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NAYO appears before Parliament over youth service programme reintroduction petition

Parliament of Zimbabwe

The National Association of Youth Organisations today submitted Oral Evidence to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Youth, Sports, Arts, and Recreation on the reintroduction of the National Youth Service Programme by the Executive arm of the Government.

NAYO was represented by its programmes officer, MacDonald K Munyoro. Below, Spiked Online Media shares the submission by NAYO:

Background to the Petition

The Cabinet on Tuesday the 13th of April agreed to the reintroduction of the suspended National Youth Service Training Programme. The proposal, according to the Minister for Information Honorable Monica Mutsvangwa, came as a result of consultations between the ministries of Youth and Defence and was tabled by Minister for Youth, Honorable Dr. Kirsty Coventry.

The Cabinet noted that National Youth Service Programme is:

  • An important youth development programme which is crucial in nurturing young people into becoming responsible and resilient citizens with a clear sense of national identity and respect for national values.”
  • A key strategy for youth empowerment in national, regional, continental and international development guiding frameworks to which Zimbabwe is a member.
  • Designed to equip youths, who comprise persons between the ages of 18 and 35 years with patriotism, discipline, volunteerism, survival skills, hard work, loyalty, tolerance, resilience, determination and honesty. During training, the youths will be encouraged to participate in development projects and disaster response activities and thereby assist in enhancing the national capacity to manage disasters.

 

“The programme shall also be mandated to generate its own income through engagement in commercial activities. The youths will not pay fees but will be provided with uniforms, training kits and travel expenses, and will be accorded allowances as the economy improves.”

NAYO together with 10 local youth organizations (Community Advocacy Development Association, Vision Africa, Zimbabwe Organization for Youth in Politics, Berina Arts, Zimbabwe National Students Union, Better Life Foundation, UNIZIM Trust, Great Indaba Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Human Rights Platform, and Youth Against Corruption) petitioned the Parliament of Zimbabwe on the 5th of May 2021 over the reintroduction of the National Youth Service (NYS) Programme.

 

National Youth Service Programmes Overview

Globally, the concept of National Youth Service is increasingly taking a centre stage alongside skills education and work as an activity for young people that is constructive in itself and an investment in the future. The Global Conference on National Youth Service Report notes that the benefit of the Youth service programmes to the Youth cannot be undermined in the face of it’s potential developmental drive in the life of a nation. NYS programmes are generally meant to provide young people with life skills while at the same time inculcating the values of patriotism, national identify and a spirit of volunteerism. Many countries have different curriculums of the NYS programme depending on their national interests, geographical locations, socio-cultural and political economies. However, the underlying principle is that NYS programmes should equip youths with civic skills, prepare them for employability, entrepreneurship and sustainable livelihoods.

The Zimbabwean National Youth Service was introduced in the year 2001. The creation of the NYS programme followed extensive consultations, visits to countries with functioning schemes and the engagement of a consultant to advise the country on how best to establish this organisation (The Voice May 2001). Officials in the ministry, in the company of a United States consultant, Antony Forestainer, travelled to China, Yugoslavia, Israel and Canada to investigate national service schemes in those countries for purposes of establishing a local one. The ideals informing the design of the programme were in the spirit of national unity and youth development. The NYS programme was thus established to transform and empower youths for nation-building through life skills training and leadership development. The programme’s vision reads as follows “to be the vehicle for youth empowerment, social transformation and a catalyst for the transformation of national values.” During the seven years of the NYS programme existence, approximately 80 000 youths were trained from about 150 camps around the country. Regrettably, the NYS programme graduates gained fame with unsavoury reputations, against the ideals of the institution’s vision and mission.

The NYS programme was suspended in 2007 (seven years after its establishment) due to resource constraints. In February 2015, former President Robert Mugabe highlighted plans to introduce ‘compulsory national youth service training’ after the 6th ZANU PF Youth League Congress resolution called for the reintroduction of the training programme. However, these plans failed until this year, 2021.

Rights violations witnessed/recorded linked to the graduates of the NYS Programme include among others:

Since it was set up in 2000, the youth militia, known locally as the “Green Bombers” from the colour of their uniforms, have grew into one of the most commonly reported violators of human rights in Zimbabwe. Allegations of murder, torture, rape, arson, destruction of property and denial of food aid and health care to opposition members by the militia were documented by Physicians for Human Rights, based in Denmark, and Amnesty International, among other rights groups. Insert below captures the involvement of the NYS programme graduates in Operation Murambatsvina

“The City of Harare has resolved to re-engage 300 National Youth Service graduates for the next three months at a cost of nearly Z$6-billlion (US$250 000) to ensure that illicit business activities (are) curbed and illegal buildings destroyed during Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order) do not resurface.” (Mail & Guardian Online 22 August 2005; see also Tibaijuka, para 1.1).

