EDITORIAL: Unpacking Zimbabwe’s Newly Approved National Youth Service Policy Guiding Framework and the National Youth Service Implementation Matrix: 2021-2025

  By The Editor; The Zimbabwe Sphere.

In its twentieth post-Cabinet press briefing held on 12 July, 2022, Zimbabwe’s Cabinet announced a raft of new policy and legislative measures to centre-stage in Zimbabwe’s political economy.

Guiding Policy Framework and Implementation Matrix 2021-2025
Image credit - UNFPA Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s dominantly [neo] liberalized capitalist political economy has, since November 2017, been ruled by the Emmerson Mnangagwa-led [ZANU-PF] establishment christened the ‘Second Republic/New Dispensation’, operating under an intransigent mantra of neoliberalism, teeming with politicized connotations of insufferable bigotry.

(As well as pervasive neocolonial/imperial overtures, incursions, and acts of interference - whether from the East or West - and the establishment’s pro-market and pro-capital agenda, professing that ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’; a business/investor-friendly climate; austerity; investment; re-engagement; macroeconomic growth/stability, etc., betrays the President’s relentless neoliberal drive; an explicit and implicit declaration that neoliberalism is the official ideological thrust of the establishment and financialized global and local private capital interests. The importance of this brief ideological basis  in relation to the National Youth Service Policy will be returned to later.)

The new policy and legislative announcements made by Information, Publicity, and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, encompassed proposed changes to Zimbabwe's mining laws through the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill; a report on Zimbabwe’s response to Covid-19 in relation to vaccine roll-outs; updates on the marketing of summer grains, cotton, tobacco, and the winter wheat production season’s progress; government’s compensation framework for 2009 insurance policy holders and pension scheme members; and the introduction of the National Youth Service Policy.

These new policy and legislative frameworks elicited a fair amount of responses, opinions, and remarks in Zimbabwe’s media and legal circles, given their direct bearing on the performance of Zimbabwe’s political economy as a whole with direct impact in people’s lives; their material conditions and sustenance; and for private capital/investors, the desire to realize profits on investments made.

And, yet, there is one policy framework that has [surprisingly and noticeably] not garnered enough public analyses and commentaries. This new policy framework relates to the approval of the newly established National Youth Service Policy Guiding Framework and the National Youth Service Implementation Matrix: 2021-2025.

It was tabled for consideration and approval by Cabinet under the purview and guidance of  Paul Mavima, the Minister of  Public Service, Labour, and Social Welfare (Paul Mavima is also the chairperson of the Social Services and Poverty Eradication Committee).

Muted Response to the National Youth Service Policy

The overwhelming and conspicuously hushed reception that has greeted the introduction of the National Youth Service Policy speaks volumes of the paucity of participatory, organic, and grassroots public participation processes in the formulation of policies that affect the country’s biggest demographic in terms of human and social capital, the youth.

Particularly on social media where contested reactionary narratives in response to newly passed policies and legislation are by default the prerogative of a coterie of eminent opposition politicians, activists, civil society orgs (CSOs), and a largely youthful demographic of social media users with sufficient clout.

Or, such apathy is owed to the scant dissemination of post-Cabinet deliberations and pronouncements to the wider generality of the populace, notably to Zimbabwe’s youth; if one doesn’t have access to The Herald or NewsDay (which embody the regressive dichotomy of state-owned and private print/online  news media - they are the only that frequently report on post-Cabinet press briefings), then such current affairs skips many.

With regards social media, where ephemeral news and social topics eliciting acute reactions in users reign supreme, current affairs of this nature does not have a fashionable appeal especially if nothing egregious prima facie has been announced by Cabinet.  

Perhaps the current electoral cycle has clogged print and online media spaces with headlines and content contributing to widespread apathy in collectively scrutinizing new legal and policy proposals and updates. Because of finite space and time, we shall return to these points later.

What is Zimbabwe’s National Youth Service Policy 2021-2025 All About?

