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militia camps may close
September 06, 2007
The acute shortages being
experienced in Zimbabwe could lead to the closure of the ZANU-PF
government's youth militia training camps, established in 2001 to
instil the values of national identity, unity, patriotism and self-reliance.
The Youth, Gender and
Women's Affairs parliamentary portfolio committee has recommended
that National Youth Service Centres be closed until economic conditions
improve because their ablution and accommodation facilities were
near collapse and trainees were not being provided with adequate
supplies of food, while their trainers were not receiving regular
The youth militia was
designed to create disciplined training for school leavers and includes
marching drills, which has led the opposition party, the Movement
for Democratic Change (MDC), to claim that recruits, many from poor,
disadvantaged rural backgrounds, were being brainwashed ahead of
elections to intimidate opposition supporters.
Zimbabwe has the world's
highest official inflation rate, now more than 7,000 percent, and
unemployment of 80 percent. Shortages of foreign exchange, fuel
and electricity are commonplace and 4.1 million people, more than
a third of the country's population, are expected to face severe
food shortages in the lead-up to presidential and parliamentary
elections scheduled for March 2008.
During the 2002 presidential
elections and the 2005 legislative elections the uniformed graduates
of the youth service were accused of assaulting opposition party
members and supporters, earning them the nickname of "green
Washington Katema, national
coordinator of the 300,000-strong Zimbabwe National Students Union
(ZINASU), told IRIN, "the national youth programme is essentially
an extension of the ruling party, and we expect that when next year's
budget is announced, before the end of this year , they will
receive substantial funding, so that many recruits will be able
to be trained before being unleashed on the population just before
Fambai Ngirande, spokesperson
for the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO),
told IRIN: "Quite naturally, we are also worried about reports
that the programme is quasi-military, and may not prepare the recruits
for a civilian life."
The parliamentary portfolio
committee report, compiled in conjunction with representatives from
ZANU-PF and the MDC, also expressed concern about the military emphasis
of the training camps and said "the centres should consider
temporarily closing down until the economic environment permitted
the running of national service programmes."
youth centres earlier this year and found that the majority of trainers
were retired army personnel, war veterans and members of Zimbabwe's
constraints and poor diet
The hardships being suffered
in the youth centres were apparent during the committee's visits,
which said it was "distressed" by the diets of the recruits.
"The trainees are
given a cup of porridge with no sugar in the morning. Lunch is always
sadza [maizemeal porridge, the national staple] and beans or vegetables
without cooking oil," the committee report said.
"The trainees also
informed the committee that the shortage of food was a great challenge
as the youth were involved in a lot of physical activities like
drills and running while the food provided did not provide enough
energy as required by the vigorous exercises."
The report did not say
whether the youths were given an evening meal, but the trainers
at the centres told the committee that the poor diet was a reflection
of the wider food shortages being experienced in the country. Trainees
complained to committee members that they often went hungry.
Conditions in the camps
appear to have had an impact on enrolments. A youth centre in Midlands
Province, with a capacity of 1,000 trainees, had only 218 recruits,
while the Guyu centre in Matabeleland South Province, with a capacity
of 3,000, had only 220 trainees.
The committee said it
found no evidence of sexual abuse of female trainees by their male
counterparts or instructors. "The girls' barracks were fenced
off and have a gate that is locked at 1800 hours every day. A matron
lives in the barracks with the girls and sees to their welfare,"
the report said.
The practice of girls
being forced to wear skimpy outfits, reported during a tour of youth
centres by the committee in 2003, had been discontinued. "The
length of the shorts that they wore made the girls uncomfortable
in front of male trainees and instructors," the authors noted.
"The committee made
a recommendation that the issue be looked into and we are pleased
to find that the recommendation has been taken up and the female
students now wear longer shorts that they are happy with."
However, due to shortages, female trainees were no longer supplied
with sanitary towels.
Staff at the centres
told legislators they had worked without long-term contracts for
the past five years, and did not enjoy any of the fringe benefits
afforded to other public servants, such as study leave and medical
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