ABOUT 200 former Zanu-PF members and graduates of the National Youth Service (NYS) in Bulawayo on Saturday defected to the National Patriotic Front (NPF), citing frustration with the ruling party.
The NYS graduates said they had since formed an NPF youth brigade, called the Zimbabwe National Youth Service Graduates Association, that will co-ordinate the opposition party's campaigns.
The NPF consists of disgruntled or expelled Zanu-PF members, particularly those linked to the G40, a faction of the ruling party. Former President Robert Mugabe and wife Grace are reportedly also linked to G40.
On Saturday, the NPF held a function in Makokoba high-density suburb to welcome the Zanu-PF defectors led by Andifasi Banda, a former ruling party Bulawayo district chairperson.
"As National Youth Service graduates, we realised that we were not being well taken care of in the ruling party. We realised we were only being used and that is why we said enough is enough and cut ties with the ruling party," Banda said.
"And so what we have done is to form a new organisation of NYS graduates called Zimbabwe National Youth Service Graduates Association. We currently have a membership of plus/minus 3 000 members who have said they are prepared to jump ship and work with NPF. We have covered a lot of ground, and we are ready to hit the campaign trail."
The NYS programme, launched by the late Youth minister Border Gezi in 2001, was introduced with the aim of drilling revolutionary and patriotic ideologies into the country's young citizens.
But Zanu-PF was later accused of turning the graduates into a paramilitary youth militia to harass political opponents.
The programme never had an easy existence as it came under a barrage of attacks, with some questioning why children of top government people never enrolled at the institutions, while others condemned it as a government initiative to brainwash youths and use them for political expediency
Butholezwe Ngwenya, an NPF executive member said: "We are in Makokoba welcoming Zanu-PF members who have defected from the ruling party to join NPF. We have teams in other constituencies, canvassing and we will be visiting [other constituencies] to welcome other members from Zanu-PF to join NPF. We are targeting mainly Zanu-PF supporters."
But Zanu-PF Makokoba legislator Tshinga Dube said he was unmoved by the defections, saying "why would anyone in his right mind want to join Mugabe who destroyed this country?"