opinionBy ALICK MUSONDA
THE fears about the perceived hazards of military training will deprive this nation also of a military reserve like other nations have.
THIS article is not an attempt to give credit or discredit the planned and budgeted for 2013 school-leavers compulsory Zambia National Service (ZNS) programme.
Neither is it just for the sake of fomenting nor promoting public polemics but to present bare facts that may build or render the exercise futile in the face of the other deemed as an 'exercise in futility' of 1975.
The Patriotic Front (PF) government's decision to reintroduce the compulsory ZNS programme for the purpose of equipping the youth with entrepreneurial skills after their final secondary school education appears to have been approved by unsolicited acclamation by the nation.
But the apparent approval seems to be only on condition that, as the government has stated, it should not include military training.
As a pioneer recruit who underwent the same programme at Mushili camp in Ndola in 1975, I have shared my experiences about this programme in the published Maliongo's Adventures, the Super Tomboys and Maliongo's Hotshots sequels (and now looking for sponsorship to shoot films).
School authorities and parents alike would do well to procure for their children to understand and appreciate why Government wants to reintroduce the training.
I decided to write these books which are currently in circulation in bookshops because of the mind boggling dogmas that manifested at the camps which left me and the others in a grand funk.
These significant events and of national interest could not just be glossed over and consigned to the archives of history.
Minister of Youth and Sport, Chishimba Kambwili said Government had sourced 'experts' to execute the exercise, starting with the school leavers of 2013.
I have no doubt about the capacity of the 'experts' appointed to do the job.
I do not envy their mammoth task of planning and implementing the complex programme because any slight oversight or omission in strategising the operation could result in total disaster after spending colossal public funds as the United National Independence Party (UNIP) government found out when some of the recruits mutinied, deserted, fell casualties to typhoid, died of natural causes or accidents in camps.
The success of the exercise would be reassured if the team of 'experts' included local former instructors and recruits alike who had the experience from the 1975-80 exercise.
The problem, however, may be that the current generation of ZNS establishment may not have the 1975-80 veterans still in their ranks. But it would be unwise to ignore their advice while in retirement.
Before delving into the implications and complexities of this initiative let us trace the genesis of the 1975-80 programme decreed by the UNIP government.
The second Republic was full of political, social, economic tantrums and weird programmes.
The famous or infamous 24-month national service military training and food production was one of the few examples of apparent government's policy abortions although realistically and objectively it produced some desired results.
While the ZNS programme, which now appears to have precipitated more merits than demerits to those who served, it remains a paradox that at the end of it all it still left the nation with mind spinning questions as to why it was ever introduced, with the state of the economy, to say the least in a 'write-off state'.
Various schools of thought, suspicious of UNIP style of governance, saw the programme as designed to indoctrinate and subjugate or brain-wash the upcoming young and radical minds, communist style, to prevent economic, political or social insurrections.
But one thing was clear, the leaders of the day thought it prudent to liberate our neighbours, like Mozambique, Rhodesia, and Angola and also to influence political change in South Africa to end apartheid so that Zambia could have easy access to sea-ports for her imports and exports through these countries.
The economic situation had fast deteriorated partly due to the financial and material support being channeled to the liberation movements.
The trade embargoes, communication restrictions caused by the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), lack of spacing between the graduating streams, rampant unemployment among the form vs who could not be absorbed into the higher institutions of learning or jobs aggravated the situation.
The party and its government was, therefore, forced to 'quarantine' the jobless form versus, college and university of Zambia graduates in productive agricultural centers after six months military training.
Unfortunately, this anticipated panacea proved impotent as the two initiatives gobbled up the government funds in no time as zns could hardly feed the extra mouths of the form fives offloaded unto them.
The notion that the Zambian army needed pawns to provide a buffer for the regular army on the Rhodesian conflict chess board created acrimony and discomfort among the governed as most of the parents working in the mines, peasant farmers and other labourers looked forward to their children going for further academic advancement and jobs to support their siblings.
So the UNIP government's idea of sacrificing their highly prized lambs on the altar of liberating foreign lands was a wicked, treacherous and senseless agenda that totally eclipsed national interest.
The big question was; where was the organisation of Africa unity (OAU) and the United Nations (UN) to which Zambia was a fully paid up member?
The programme was introduced at the peak of the liberation wars in rebel Zimbabwe-Rhodesia ostensibly to keep in check that daring white outlaw, Ian Douglas smith, who had proclaimed himself ruler, and later formed an unholy alliance with a black stooge in Bishop Abel Muzorewa, against her majesty's decolonisation decree on the two Rhodesians.
