BULAWAYO – Youth empowerment groups in Bulawayo have roundly contested government’s decision to proscribe youths from getting loans from the National Youth Fund unless they undergo national youth service training first.
Youth groups argue that conditional disbursement of loans will trivialise a national empowerment programme as potential beneficiaries view it as a Zanu PF party programme.
“Bringing back the national youth service will revive Green Bombers who in the past caused chaos and violence in the community.
“Many believe it is a tool used by the Zanu PF party to engage youths in political violence,” a programmes officer at Intscha youth empowerment group Mgcini Moyo said.
Easily identified by their green uniforms — graduates from youth training centres dubbed “Green Bombers” unleashed a wave of violence against opposition party members and were deployed as Zanu PF foot soldiers during earlier election campaigns until the programme was abandoned due to financial constraints and internal condemnation.
Moyo said the condition is unconstitutional and will close space for young people to be creative.
“People will shun joining the programme believing that only Zanu PF youths will benefit,” he said.
Talita Pokawa, the director of youth Network for Alternative Development (YNAD), said the national youth service is stigmatised because youths who have graduated “have been partisan, working for one party”.
She said the fund should remain autonomous with a stand-alone department that deals with the youth fund.
“We do not see the need to relate the youth fund and the national youth service. The fund should be de-politicised to create an environment that allows every young person to get the funds,” she said.
Pokawa said most people from Matabeleland and the rural areas are most likely to be resistant because the programme does not instill good values in children.
Descent Bajila, the MDC national youth secretary- general, said youths should be given loans on account of their potential in running successful businesses and not on account of any other criteria.
But Indigenisation and Youth Empowerment minister Francis Nhema countered that the purpose of getting training at youths training centres is to educate the youths on how to handle these funds.
“We have introduced this condition for youths to know what to do with the money when they get it,” Nhema told the Daily News.
He said every youth in the country will be given a chance to train.
“There are 42 vocational training centres making it possible for all youths to gain something. The programme is a comprehensive one, that will also assist youths in the long run,” he said.
In 2011 government reportedly rejected a draft document by the Youth Development Indigenisation and Empowerment ministry seeking to reintroduce the national youth service amid reports that there were no funds to run it.
At that time, a Bulawayo pressure group, National Youth Development Trust rapped Zanu PF officials for advocating for the urgent re-introduction of the youth service programme, arguing that the calls were a ploy to intensify politically motivated violence as it had happened in the past before it was suspended in 2007.
People had come to associate the programme with violence and partisanship.