Plans afoot to unleash terrorists

President Robert Mugabe and his party Zanu-PF will soon reintroduce the controversial National Youth Service training programme ahead of crucial elections, a move likely to have a chilling effect on a country where polls are characterised by violence and intimidation, spearheaded by aggressive youth militias.

The youth training project is bound to heavily influence the outcome of the elections, likely to be a tightly contested affair as Mugabe battles for political survival.

Zanu-PF wants to churn out a massive 300 000 militia members annually, starting this year. If elections are held in 2013 it means more than a million militia members will be at Zanu-PF’s disposal to fight the elections, as the party already has tens of thousands of trained youths.

During the last elections in 2008, Zanu-PF deployed at least 13 000 youths into the civil service to influence state institutions and campaign for it. The elections were characterised by violence and intimidation with the army, war veterans and youth militias in the forefront.

Thousands of people have died during Zimbabwe’s elections since 1980 due to state-sponsored violence. Since 2000, thousands have died during elections. Mugabe and his party use terror as a political weapon.

A document – titled National Youth Service Training Programme in Zimbabwe – which has been seen by the Sunday Times – proposes the immediate implementation of a massive training of militias, targeting youths up to 35 years, starting from pre-school to universities.

The programme will be headed by the Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment, run by one of Mugabe’s diehards, Saviour Kasukuwere, a former youth leader in Zanu-PF and ex-intelligence operative. Kasukuwere has been active and aggressive in the implementation of Mugabe’s contested policies, including land seizures and new attempts to grab foreign-owned companies.

Youths have been used to spearhead Mugabe’s violent policies, including land invasions, threatening foreign companies, price controls, coercive political mobilisation, including forcing people to buy Zanu-PF membership cards and vote for the party, and attacking opposition supporters.

They have also been enforcers of Mugabe’s other repressive government policies, and used to denounce foreign governments and targeted Western sanctions on Zimbabwe.

In return for their services, they have been rewarded with jobs in the civil service, including the army and police, and immunity from prosecution for their crimes.

The document on the youth service training programme, whose foreword was written by Kasukuwere, says his ministry will soon relaunch the project to reorient young people so that they learn about Zimbabwe’s "revolution, pre-colonial political systems, colonialism, Chimurenga (revolutionary) wars and the post-colonial state".

The programme is also said to be designed to instil "patriotism", which means supporting Mugabe and Zanu-PF, among the youths.

"The ministry has developed a programme to orient the youths so that they can accept the realities of life and be able to actively and productively participate in peace and national development," the document reads. "The programme is called youth orientation and will target all youths, regardless of their race, colour, creed, ethnicity, gender, religion, geographical location and political affiliation."

Although the document claims that the youths would be recruited voluntarily and trained to acquire survival skills and do community service, while preaching "peace, tolerance, justice, equality and democracy", it is well-known that Zanu-PF teaches the youths to fight Mugabe’s and the party’s political opponents. Opposition parties, Mugabe and Zanu-PF critics and civil society leaders are regarded as "enemies of the state" and are often targeted for virulent denunciations and even physical attacks.

"All youths from pre-school, in school and out of school, and under the age of 35 will participate in the programme. Our target is to produce 300 000 youths annually. The ministry will use its staff from head office, provincial, district and ward youth officers under the department of youth development to reach out to schools, churches, clubs and communities," the main document says.

"One of the main objectives of the youth service training programme is to educate the youths on national independence and sovereignty of Zimbabwe. The liberation struggle and legacy teachings should enable the youths to understand and know how this country gained independence."

On implementation, the document says Kasukuwere’s ministry will "use its structures, district and ward youth officers, schools, churches, clubs and communities" to ensure the programme succeeds.

Zimbabwe’s current youth service training programme was introduced in 2001 after Mugabe and Zanu-PF lost a large number of seats during the previous year’s watershed parliamentary elections. Zanu-PF, which had dominated Parliament with an overwhelming majority, narrowly won the election by 62 seats to 57. – Sunday Times