Mr Smith and his bunch of white settlers, believed that Rhodesia with its beautiful farmlands was too good to be surrendered to the 'wasteful and unresourceful indigenous kaffirs'.
Therefore, when Zambia and other frontline states offered material support and sanctuary to the freedom fighters Smith's rebel regime backed by former British royal sas mercenaries and other South African armed forces, launched pre-emptive strikes to weaken support for the freedom fighters holed up there.
It was, therefore, decided that to combat Smith's callous activities, Zambia should mobilize a military reserve establishment under ZNS which was initially created for volunteers who joined the Zambia Youth Service and the home guard to conduct military training, agriculture and various handicrafts.
National service was also designed to train and 'discipline' workers in government institutions like security or office of the president (ba kamucheka, ba fimofimo, ba shushushu) and the Mechanical Services Department (MSD).
But the creation of the ZNS military reserve for the purpose of keeping Smith from pursuing his 'terrorists' into Zambia did not entirely deter him from executing his missions successfully and with impunity, daring the great silent Zambian guns and vaunted mirage jet fighters which, according to government, had the capacity of flattening Salisbury with a single squadron attack.
It was, therefore, very annoying to every Zambian that when the Rhodesian rebels attacked Chikumbi and Chinyunyu refugee camps they first captured the Zambian air-space and threatened to blow up our grounded bombers at Lusaka and Mumbwa ZAF bases.
It was at this point that wild and unsubstantiated rumours started flying around in military and civilian circles that the frustrated Zambia combined defence forces commander reportedly defied government orders and took off in one of the fighter jets into Salisbury in a daring solo manoeuvre to prove to Smith Zambia's might.
According to the story, the ace did not bomb Smith's bunker and returned to base after outfoxing rebel planes! A number of the ZNS Form Five (Grade 12) recruits guarding the Chongwe Bridge were killed by Smith's airborne paratroopers aboard six chinook choppers in 1980.
The mechanical services department personnel were sent for national service to be 'disciplined' following rampant pilfering and wanton theft of motor vehicle spare parts from the Government workshops.
Pilfering of the government spare parts and even entire engines, whole vehicles including graders were stolen from the yard.
In one gazette incident, this writer wrote a story for the Zambia Daily Mail (1979-80) about an MSD worker who was arrested for driving a grader from the Lusaka workshop to Ndola.
The man was admitted to the Ndola Central Hospital mental block for examinations.
But even the indoctrination of political education 'based on president Kaunda's promulgated philosophy of humanism' coupled with military discipline into these men and women could not straighten their crooked ways under the military administration as spare parts grew even 'longer legs'.
The national service expenditure on maintaining the thousands of recruits in terms of administration and logistics bearing heavily on, supposedly a government 'ghost' budget, had a telling effect running into thousands, may be millions, of kwacha per day.
Another problem was that the rule stipulated that only those going for further training or for further studies left camp.
Those who did not have immediate plans after the six months compulsory military training were required to remain in production camps for the last eighteen months.
Most nations including super powers like USA, the USSR, china, France and Britain conscripted the young generation for military training to maintain their military status quo or when there was a specific military crisis to deal with.
The ZNS military training was tough and rough and called for endurance and perseverance of the individual recruits.
In training there were no gender considerations and, therefore, both boys and girls were subjected to the same programmes.
The training and general treatment were reminiscent of the commando drills. The only difference was that whereas the regular army elite squads as career soldiers were thoroughly drilled by highly experienced and expert instructors ours were conducted by modestly educated men and women, particularly the non-commissioned officers. After my zns stint my personal impressions were that:
Although there were political commissars to enlighten the school leavers on the need to be politically minded, these were not trained motivational educators.
Although there were sports and recreational facilities these were ad hoc and lacked proper administration and equipment. It was a paradox that ZNS produced a top flight football club like green eagles and the captivating green labels band with the inferior structures and equipment
The system neglected to guard against the human nature's moral pressures and weaknesses... curiously, although the boys and girls were separated and camped very far from each other some girls, some of them top government and party leaders, still managed to get pregnant!
The system failed to convince and address the nation's concern about the motive and rationale to send their children to die for the cause of foreign nations and as a result failed to muster the much needed support.
The system appeared not to possess a well designed strategic administrative and training strategy that was user-friendly to spoilt brats coming straight from their 'ivory towers with gold spoons' in their mouths straight to the dilapidated barrack.
The 'shock treatment' meted out by the instructors, some of them war veterans (warrant officers, sergeants and corporals) who presented themselves as small gods and reigned supreme in their own realms actually broke the nerves of the recruits.
