HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF is looking to create another new civic rite of passage for all young Zimbabweans.
Proponents for this national youth service argue that given the new challenges and divisions within and outside our own borders, Zimbabwe must rebuild a sense of common purpose through national service.
That’s all fine and dandy.
But using this programme to proscribe youths from getting loans from the National Youth Fund is downright politicisation of the fund.
In the midst of rising public distrust of government, it seems administration backers and their allies are launching yet another plan for government’s control over young people’s lives.
When Mugabe formally launched the Kurera/Ukondla Youth Fund for the youth, there was a feeling of déjà vu.
The air was pregnant with expectation as millions of youths looked forward to Mugabe putting into motion one of the Zanu PF government’s electoral pledges.
Such funds have been used or abused by governments across the world to galvanise support and create new opportunities for the unemployed youth and spur economic growth.
But making eligibility for the loans conditional upon sacrificing six months in a national youth service is stretching things a bit too far.
The word sacrifice comes up often when we talk about national youth service, but this should be only voluntary, not compulsory.
No doubt, members of the youth service acquire speciality skills, discipline and concepts of teamwork and putting the good of the group above petty individual interests. They learn how to achieve tough goals.
They are thrown into a big mix of cultures, races, economic classes and regional backgrounds. They learn how to rely on one another and get along. Many form bonds that last a lifetime.
That is an enviable experience for young people, but it should not be used as the criteria for gaining eligibility into the youth fund.
The government must look to Zimbabwe’s young adults, between 18-28, to help solve our country’s most pressing challenges and become connected to one another and to the nation.
Compulsory national service need not become a common expectation for youths to contribute to economic growth.
By the way, compulsion is not very popular in peacetime, so the obligation to volunteer must not be socially mandatory.
The whole idea to make youths first serve before accessing loans is just a pie in the sky.
Going by this proposal, backed by minister Francis Nhema, national service then becomes a disguised welfare programme to supply loans for conscripted youths.