By Jeffrey Moyo
Graduates from Zimbabwe’s National Youth Service – seen as an arm of the nation’s secret police – are often greeted with suspicion when applying for jobs. The result: unemployment.
Chipo Shumba (28) from Zimbabwe’s Goromonzi district in Mashonaland East Province went through the National Youth Service training seven years ago, with the hope of one day securing employment either in the government or the private sector.
But people – and employers – in Zimbabwe automatically link National Youth Service training with the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and therefore often do not trust these ‘graduates’.
Shumba claims to have been suspected of being a member of the CIO at every organisation she has visited in search of a job. And because of that, she has remained largely unemployable since graduating.
The CIO is the national intelligence agency, or secret police, of Zimbabwe. Its duties include arresting individuals or organisations that threaten the country’s self-rule. But the organisation is generally regarded as an instrument to advance the ruling Zanu-PF party’s interests.
“I’m a victim of a political system that has caused young people like me to undergo National Youth Service training, assuring us that with this training we stand better chances of securing jobs, but to no avail,” says Shumba.
“Most employers in the private sector accuse me of intimidating them each time I mention anything about my background in National Youth Service training. They say I make them feel uncomfortable,” says Shumba.
Revolutionary and patriotic ideologies
The National Youth Service training programme was introduced by the Zanu-PF government in 2000, aiming to drill revolutionary and patriotic ideologies into the country’s young citizens.
However, the government stands accused by civil society and ordinary Zimbabweans of converting youth training graduates into paramilitary youth militia used to harass political foes.
Despite manipulations by the ruling Zanu-PF government, the National Youth Service is provided for by the Zimbabwe National Service Act of 1979, later legalised in 1999, creating the it as an important component in youth development.
But for many like Shumba, it is a development that never was.
Yet Shumba continues to reveal her National Youth Service background to employers. “I don’t know whether or not whoever I approach looking for a job appreciates National Youth Service,” she says.
Distrust between citizens and state
Owen Dliwayo, who is programmes officer with the Youth Dialogue Action Network, a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, pins the plight of National Youth Service graduates on mistrust between citizens and the state.
“The level of fear and mistrust for each other in Zimbabwe is appalling such that it is even worse for young people from the National Youth Service, who fail to secure jobs especially in the private sector on suspicions of being state spies,” says Dliwayo.
Potential employers such as Henry Chigumbu, who operates a small shoe-making factory in the Zimbabwean capital Harare, still dreads people from the National Youth Service.
“With vivid memories of 2002 and 2003 during nationwide food shortages, I know youth militia from National Youth Training centers posed as enforcers of government policy: flogging overcharging retailers, arresting people possessing scarce commodities, confiscating goods and stopping opposition supporters from getting food aid,” says Chigumbu.
“It would be illogical to employ such youths or anyone linked to them, worse in the private sector because one may never know their motives,” he says.
Nurturing non-rebellious youth
But in all this the Zanu-PF government sees no evil.
“Through the National Youth Service, as government we pride ourselves for nurturing non-rebellious youths in the face of economic adversity,” says a top government official, who speaks on the condition of anonymity.
But unable to lay food on their tables for years on end, it remains to be seen whether or not youths like Shumba will continue to stick to the doctrine of the National Youth Service