REPORTS that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has agreed to re-engage the controversial national youth service graduates into the public service are cause for concern, and cast aspersions over his commitment to the holding of free and fair elections this year, given that these youths have occasionally served as an extension of Zanu PF’s commissariat department.
It’s a given that government’s decision to re-engage the national youth service graduates ahead of elections raises a lot of stink, especially at a time Mnangagwa is trying to break away from his predecessor Robert Mugabe’s legacy.
Their return at such a critical time is likely to send the wrong signal. It leaves one with the thinking that the more things change, the more they remain the same. This sounds like the proverbial old wine in new wine skins or same soup in different dishes.
It would be foolhardy for the opposition and the electorate alike to believe that these Green Bombers will be neutral in the dispensing of whatever duties they are going to be given in view of their unflattering record. This decision, coming at a time when the government is expected to rationalise its expenditure, implies that the government is not serious about the reforms that they are preaching about.
The national youth service was inaugurated in 2001 by Mugabe at the Border Gezi Training Centre in Mount Darwin, ostensibly to instil a sense of national identity and patriotism. The programme was later mired in controversy as cases of physical abuse and torture targeted at opposition activists emerged.
A report released in 2005 by the Solidarity Peace Trust revealed that the youth cadets were being trained in paramilitary style and would readily unleash violence to those who opposed Zanu PF.
During its formative stages, a national youth service certificate became a key requirement for one to land a government job, 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.
One could be forgiven to conclude that the motive behind the introduction of the programme has always been sinister considering that it was briefly discontinued in 2009 after the formation of the Government of National Unity, and resuscitated after the 2013 polls, only to be briefly shelved again after Mnangagwa came into power last November.
During the few months Mnangagwa has been at the helm, he has earned himself many accolades for undoing all the wrongs done by Mugabe. These include his decision to sever ties with the estimated 3 200 youth officers, saving a whopping $19,3 million in salaries annually. But no sooner had stakeholders celebrated the cost-cutting measure, that the Zanu PF regime brewed a shocker by reinstating them on the already bloated government payroll.
The government should find a legal way of disbanding these Zanu PF foot soldiers disguised as national youth service graduates. This is the last thing that Zimbabwe needs at the moment.
By resurrecting the programme, Mnangagwa is sending wrong signals to the international community about his commitment to democratising the electoral roadmap.
Our main concern is that the resuscitation of the youth programme under a politicised and polarised environment such as the one obtaining now will lead to more cases of political violence and violations of human rights.
Besides, it’s unfair for the Zanu PF government to foist an additional burden in the form of national youth officers whose terms of reference remain opaque.