The ruthless and aggressive military cooks employed bullying tactics that left voracious recruits with huge appetites always hungry
Most of the instructors were literate; others half literate while the rest were none of these. The illiterate instructors harboured an inferiority complex over the academic accomplishments of the recruits that they practically made life hell for them, especially that their educated officers were realistic and sympathetic to the recruits' grievances. As a result the only way they could deliver their lessons to the recruits was through brutality.
Failure by the system to weed out recruits with questionable citizenship status created confusion in the maintenance of a proper enrolment manifest of the indigenous nationals who were ready to face the challenges of the call of duty that demanded courage and patriotism.
The harsh conditions broke the moral fibers of the weak-blood but galvanised the hard men and women into useful human machines with visions for the future, as the rough nature of military training sent dubious 'nationals' with dual citizenships fleeing from the country fast.
The national service exercise as a whole was conducted in a haphazard manner that lacked proper planning, for how else could it go wrong in providing proper diets, especially in the 18-month production phase in which zns used cheap labour provided by thousands of recruits?
The unip government managed to earn itself unprintable nomenclature in both the minds, lips and graffiti platforms on the zns programme basically due to its secretive style of conceiving and enforcing its decisions most of which, by the way, should have, under a democratic political system, been subjected to debate and approval by parliament. But the pig was supreme and above the national assembly!
Thus, the autocratic style of formulating and implementing most of its policies under the one-party rule was actually what cast aspersions on the pig's integrity and caused public distrust as it ignored any dissenting views, objective minds and voices of reason from 'stupid idiots, malcontents, enemies of the revolution, disgruntled elements, full-tummy critics' who, in any case, were not allowed to express their minds loudly or in print.
As a result, the lack of consultation with objective stakeholders (as opposition parties were outlawed) to advise and punch holes in the plan, the national service programme lacked a clear-cut public relations strategy and other logistical and administrative planning as evidenced by the mutinous behaviour of the recruits over the 'brutal' military treatment or code of discipline and administrative inadequacies.
In a nutshell the resultant effects of the grandiose zns programme left all the former recruits, their parents and guardians confused and in a grand funk up to today nursing bruised egos, lying prostrate before the supreme military code of conduct.
However, the successful former "ba chimbwi, bush-pigs, nyabwa, kalukuluku, buggers..." are now top government leaders, managing directors, general managers, stinking or filthy rich business executives and business executives due to the zns panel-beating while the 'unfortunate' ones blame it squarely on the programme for depriving them of career and academic opportunities that could have arisen, while they were in 'incarceration' for 24 months.
And so national service is back this year, but with a difference. It is a courageous, practical and progressive effort towards welfare and youth development.
However, there appears to be a lacuna in the vision of the State in the manner it intends to implement the programme.
The government's decision to scratch out the critical and contentious military training has spawned serious doubts in the minds of the people as to what really is the essence of national service without this component.
Suspicious minds have it that government fears that frustrated former recruits might turn rogue or renegade and form armed gangs to rob the citizenry or wage political insurrections.
There is a problem with these notions because the kind of discipline that is instilled in the recruits transforms the into defenders and protectors of the civilian population and the country's economic, social and political infrastructures.
This is a problem for government sociologists or criminology experts to advise on but common sense has it that not all the criminal elements that have been terrorising the citizenry had military or police backgrounds.
However, if such a subversive phenomenon developed, and it is possible, we have security wings employed to deal with the situation.
But then the question is: should this hypothetical hitch or fear for the unknown inhibit or deter the government from undertaking a practical decision that would benefit and save the entire nation? Are these fears justified or just out of sheer paranoia?
There are several factors that will determine ZNS's successful execution or total failure. First and foremost the programme requires an in-depth sensitisation of the nation to fulfill its intended purposes.
The unip programme failed, to a certain extent, to execute and achieve the desired goals because it was done in apparent haste without a clear-cut plan, proper implementation, 'experts' and a sustainable budget.
The problems former recruits with civilian mentality and behaviour created for the military administration should be studied meticulously by the panel of 'experts' who should ideally be psychologists, sociologists and even psychiatrists.
But I seriously doubt that the prescriptions these mind and behavioural scientists will formulate will be potent enough to cure the social anarchy characteristic in the school lumpens, spoilt brats and downright clones of the rejected society.
What is evident now is a clear manifestation of a serious lapse in the management of the youth over a long period of time.
Like the drug junks roaming the American bronks and Harlem slums most of the young people feel rejected by society due to the dire lack of career and academic opportunities, hence the rebellious attitudes that are in conflict or contrary to normal human social behaviour. And unfortunately some parents or guardians mistake this behaviour as modern trends and unwittingly accept it.
