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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 February, 2004, 22:00 GMT
A day in the life of the camp
Zimbabwe's National Youth Service is described by the government as a peace corp designed to lift youngsters out of poverty and educate them.

However, stories which emanate from those who have been through the training camps tell a different story.

They speak of beatings, rapes and being taught to intimidate and kill political opponents of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF party.

Estimates vary, but there are believed to be at least six permanent camps in Zimbabwe.

This number can fluctuate - and there are often reports of hundreds of youth training camps springing up around the country in the run-up to an election. These can be temporarily occupied schools, farms, business centres and army barracks.

Youth militia

A typical camp is run by a war veteran, that is someone who fought in the independence struggle against Ian Smith's government in the 1960s.

It is believed that there are usually a further four or five war veterans operating under him in various camp management positions.

As well as this, there are also "elite" members of the youth militia who hold positions of seniority. These usually consist of people who have already been through the camps.

Political education

Accounts given by former camp recruits seem to indicate that the camps all have at least one senior female figure who takes the role of matron. It is also thought that some of the larger camps have a medical block.

Inside the camps, the curriculum is largely decided by the camp commanders. Although they do use a 'manual' titled 'The Third Chimurenga' written by Robert Gabriel Mugabe and the structure and subject do seem to be uniform across the different camps.

The education does usually involves some kind of political education and lessons in sovereignty and history.

One camp instructor revealed that they don't want the students getting hold of information from independent papers as they get "misguided" about them.

Torture techniques

Some former camp recruits have claimed that newspapers, books, radio, TV or even blank sheets of paper and pens are banned in the camps, unless used for taking notes of the classes.

The weekly routine also involves a lot of physical training, including many hours of running. This seems very much the same in all camps: they get woken at the crack of dawn and have to run 10km and do 200 press-ups. In some camps it is believed they have to run with heavy sacks uphill as well.

All recruits are given some kind of weapons training - usually with sticks and sjamboks, a type of rubber whip, but conversations with some former youth militia indicate that there is a more sinister form of training.

Some recruits are taught how to beat people, many are believed to be taught how to kill and other groups are taught torture techniques - usually involving water and/or electricity.

SEE ALSO:
Secrets of the Camps
17 Feb 04  |  Panorama
James's story
02 Mar 04  |  Panorama
Zimbabwe camp commander speaks
29 Feb 04  |  Panorama
The Law in Zimbabwe
29 Feb 04  |  Panorama
Your comments
27 Feb 04  |  Panorama


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