People have expressed mixed feelings regarding the recent government decision to resuscitate the National Youth Service (NYS) which had suffered serious decline over the years, partly due to lack of sufficient funding.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Nick Mangwana later tweeted that NYS was important for youth development.
“The (NYS) is an important youth development programme which is crucial in nurturing young people into becoming responsible and resilient with a clear sense of national identity and respect for national values,” said Mangwana.
However, Youth Forum Zimbabwe director Ashton Bumhira said the return of National Youth Service should worry all right-minded Zimbabweans as it could worsen politically-motivated abuses.
“We should consider that there has not been an attempt to overhaul its implementation and syllabi from its previous stint,” said Bumhira.
He also said the timing of the re- establishment of the programme towards elections was scary for advocates of human rights.
“Graduates of this programme have a history of being used by the ruling part to intimidate, abuse and coerce people to vote for the ruling party especially in rural areas where they will be mostly attached,” said Bumhira.
He said the programme was mostly likely to be used to create a partisan support base for Zanu PF, and not to genuinely empower young people.
“Government needs to consult all interested stakeholders and stop this top down approach to public policy making. It is clear that the reintroduction of the programme is a creation of the executive and like previously it will fail,” he said.
Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust (YETT) team leader Rosewita Katsande agreed, saying re-introduction programme raised fears of the old days when graduates allegedly were used to unleash political violence.
“The youth are sceptical about the re-introduction of programme because in previous elections, graduates were instruments of terror. Young people also question the re-introduction of this programme without taking into account the impact of past similar initiative to assist in shaping the rebranded youth service.
“The previous National Youth Service played a destructive role of polarising communities and militarising the youth. We have never had a transparent audit and evaluation of the previous activities of the National Youth Services,” said Katsande.
She also said the previous programme was implemented in a manner and environment that were not friendly for young women.
“We recall the sexual harassment of young women at these camps and there was no recourse for the victims. There is therefore need to review the curriculum in a transparent and inclusive manner to get young women voices.
“Government has to offer facilities that are gender-sensitive and enhance a culture of learning unlike the military style in the previous programme. As long the programme is run in a partisan and discriminatory manner, it will not provide a safe space for women,” she said.
However, MyAge Zimbabwe director Onward Gibson said the re-establishment of the service was a good move but there was need to protect women from sexual harassment in all spaces.
“The youth service programme is a very good developmental programme and the most successful countries have similar initiatives. We should surely harness the youth demographic dividend as they are at the core of development.
“I think the issue of sexual abuse is rampant in work places across every sector and I am sure there is need to safeguard young women from sexual harassment across board especially in programmes that involve girls and women through policies,” said Gibson.
NYS Masvingo provincial chairperson Tavara Mudukuti said he was glad to programme is back as he had waited for a long time for it.
“Many young people have benefited from it mentally and physically. During the time of disasters, the graduates help, just like they did in Chimanimani.
“Resumptions of this programme also mean jobs for the unemployed youth in the province and the whole country,” said Mudukuti.
Zimbabwe National Youth Service Graduates Association (ZNYSGA) Masvingo provincial spokesperson Tariro Bwerinofa said it was exciting that the programme is being reintroduced as the country marks 41 years of independence.
“When you graduates from the service, you know the national agenda, you have the love for your country and you want to work for your country. As an association, many of our members are serving in many government departments while others are now self-employed.
“We do a lot of non-paid community work including helping security agencies and we definitely have a role to play to make Vision 2030 a great success,” said Bwerinofa.