Although I am not at all privy to the real reasons government is avoiding military training, it is my considered opinion that ideally military training should be the driver, real motive and main component of this exercise.
I cannot possibly think of another management style other than the military code of discipline that could be applied to effectively deal with a bunch of a lost, culturally bankrupt and morally corrupt generation.
Government has to bite the bullet, as they say; in critical conditions it is imperative to be 'cruel in order to be kind'.
What is encouraging is that although most of them may harbour morbid fear for military training the young people will still feel the void as soldiering affords them that natural yearning and ego for heroism.
Of course the possibility of war erupting under the current political atmosphere is remote, but that is unreasonably taking things for granted.
Let us face it, government should not bury its head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich or sugar-coat the bitter pill and pretend that most of the boys and girls coming from diverse backgrounds will be docile. They will be truant and polluted with western cultures. And the only way the unip government managed to contain these weirdos was through military discipline.
It may be argued that if civilian teachers managed to control their students at school, so it should be the same situation at the zns camps. But the difference is that the students will almost be in solitary confinement for 18 months devoid of most of the basic home care with all its trappings, boyfriends, girlfriends and freedom in abandon.
Although the recruits of the 1975-1980 intakes gave the military establishment's torrid times they were a different breed, most of them coming from disciplined and hard working families that groomed and initiated them into responsible future leaders on modest cultural and traditional values.
There is, therefore no comparison between them and the 'free-range' broods that would not brook 'ichimbala' (nshima left-overs) for breakfast nor kandolo and nshawa for lunch at school. These hybrids who would even report their parents to a victim support agency for child abuse if they are not driven to school.
These are the uncultured and sarcastically labelled as 'ba John-solye-ubwali' (lay-abouts and free-loaders) of the computer age who do nothing but glue themselves to electronic gadgets and polluting their young minds with illicit, some of it sordid porn fad, at the expense of school books and other educational materials.
It is a glaring fact that this breed of the current generation is too sophisticated to be handled in civil manner.
Other than plumbers, carpenter, bricklayers, mechanics, agriculturalists etc, the programme will inadvertently also produce Olympic and world cup soccer players, boxers, musicians (remember green eagles fc and green labels band?), if the government has included provision of the requisite sports and recreational amenities.
Realistically, the exclusion of military training component from this programme will be a serious omission on the part of government as this will also unwittingly deny some recruits a chance to take up soldiering as their life time career, as proved during our zns stint when a number of our colleagues opted to join the ranks of their instructors at the end of the stint.
I dare state then that the hypothetical fears about the perceived hazards of military training will deprive this nation also of a military reserve like other nations have.
Morbid apprehension by government of unwittingly producing renegade armed criminals should not be the issue as merits in this programme far outweigh the demerits. One of the precipitates that came out of the zns effort was that it transformed the youth into responsible and courageous future leaders.
As history has it, although the Zimbabwe-rhodesian crisis did not warrant the involvement of the form five toy-soldiers, a situation that could potentially create a big generation gap in the nation if the liberation wars developed into a bloody catastrophe, the creation of the educated elite 'green army' at least sent shivers into the rebel regime.
It is also a glaring fact that most of the recruits the new programme will enlist will come from homes that lack proper parental upbringing. Under this scenario zns will have to bear the onerous task of eradicating the moral decadence and other social vices inherent in the young generation.
It will have to endeavour to galvanise and transform the domesticated spoilt brats into responsible, politically motivated radicals capable of taking over the reins of political, social and economic leadership.
And 'unfortunately for the government' military discipline should be the most reliable vehicle government should use to deliver the goods in order to equip the school leavers with the survival skills.
Unless there is a more effective and plausible option that the government is not disclosing to the nation there appears to be no credible alternative because, given all the above inherent complexities in the implementation of the initiative, military training appears to possess more credentials as it creates camaraderie, obedience, respect for authority and peers, self-discipline and patriotism.
Furthermore, military training creates a highly respected, feared and united nation with high moral norms, traditional or cultural values and true common identity.
An example of a powerful nation closely knit by a culture of military training is Israel where all able bodied citizens are by law required to undergo soldiering and regular refresher courses ready for action call ups.
Though a small nation in geopolitical sense this country is able to withstand and deal with military threats effectively.
In conclusion another advantages of conducting the ZNS programme based on military discipline and etiquette is that a new era will dawn in Zambia in which the economic, social and political machinery will be run by politically motivated minds, disciplined, hard working and patriotic public workers.
(The author is a journalist; author, publisher and pioneer recruit at mushili zns camp in 1975. He has published five editions called maliongo's adventures and he is currently working on a film about his experiences while at the Zambia National Service).