to endure long nights of State-sponsored terrorism by criminals who lack ideological grounding, but are indoctrinated to protect political elites in a partisan enclave,” Nhende said further.
National Constitutional Assembly leader, Lovemore Madhuku said while the idea of a national youth service training was not bad in itself, there was need for adequate consultation before this was re-introduced.
“I think an independent commission of enquiry should be set up to investigate how the previous graduates of the youth service programme operated, because there is a belief out there that they were at the centre of political violence that was witnessed in the country then.
“While the idea of a national youth service training is not entirely bad, there is a need for adequate consultation.
“The commission of inquiry must make its findings public and a national consensus should be arrived at regarding the framework of the new programme and what it should look like,” Madhuku told the Daily News.
Formed at the turn of the millennium, the previous youth training programme was the brainchild of the late Border Gezi, who was then Zanu PF’s national political commissar and also Youth minister.
During that time, the youths earned notoriety for both violence and looting shops under the guise of enforcing the government’s price controls — while imposing unofficial curfews in areas perceived to be opposition strongholds.
Besides being accused of working with the police, army and the secret service to perpetrate human rights abuses in the country during their existence, the Green Bombers were also accused of being the vehicle which some bigwigs used to place tens of thousands of ghost workers on the government’s wage bill.
In a surprise move, Zanu PF passed a resolution to bring back the controversial training programme at its annual conference that was held in Esigodini in 2018.
Speaking during Tuesday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the re-introduction of the programme had come after wide consultations.
“The proposal came as a result of consultations between the ministries of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation, and Defence and War Veterans Affairs.
“Cabinet noted that national youth service is an important youth development programme which is crucial in nurturing young people into becoming responsible and resilient citizens with a clear sense of national identity and respect for national values.
“The programme is a key strategy for youth empowerment in national, regional, continental and international development guiding frameworks to which Zimbabwe is a member.
“The frameworks include the Sadc Revised Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, the African Youth Charter of 2006, the World Programme of Action on Youth, and the United Nations Youth Strategy 2030,” Mutsvangwa said.
She also said that during their training, the youths would be encouraged to participate in development projects and disaster response activities, thereby assisting in enhancing national capacity to manage disasters.
“Cabinet further agreed that under the revamped programme, vocational training centres across all the provinces will focus on entrepreneurship and livelihood skills training.
“This will encompass enterprise awareness, opportunity identification, project financing, and basic farming. The Civil Protection Unit will place emphasis on disaster mitigation and management skills.
“The roll-out of the national youth service programme will involve community attachment of youths for work experience and service to various government departments and local authorities.
“The programme will also take on board the disabled, and maintain gender balance and fair regional representation, with recruitment taking place through district offices,” Mutsvangwa also said. – Daily News