Violence breaks out at hearing on re-introduction of National Youth Service

BULAWAYO – A parliamentary public hearing on the re-introduction of the National Youth Service was abandoned in Bulawayo on Tuesday after Zanu PF activists physically attacked participants who opposed the programme.

A man had his shirt torn and was left bleeding on the neck in ugly scenes which brought proceedings to an abrupt end.

The parliamentary portfolio committee on youth and sport is holding hearings countrywide to canvass the public’s views.

Omega Sibanda, the Zanu PF MP who chaired the meeting, in the end read out an e-mail address to which people can send their views.

The well-attended meeting at the Selbourne Hotel erupted in angry scenes after Eric Gono, an activist from the Citizens Coalition for Change, raised his objection to the re-introduction of the Youth Service, calling it an indoctrination camp for Zanu PF which used graduates as a private army during elections.

Zanu PF activists present shouted down Gono before the confrontation became physical as they attempted to remove him from the hall.

Another female participant who also spoke out against the programme which she said was partisan was verbally abused by the finger-wagging thugs who appeared well organised.

Gono called the incident “unfortunate.”

“The leopard remains very loyal to its spots,” he said, referring to the Zanu PF’s history of violence. “Our rejection of the National Youth Service angered Zanu youths and they attacked us.”

The hearings are set to continue across the country until September 2.

Derisively referred to as Green Bombers because of the colour of their uniform and their aggressive nature, graduates from the controversial youth training have been accused of terrorising villagers after rigorous military style training obtained from centres around the country.

The programme, financed through treasury, was introduced in 2000 and named after late former youth minister and Zanu PF political commissar, Border Gezi. It returns after several years following its suspension during the 2009-13 government of national unity.

Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa announced last month that they were targeting 100,000 youths to take part in the programme over the next five years. There would be two intakes each year for the six-month training.

Enlisting is voluntary, but the government says youth service graduates will get first priority at universities, army recruitment and training colleges for teachers and nurses.

The government says the youth training will engender “patriotism”, but opposition parties are wary, warning that the graduates will be used to terrorise citizens ahead of general elections expected in the second half of next year.

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