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We didn’t know. We had no idea’

IT is said that following the liberation of Nazi Germany at the end of the Second World War, when ordinary German citizens were confronted with the evidence of the atrocities committed in the concentration camps, many simply refused to be

lieve that their former leaders were capable of such appalling acts of inhumanity.

Many again claimed that they knew nothing of these things, implying that if they had they might have done something to challenge or confront the perpetrators.

The same happened in South Africa when finally the grotesque system of apartheid was dismantled and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission started to unearth some of the appalling human rights abuses of that era. The response of many who had not suffered personally – indeed who had prospered under apartheid – was a rather disingenuous: “We didn’t know.

We had no idea.”

For those who would prefer not to acknowledge the terrible reality of life under the present Zanu PF regime, a professed ignorance is often the first line of defence. And this escapist response is facilitated by the regime’s own propaganda machine which deliberately sows confusion along with disinformation.

It is for precisely this reason that the Zimbabwe Independent’s report on the National Youth Service Training programme on September 5 is so timely. The report is to be welcomed and its authors congratulated on exposing a pernicious evil that masquerades behind a mask of respectability.

Though there have been other reports from human rights groups and journalists touching on the youth militias, this is the first detailed, factual and independent report of their training and activities. And now that this report is in the public domain, there can be no possible justification for the lame excuse “I didn’t know” – whether coming from a Zimbabwean or the international community.

The propaganda arm of Zanu PF has done its utmost to project the National Youth Service Training programme as a respectable scheme that imparts useful skills and healthy community values to the youth of the nation. The report makes clear that this is far removed from the truth.

In reality, it is a paramilitary training scheme intended to provide those in power with a useful pool of brain-washed hooligans, brutalised by violence, and ready to do whatever dastardly acts their masters require of them – the final objective of course being to keep their masters in power for ever.

Hence the politically-motivated torture, rape and murder by the militias which is carefully documented in the report.

In a passionate appeal which accompanies the report some of the region’s leading clerics and church groups make the point that the youth militia programme has introduced into the body politic of this country a virulent cancer which leaves only death and destruction in its wake.

“The moral, spiritual and physical well-being of a whole generation of Zimbabweans is being sacrificed for the short-term political advantage of those in power, with incalculable long-term effects upon the very fabric of the nation,” they say. Then they ask pertinently: “How … will it ever be possible to reintegrate these young people into the communities they have terrorised?”

I agree entirely with the authors of the appeal that the terrible danger posed by this potent evil must be faced with the utmost urgency. Moreover, because it is such a blatant evil surely we can expect the church to act as one in this instance, condemning the programme in its entirety and demanding its immediate cessation.

Over the past four years of continuing crisis there have been some issues on which Christians have not agreed entirely. There has been room for legitimate differences of opinion and for different strategies to counter the growing evil. But surely on this issue all must be in agreement, indeed all men and women of goodwill who have a care for the nation’s youth and the country’s future.

The words of an old hymn come to mind:

“Once to every man and nation

Comes the moment to decide,

In the strife of truth with falsehood,

For the good or evil side …”

The hymn continues:

“Then it is the brave man chooses,

While the coward stands aside,

Till the multitude make virtue

Of the faith they had denied.”

It is surely the responsibility of every Christian to read the report on the militias, and the duty of every church leader to facilitate that process. It should be a matter of urgent debate in church councils across the land.

And then I suggest, again as a matter of extreme urgency, a national petition in support of the church leaders’ appeal.

The petition would call for an immediate halt to this Satanic programme, and for urgent steps to be taken to rid ourselves of the cancer and bring healing to the nation. It could be organised through the churches but should be open to Christian and non-Christian alike to show their support.

Rev Graham Shaw,


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