Operation Murambatsvina had been launched, to borrow the wording of the report of the head of the United Nations Fact Find Mission, Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka (2005), ‘with little or no warning, [in a] military-style “clean-up” operation that began in the Zimbabwe capital Harare on 19 May, before spreading to all urban areas of Masvingo, Mutare, Bindura, Gweru, Victoria Falls, Karoi, Harare Bulawayo, KweKwe, Kadoma and Chitungwiza, amongst others, within days’. The impact of the military-like operation was devastating. It not only destroyed thousands of urban shacks, dwellings and informal business premises but also, in the process, rendered homeless an urban-based population of between 700 000 and 1,4 million people. This represented then, approximately 11,6 per cent of the population, summarily ordered to leave the urban areas and relocate in the rural areas (Olaleye & Tungwarara 2005). The campaign drew howls of protests from local and international human rights organisations as well as from the United Nations Human Habitat agency.

The April Amnesty International (AI) press release further documents reports of sexual abuse on a large scale. Amnesty International officials interviewed militia rape victims themselves and also received documentation of rape and sexual abuse from human rights organisations, including Amani Trust and the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers’ Association. The latter claimed that around 1,000 women were believed to be held in militia camps, for sexual purposes. In Masvingo, reports were received of farm workers being raped by militia while their husbands were forced to look on. In some instances, men were forced by the militia to sodomise each other.

Human Rights violations are substantiated in detail in a report titled, ‘National youth service training – “shaping youths in a truly Zimbabwean manner”, An overview of youth militia training and activities in Zimbabwe, October 2000 – August 2003 produced by The Solidarity Peace Trust which we can share with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee.

Concerns raised in our plea and petition to the Parliament of Zimbabwe

(1) The Government of Zimbabwe should reconsider the proposed re-introduction of the NYS until such time as there is a national consensus on the policy guiding the programme

  • The government is reintroducing the NYS Programme without evaluating and getting lessons learned from the 2001 – 2007 NYS programme in terms of approach, ideology, relevance, feedback from citizens, youth themselves, and those who participated in the program to understand what worked well, what did not work well, and what needs to be changed. It’s also important to identify gaps from the previous phase before reintroducing the program and look at what needs to improve or be changed to ensure that the program becomes an inclusive approach/initiative which builds peace, unity and tolerance in Zimbabwe. The reintroduction is not based on evidence, wide consultations and lessons from the previous phase. Given the condemnation of the programme by respectable bodies such as the United Nations and the African Union at the time of its closure it is imperative that this is undertaken before its reintroduction.
  • There is thus an urgent need to carry out a comprehensive review or an audit of the previous NYS programme to explore its impact on youth and on society including the successes, failures, and lessons that can inform the successful implementation of the new NYS programme.

 

(2) The implementation of the NYS programme under the First Republic was characterized by activities that led to the perception and belief that it was a ruling party programme, and therefore that there was an abuse of incumbency. Evidence gathered notes that all training materials in the camps have, from inception, consisted exclusively of ZANU-PF campaign materials and political speeches and provided for indoctrination.

  • Various countries have different curriculums of the NYS depending on their national interests, geographical locations, socio-cultural and political economies. Research has established that outcomes and results of NYS programmes depend on (1) structure, (2) the input of the Youth themselves, (3) service attitude towards the scheme, (4) observation, and (5) understanding of the Youth in service. We will highlight this based on two examples from the African Continent, that stand to demonstrate good practice.
  • In Nigeria, the NYS programme was established “in a bid to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the Nigerian Civil war. According to the Nigerian NYS Corps the history of their country since independence has clearly indicated the need for unity amongst all our people, and demonstrated the fact that no cultural or geographical entity can exist in isolation.” In Kenya, the NYS programme was established in 1964 to “train the youth in important national matters such as service in the armed forces, national reconstruction programmes and disaster response.” What is interesting in the Kenyan NYS is that the programme, after 20 years of establishment, shifted from compulsory to voluntary recruitment. This gives citizens an option to choose what they want and to exercise their right to freedom of choice. Both the Kenya and Nigeria NYS programmes are part of good practice on the continent with the Kenyan NYS having been in existence for 56 years. Ghana also provides for good practice in the implementation of NYS programmes for Youth.

 

(3) The proposed introduction of the programme several months into the Financial Year begs the question: where are the funds to roll out the programme being derived from? Are funds being channeled from another objective that was approved by Parliament in order to resuscitate the controversial programme? Your petitioners thus request the Parliament in the exercise of its mandate to enquire into the manner in which the NYS will be funded, and the exact nature of the programme.

