While the militia programme is officially a national employment creation venture, there is no denial — and evidence abounds — its results have caused untold suffering to Zimbabweans, especially those perceived to be MDC supporters.
Investigations last week by The Standard newspaper uncovered the resurgence of militia training camps and also that there is nothing national about them.
They are places where young rural folk are taken in for basic military training and indoctrination by Zanu PF .
Instead of peaceful campaigns in preparation for elections that the former ruling party intends to force on the people, Zanu PF appears to be focusing on producing instruments of terror.
Youth Development minister Saviour Kasukuwere denies it, but the fact that he does not dispute that the young boys and girls “recruited” from the villages are made to chant and sing Zanu PF slogans and songs says it all. The militia camps are political training grounds for a party that has become addicted to violence.
Leaders and trainers at these camps have been known to bring young girls and women to cook and clean for them and also provide sexual relief.
Just after the elections of 2008, members of the Zanu PF militia reportedly murdered Fortune Mahuni after he protested against his two daughters being forcibly kept as sex slaves at a base in the Midlands town of Kwekwe.
The former opposition MDC-T said then it had documented over 50 cases of gang-rape by Zanu PF youth.
The militia is a product of a national youth service programme that the government launched under the auspices of the then Ministry of Youth Development, Gender and Employment Creation led by the late Elliot Manyika.
Officially, the exercise aims to prepare school leavers between 15 and 30 years of age for professional life after school by instilling in them discipline and a sense of patriotism and responsibility.
The government has dismissed allegations that the product of this programme is a pro-Zanu PF militia.
It does not dispute that there are militia camps strewn across the country, but says there is nothing wrong with the programme and that Zanu PF’s political opponents make up the alleged atrocities.
Analysts fear that Mugabe has created a private paramilitary force similar to that of the late Malawi Life President, Kamuzu Banda, who ruled the country with an iron fist for 30 years.
Banda had his own Young Pioneers who he employed to clamp down on dissenting voices.
The tragedy of using such tactics to grip onto power is that those end up leading by brutal force resent you.
“How can you be a legitimate leader to me when you got to that position by raping me, beating me up, burning my property, scarring my son’s back, taking over my home, and taking away my dignity and humanity?” a victim of youth militia said after the horrors of June 2008.
The MDC-T together with the smaller MDC – M party have made it one of their concerns, the existence of military bases scattered around the country whose sole purpose, they charge, is to intimidate the rural electorate.
Parties to the GPA negotiations and the construction of the electoral roadmap have agreed to deal as that matter, but given the latest moves by Zanu PF with regard to elections, no such thing may ever happen and these camps may well become the source of that party’s electoral victory confidence.
As elections draw closer, there will be many more such bases, most of them “mobile” camps on account they can be assembled overnight and disbanded the following morning after their purpose is served. These “mobile” bases are the most dangerous, especially because they can not be found or identified because they are literally non-existent.
They are, however, the places where those militia trained at known bases would then go to put into practice what they would have learnt when the time comes.
These are the detention centres that villagers are scared of. The MDC-T can only make claims, but Zanu PF will never agree there are any such places and for sure, investigators will not find them because they are set up and destroyed overnight.
The purpose of these camps is to instil fear among the villagers and ensure they do not dare, as happened 2008, vote “wrongly”.
It is when fear becomes part of the social fabric of society that the spoils of abused power become most lucrative. Despite efforts by Zanu PF, under massive pressure from Sadc, to downplay the role of the militia (they have responded by absorbing them into existing State security apparatus — the army and the police), their impact on society has been formidable and the ongoing effects of their campaign of intimidation and harassment continue.
Like I said in my earlier instalment on these terror bases, what the MDC-T needs to do is to realise the importance of making relevant and clear presentations of facts with regard to the existence and nature of the terror camps.
Calling for the disbandment of military camps at certain designated and known points will not remove the hidden terror bases embedded in rural communities where traditional leaders are used to prop them up.