At face value, the National Youth Service Policy Guiding Policy Framework and Implementation Matrix 2021-2025 comes into vogue as a ‘progressive’ infusion of earnest attempts by the Government of Zimbabwe to uplift and alleviate the lives of Zimbabwe’s youth - the youth represent the largest population group not only nationally but globally.

 And, like everyone else in other age demographic groups, and perhaps with unprecedented intensity, repression, and alienation, youths have been ravaged with unmatched brutality by the vicissitudes of globalized neoliberal capitalism (as forced on Zimbabwe by the ruling ZANU-PF’s late strongman Robert Mugabe - ESAP - and as obdurately fortified and entrenched by the incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa).

It is thus necessary to quickly turn towards what Zimbabwe’s National Youth Service Policy Guiding Framework (and the ‘implementation matrix’) 2021-2025 is all about; as well as underscoring its significance to the country’s youth and their roles/functions/importance in the political economy.

The National Youth Service Policy of Zimbabwe is premised on the provisions of Zimbabwe’s Constitution, the Zimbabwe Youth Council Act (Cap 25:19); the National Development Strategy 1: 2021-25; the National Youth Policy: 2020-2025; the African Youth Charter (2006); the Declaration on Youth Development and Empowerment in SADC (2015) and the National Gender Policy (2013-2017). 

This wide reference to both domestic and regional laws gives credence to the overall thrust of the National Youth Policy: “it provides a framework for grooming well-disciplined youth, who exhibit Zimbabwean values and identity by 2030.

Zimbabwe’s new National Youth Service Policy provides such a framework for raising and moulding “well-disciplined youth” and in such a purpose, the policy is “anchored” by the following key principles: patriotism; discipline; unhu/ubuntu; tolerance; and respect.

It is with this in mind that government hopes the Youth Service Policy will ultimately bless Zimbabwe with youths that are “well-cultured and disciplined”.

Further, a National Youth Service Training Programme under the auspices of the National Youth Service Policy Guiding Framework shall be established, and recruitment is purely on a voluntary basis. Media reports quoted Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa:

The Programme will be called “Youth Service in Zimbabwe,” and will closely coordinate with the Life Skills Orientation Programme offered by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. Training intakes will be advertised both in the print and electronic media.

The recruitment will ensure equitable distribution of opportunities; equitable regional representation; and equitable gender representation. There will be two training intakes per year, with the duration of each training session being six months. The graduates of the National Youth programme will receive first priority into high institutions of learning including Polytechnics, teaching, nursing, the army and employment in the civil service.

To this effect, land shall be availed for the creation of Training Centres, “forming the basis of the production units of training centres”, and land will also be furnished for renovation and upgrade of six National Youth Training Centres. This will be completed by the construction of 15 new Training Centres where the vision envisions the training of up to 100,000 youths in Zimbabwe.

The Ideological Context of Zimbabwe’s National Youth Service Policy

The import of the new policy that’s tailored to address the youth’s pressing needs and grievances is that on a superficial level the ruling establishment (after consultation with governmental and non-governmental stakeholders) has created an impression that it is gravely concerned by the plight of the country’s young people, who, in decent and dignified material conditions of  existence, should be great portents for a country’s bright and secure future.

The youth - from primary school ages to fully-fledged adulthood ages - are living in the worst of uncertain times where they cannot escape the fury of capitalist-driven inequalities; soaring, dehumanizing poverty; unemployment; lack of equitable opportunities; alienation; mental health illnesses; rampant substance abuse; lack of water and sanitation; unaffordable and unreliable healthcare; and global climate change; all compounded with a social media inspired materialist envy for individual [urban] arrival to success; even if this means departing Zimbabwe for the industrially advanced global north and east countries.

In all this, it is particularly harder for the youth in Zimbabwe’s rural areas to achieve a decent and dignified existence, even though their consciousness gravitates towards the inescapable consumerist dictates of neoliberal capitalism as passed down from the staggeringly unequal, undemocratic, and haphazard urban areas.

