Enforced corp duty triggers youth fury

July 12, 2002

Resistance is growing among young Zimbabweans to a ruling compelling them to join a youth militia widely accused of murder, torture and rape before they are allowed into higher education or employment.

Higher education minister Samuel Mumbengegwi said last week that high-school graduates "will not be admitted into institutes of higher learning unless they undergo national service", which will last six months and is expected to begin early next year.

The minister also said that graduates would have to prove they had completed national service before becoming eligible for employment.

But John Makumbe, a University of Zimbabwe constitutional law expert and head of Transparency International, said: "The groundswell of objection to joining youth militia is monumental. Students are planning to demonstrate massively against it."

But teacher training colleges said they had already been told to accept youth militia in preference to non-serving students, even if the latter were more qualified.

"Voluntary national service" was launched early last year. Tens of thousands of unemployed youths either volunteered or were forced into militia training camps.

But instead of receiving civilian skills training, as the government promised, they were given military training and used to spearhead attacks on opposition supporters before the election in March that swept President Robert Mugabe back into power.

Mr Mumbengegwi said the decision to make national service compulsory "was meant not only to instill a spirit of nationalism and national consciousness but also to arrest the current brain drain".

But many Zimbabweans see the government's motive as the opposite - encouraging the many youthful opposition supporters to leave the country while exerting control over the vast ranks of jobless youths.

Professor Makumbe described the plan as "highly dubious". He said the youths were "badly abused" and trained in "murder, rape and beating".

"In any case," he added, "the government has neither the resources nor the institutions to train the 600,000 youths who leave school each year. It's a load of utter rubbish, and it's highly unlikely to succeed."

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