In Zimbabwe, children as young as 5 would, as of February, be subjected to national service training as part of efforts by ZANU-PF to reorient the young about Zimbabwe’s “revolution, pre-colonial political systems, colonialism, wars and the post-colonial state.”
A massive number of 30,000 patriotic youths are projected to be trained annually in a country where the term “patriotism” means unwavering support for the 87-year-old veteran leader, Robert Mugabe, and his political party, ZANU-PF.
Youth Development, Indigenization and Empowerment Minister and former secret service agent from ZANU-PF, Saviour Kasukuwere, is spearheading the project that has been heavily criticized. Critics argue that the project is a desperate effort to foster ZANU-PF propaganda by the coercion of innocent minds.
In the past decade, polls in the southern African country have been characterised by violence and intimidation, spearheaded by aggressive youth militias. And many suspect that the “patriotic” training of the youth is being reinvented in preparation for possible elections before the end of the year.
The concept paper, entitled “National Youth Service Training Programme,” targets people under the age of 35, and is scheduled to be forwarded to the country’s cabinet next week. A first enrollment is planned for February countrywide.
Reads part of the 48-page document: “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.”
In preschool, teaching would focus on the national flag, anthem and cultural dances, while primary schools would cover the “liberation struggle and legacy,” physical fitness, the role of youth in peace and national development.
Further up the education sector at secondary schools, students are expected to continue physical fitness training, conflict, provision of external facilitation, case studies and role plays, and debates.
With the projected figure of 30,000 per year, simple deduction, according to analysts, shows that should elections be held in 2013, tens of thousands of people would be at the mercy of ZANU-PF’s propaganda machine, adding to thousands of youths already trained by the former ruling party.
By end of the programme, the youths are expected to “explain the history of Zimbabwe from pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial era; identify with national values of tolerance, discipline, respect and patriotism.”
“The evolution of the Zimbabwe political systems is better articulated by people who are involved in the struggle for the establishment of the Zimbabwean independence so as to articulate grievances, strategies and linkages . . . ,” reads the paper.
However, other political groupings have lashed out at the proposed programme with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC saying the idea is “ridiculous, laughable and incredible.”
Said National party spokesperson, Nelson Chamisa, “You cannot introduce ZANU-PF propaganda by coercion to innocent minds … We will not allow ZANU-PF to have their way. All Zimbabweans must oppose this. We must not support this bizarre arrangement.”
He said Zimbabweans would not stand by and watch “ZANU-PF do what Hitler did to Germany and other countries.”
Political commentator Methuseli Moyo said the move was a “scheme by ZANU-PF to force onto young Zimbabweans its mentality, which is undesirable anywhere in the world.
“They will say they want to instill nationalism, but the fact that we were born Zimbabweans, speak indigenous languages and eat our traditional food means that we were born patriots. There is no need to take people to patriotism lessons,” he said. “They want to capture the mentality and brainwash people.”
The first center, the Border Gezi training camp in Mount Darwin, about 90 km north of Harare, was set up in 2001.
The youth brigade camps have churned out several thousand graduates, who have come to be popularly known as “Green Bombers“, because of the color of their uniforms.
The youth training centers, dubbed “Border Gezi” institutes, are infamous for producing a crop of youths who were accused of unleashing violence on innocent civilians during the last elections.