While government’s renewed efforts to respond to the plight of the country’s children are noted, they are framed in a wrong ideological context, and this will make the implementation of the policy a cumbersome exercise; thus delaying and denying the youth their justice, fair share of the ‘national cake’, participation in the political economy’s production process and politics, as well as strangulating their inherent self-worth and dignity as fellow humans.

The politics of performance legitimacy by the ruling establishment for neoliberal legitimacy largely informs the crafting of such policy framework, in order to create the impression towards local and foreign financialized private capital that Zimbabwe is a stable, business-friendly investment destination with profound respect for the rule of law encapsulated in realizing the developmental needs of the country's youth.

The National Development Strategy number one (NDS1), which is the official economic blueprint for the Mnangagwa-led government (2021-2025) was quoted by Minister Mutsvangwa as one of the documents in which Zimbabwe’s National Youth Service Policy framework and its application on the ground is framed. 

The NDS1 embodies Mnangagwa’s anticipated and desired performance legitimacy over the next five years. This is the same logic informing the youth policy: he genuinely thinks he is delivering the redemption of the country’s embattled youth from the ravages of “market forces” through such policy performance. The framing "2021-2025" already insinuates that Emmerson Mnangagwa will win the 2023 elections.

While it is commendable that such policy intervention for Zimbabwe’s young populations is premised on other legally profound documents including the country’s Constitution, Zimbabwe Youth Council Act, the African Youth Charter (2006), the Declaration on Youth Development and Empowerment in SADC (2015), and the National Gender Policy (2013-2017), it however makes the whole exercise a disingenuous one given that the very same policy intervention rests on a document [the NDS1] that claims to lead economic and social transformation through:

the creation of a thriving private sector led competitive economy, implementation of sound macroeconomic policies anchored on fiscal discipline, monetary and financial sector stability including enhancing an open business friendly environment, which promotes both foreign and domestic investment.

This alone betrays the much-vaunted “trickle-down” effect of neoliberalism as the perceived panacea to the country’s socio-economic woes; the belief that trickle-down economics in a free-enterprise liberal-oriented capitalist order will transform the youth’s live.

The contrary is rather true. The trickle-down effects of neoliberal capitalism are destructive; the only reason why we are in this mess in the first place. This underscores the obsession with performance legitimacy, and it makes the new guiding policy on changing the youth’s lives a mostly specious one.

A Weak National Collective Consciousness For Zimbabwe’s Youths

And we finally return to the matter of the policy’s muted response, which are largely attributable to partisan and populist-driven electoral media coverage, on social media and in the mainstream print media. The muted response shows what Zimbabwe’s mostly youthful national consciousness is gravitating towards.

It is a consciousness bereft of the holistic and contextual ability to engage in sober, rational, participatory, inclusive,  and objective analyses that offers counter-hegemonic narratives and solutions.

Those who will become acquainted with the new policy measures will attack aspects of implementation difficulties and predictions of corruption-filled activities related to, again, implementation difficulties.

What many will miss is the wrong ideological premise of youth policy measures; such measures are wrapped in neoliberal, capitalist ideological contexts upon which the state hopes to leverage on the “trickle-down” of global private capital - which we know is only concerned with profit.

The Praxis of Leftist Policies in the Zimbabwean Political Economy

Zimbabwe’s National Youth Service Guiding Policy Framework and Implementation Matrix 2021-2025 must be guided by genuine political and social will to uplift the lives of the youth - both children and young adults - with the goal of striking a balance in opportunities in light of the rural-urban dichotomy of “subject and citizen”.

And it must be liberated from the dictates of neoliberal capitalism that dictate austerity, deregulation, privatization, and the spurious talk of “trickle-down” economics.

As long as the policy is guided by neoliberalism, implementation will be a cumbersome undertaking regardless of the good intentions of those in the respective ministries and departments charged with the prerogative of bringing the youth national policy to life.

Policies/programs for the liberation and empowerment of groups such as the youth must engender the principles and values of democratic socialism for wholesale socio-economic transformation of young lives. Zimbabwe's National Youth Service Policy must be viewed in this left-leaning counter-hegemonic context.

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