(4) Parliamentary involvement in the reintroduction of the National Youth Service Programme is important by way of consultations, investigations, and other means at the disposal of the Parliament. Per Standing Orders of Parliament categorically makes it clear that a portfolio committee shall – (b) monitor, investigate, enquire into and make recommendations relating to any aspect of the legislative programme, budget, policy, or any other matter it may consider relevant to the government department falling within the category of affairs assigned to it, and may for that purpose consult and liaise with such department.

Evidence notes that apart from the scanty budgetary mentions in 2001 and 2002, youth militia training seems to have arrived with little comment from our legislators: the issue of whether national youth service should be introduced has to date (August 2003) never been formally debated in parliament. In April 2001 Border Gezi is quoted in an article in the Chronicle, as stating that “Cabinet had already approved the national youth policy, and there is no need for Government to seek parliamentary approval before implementing the programme.”

History has shown that the running of the NYS Programme requires substantive financing, where are we hoping and seeking to source funds for this – citizens are already burdened with tax and other measures which the Government is utilizing to mobilize resources. Are we then seeking to tax more the Zimbabwean citizen? Sources of the financing of this programme must thus be made clear as it will be a public programme for the public good.

 

(5) Your petitioners further request Parliament to direct that the relevant ministry craft amendments to the Youth Act that will align it to the Constitution, and thereafter craft a programme that is consistent with the values of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

  • There is need for a clear legislative and policy framework which provides for the functioning of the programme. In Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria NYS programmes have clear providing legislation and policy frameworks. This provides for policy consistency. The previous NYS programme was mired with several policy inconsistencies.
  • In July 2002 during the implementation of the NYS Programme, it was announced that national service would be compulsory for all school leavers from January 2003 (much in line with the legal Framework referenced above). The Minister of Higher Education and Technology, Samuel Mumbengegwi further announced that no students leaving high school would be given their “A” level or “O” level certificates until they had completed six months of national service. In November 2002, circulars were sent to all tertiary institutions informing them that admission preference has to be given to youth militia, and that no letters of admission to ordinary applicants should be sent until each institution had been sent a list from “head office” of militia who had to be given first priority in courses.

 

(6) The petitioners accordingly hereby request Parliament, pursuant to its powers under the Constitution, to ensure that there is consultation for a national, inclusive, non-discriminatory process in shaping issues that affect the youth of Zimbabwe, in line with the Constitution and best practice.

 

Recommendations to Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation

Subject to the submissions in our plea, as Youth, we thus make the following recommendations for the Committee’s consideration:

  • The National Youth Service should not be reintroduced until the government has reformed the curriculum of the NYS programme by removing military training or militarism in the curriculum. The curriculum in return should integrate human rights, peacebuilding, and conflict mitigation and prevention and transformation syllabus
  • The government should appoint a Commission of Inquiry into the alleged human rights violations and violence committed by the past NYS programme graduates in order to establish what actually went wrong, to draw lessons from the historical past and to initiate a programme that heals the people’s wounds –particularly those who suffered in the hands of misguided NYS graduates.
  • Enact an Act of Parliament which specifically deals with the National Youth Service independent of the National Service Act which serves a totally different purpose.
  • It is imperative for the government to consider the NYS programme as a voluntary programme in order to uphold the constitutional right to freedom of choice and freedom of association and assembly. Besides, the NYS recruitment should be demand-driven rather than coercive/fear driven.
  • To promote the independence, accountability and transparency of the NYS, there is need for the government to facilitate the development of a National Youth Service Commission which will be responsible for the Recruitment processes and skills training.
  • Youth and Youth development organisations and related stakeholders should be consulted and appraised in broad and consultative processes on the operations of the NYS programme through the parliamentary consultative and feedback procedures.
  • The NYS Programme to be nationwide and have training sites across all 10 Provinces and active at district level. It must provide for equal and balanced recruitment inclusive of diverse groups of Youth including person’s with disabilities. It thus must be gender sensitive and gender responsive, the rights violations against woman graduates must be avoided.
  • Separate the NYS Programme from the Ministry of Defence and close all training sites linked to the military. for instance, the Mount Darwin Border Gezi Camp was a former 2 Brigade military camp. Demilitarization of the NYS programme is key to its rebranding and subsequent reintroduction.
  • Ensure the NYS is a truly national, independent and non-partisan youth program both procedurally and substantively open to all youth who qualify and meets the National objective laid out in section 20 of the Constitution on Youth.

 

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende