President Robert Mugabe and the ruling Zanu PF party are set to re-activate over 80 000 graduates of the National Youth Service programme “to help in making the economy move” ahead of the 2018 elections.
Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment minister Patrick Zhuwao yesterday said he was looking for alternative sources of funding to train more National Youth Service members, also known as Green Bombers.
“The National Youth Service will be restored and the $2,5 million we received from Treasury is only enough to train 200 youths, but we are working in conjunction with the National Youth Service Association to find alternative sources to fund the programme,” Zhuwao told a meeting with graduate representatives.
Asked if the re-establishment of the “Green Bombers” was Zanu PF’s way of activating its apparatchiks ahead of elections in 2018, Zhuwao retorted: “Everything that I do as a minister is on the back of a mandate given to Zanu PF by the electorate.”
Graduates of the National Youth Service have, since inception of the programme in 2001, been accused of unleashing orgies of violence, including murder, abuse and rape, on suspected opposition supporters in the run-up to different elections over the past 10 years.
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu slammed Zhuwao’s plans and accused Mugabe of “preparing for a new terror campaign”.
“Green Bombers are the Zanu PF regime’s stormtroopers in any election period. They are a grouping of brainwashed young political thugs who are fed on a regular diet of Zanu PF propaganda,” Gutu said.
“The Zanu PF regime knows that it has not got a snowball’s chance in hell of winning a free and fair election against the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai. Hence, the regime is already preparing for a terror campaign against opposition political parties in the watershed 2018 harmonised elections.”
His views were echoed by People’s Democratic Party spokesperson Jacob Mafume, who said Zhuwao wanted to take up “his uncle’s checkered violent legacy”.
“It would appear that Zhuwao wants to take up the legacy of rape, murder, torture, violence and general mayhem created by his uncle [Mugabe]. It is such a retrogressive institution that churns out tools of violence with no conscience. It is, to all intents and purposes, a criminal programme given the fact that this government is failing to pay civil servants and pensioners and can ill-afford such extra expenses,” Mafume said.
The country’s opposition parties, as well as human rights lobby groups, accused Zanu PF of indoctrinating youths who go through the programme with the ruling party dogma and ideology, but Zhuwao said opposition youths “would be foolish” not to take up the programme.
The youthful minister, however, said the programme would not be compulsory.
“There is no need to put strategies to make it appealing to the opposition. It is only a fool that would choose not to be part of a programme that will enable you to participate more effectively in your country. I am Minister of Youth and Indigenisation, but I do not have an antidote to foolishness,” Zhuwao said.
Academic Ibbo Mandaza said it could be a double-edged plot by Mugabe.
“The first could be to deal with the massive unemployment issue and also take advantage of this to get a captive vote in 2018. They would want to release the pressure of unemployment because they cannot go into an election in the current situation with hordes of unemployed youths, hence the re-establishment of the camps,” Mandaza said.
After losing the first round of voting in 2008 to Tsvangirai, Mugabe turned on the style, using the country’s security services as well as the Green Bombers, in a reign of terror that reportedly claimed the lives of over 300 opposition activists in the run-up to the blood-splattered run-off election.
Zhuwao said government would also turn to what he described as a “ground force” to consolidate “the people’s power”.
“We are also working to establish a Youth Secure, Youth Feed and Youth Build Zimbabwe programme for the country. The year 2016 is of consolidating the people’s power and the 80 000-strong force will help us to move the economy. The National Youth Service will become the ground force with which we will be able to move this economy,” Zhuwao said.
He added graduates were already working in wards across the country and had contributed to the peace that the country was enjoying.
With government considering a white paper that seeks to reduce State expenditure on salaries, Zhuwao has already clashed with Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa over the latter’s intention to lay off over 10 000 youth officers.
Mugabe has been accused of electoral theft as well as using foul means to cling to power by rigging polls.