Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Youths Coerced into Regime Militia
The Zimbabwe army is carrying out widespread sweeps through the spectacular mountain region of eastern Zimbabwe, a stronghold of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, press-ganging young men and women into the National Youth Militia.
More than one hundred youngsters aged 18 to 22 in the Inyanga Highlands, Vumba Highlands and Chimanimani Mountains have been caught in the dragnet and taken to a camp in the north to begin military and ideological training.
The shanghaied youngsters were set a test to run ten kilometres inside 45 minutes. Those who passed were told they would be paid 600,000 Zimbabwean dollars [less than one US dollar] a day and given the opportunity in due course to join the national army.
Similar scenes are being enacted throughout Zimbabwe as President Robert Mugabe boosts the ranks of the National Youth Militia, the president’s personal storm troopers deployed to enforce ZANU PF rule and to intimidate anyone viewed as an enemy of the ruling party. The Green Bombers, as the militiamen and women have been dubbed because of their bottle green uniforms, are widely feared because of their violent tactics.
ZANU PF officials say the youths are trained in agriculture, carpentry and bricklaying. But those who spoke to IWPR confirmed that military tactics and political indoctrination into ZANU PF ideology are central to their training at the Border Gezi Centre at Mount Darwin, 160 km northeast of Harare.
Border Gezi - named after a former hard-line Mugabe minister who created the youth militia before he died in a 2001 car crash - is one of a number of Green Bomber tented training camps throughout the country.
The youths told IWPR they were divided into groups of about 50 to create psychological bonds once deployed in the field. Their days are spent in fitness training and gun-handling. They attend courses in patriotism, each lesson beginning by a raising of fists in the ZANU PF salute and the chanting of slogans in praise of Mugabe, ending with denunciations of British premier Tony Blair.
Mugabe has said his campaign for Zimbabwe’s March 31 parliamentary elections is an anti-Blair crusade.
The youth militia recruits are also instructed in how the military wing of ZANU PF liberated the country from white rule. Another module includes instruction on Britain’s intention to recolonise Zimbabwe and how it is the duty of every Zimbabwean to defend the nation’s sovereignty.
Surviving white farmers in the mountains told IWPR that army units have been arriving on their properties and ordering black foremen to identify youths in surrounding villages who are fit enough to be taken to youth militia camps.
“They’ve been rounding up forty or more young people at a time,” said one leading farmer. “Zimbabwe is becoming like the Congo and Somalia, where bandits rule. It’s terrifying.”
Critics have compared the Green Bombers to Adolf Hitler’s Brownshirts, who spearheaded the early Nazi attacks on Germany’s Jewish population.
Paul Themba Nyathi, national spokesman for the MDC, alleged that ZANU PF’s aim is to recruit some 2000 youths to the militias in each of Zimbabwe’s 120 parliamentary constituencies - nearly a quarter million young people. The current strength of the National Youth Militia is estimated at 50,000.
“ZANU PF has been recruiting core groups from every province, about ten per district, to go for military training,” Nyathi said. “When they are through, they go home and start new training programmes. The multiplier effect will be enormous, if it works.”
Nyathi said he believed Green Bombers recently promoted into the army were responsible for attacks on February 20 on three MDC parliamentary candidates as they returned home to the eastern town of Mutare after the launch of their party’s national election campaign. The three were hospitalised after being punched and kicked by twenty militia graduates newly attached to a fifty-strong army unit. “Only brainwashed young people would carry out these attacks with such passion,” said Nyathi. “We urge all members of the professional army to encourage unruly elements among them to desist, because they tarnish the name of the professional force.”
A white Zimbabwean woman recently described how she was stopped in her car by a Green Bomber gang in Mutorashanga, 90 km north of Harare. “They had crowbars and they demanded to see a ZANU PF card,” said the woman, who declined to be named for fear of reprisal. “When I said I hadn’t got one, they made me chant: ‘Forward with Osama Bin Laden, forward with Robert Gabriel Mugabe, down with whites.’ It was terrifying. There was a police Land Rover there, but the police just sat and watched.”
The youth militias are expected to have little impact in urban areas, where the opposition enjoys overwhelming support. But in rural parts the impact of the Green Bombers is devastating. Not only are villagers cowed into support for ZANU PF, but opposition candidates are prevented from campaigning.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai urged Mugabe to disband the Green Bombers who, he said, had no legal basis for their creation. “They are going from home to home, erecting illegal roadblocks, intimidating people and forcing them to buy ZANU PF cards,” he said. “Youths from Border Gezi and other training camps have embarked on an orgy of violence.”
Elias Mugwade is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight