Young people should not be used as tools for political violence in Southern Africa, says Innocent Kasiyano, coordinator of the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe - writes Munyaradzi Makoni.
"It is a sad trend that youths are used as tools of political violence, and agents to instil fear in communities. That must be stopped," Kasiyano told ENInews.
The SCM official was speaking during the Sixth People's Summit, organised by the Solidarity People's Network, and held from 15 to 16 August at the Catholic Cathedral Hall in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.
In Zimbabwe, the youth wing of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, which is in a government of national unity with the Movement for Democratic Change, has faced accusations of having been used to foment fear among those who oppose Zanu-PF, which held power from independence in 1980 until February 2009.
"The participation of youths should not only be limited to lower government structures," said Kasiyano, noting that there is a need to sensitise other youths in the region about their social and economic rights. He said the involvement of young people in decisions of the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) would help develop new leaders. Kasiyano coordinates 36 SCM branches across Zimbabwe, with about 200 members in each branch.
Holding the Peoples Summit - a gathering of faith groups, civic organisations and trade union members - alongside the 30th SADC heads of States, also meeting in Windhoek, gave the students an opportunity to lobby on a number of issues, said Kasiyano.
"We want the leaders to allow youths bodies to monitor general elections in the region at least two to three months before the actual voting, to prevent violence," he said. He also suggested SADC countries should spend more on young people to fight poverty.
Kasiyano said young people must be part of the national healing process in Zimbabwe. This is also a recommendation of the Global Political Agreement that brought together Zanu-PF and two opposition parties after a period of serious political violence following elections that Mugabe's party lost.
"Young people were used in the violence; they must be fully involved in the national healing process," said Kasiyano, who is a Roman Catholic. He added that national healing is not enough, and called for a justice, truth and reconciliation commission, such as South Africa had after the end of apartheid.
"As part of civil society, we are not a government in waiting but we are there to fight for the voice of the marginalised to be heard," said Kasiyano.
SCM Zimbabwe groups students from 27 tertiary institutions and high schools, and focuses on conflict transformation, peace building initiatives, and leadership training. It has sometimes been strongly critical of what it views as excesses committed by Mugabe and his followers.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]