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Namibia: Reflections on 20 years after independence

By Jade McClune, Windhoek

March 23, 2010 -- Twenty years ago, at Namibia's first independence celebrations on March 21, 1990, many people would have shared the hopes and the euphoria of the moment. People thought that something good would come to us if we kept our peace and relinquished all the power to "the few who knew". Now that terrible hangover is wearing off and time has enforced a certain sobriety on us: the brutish reality of a rapidly falling life expectancy, unprecedented epidemic crises, poverty, vast malnutrition, a ruined education system and chronic mass unemployment, is inescapable.

Yes, there have been achievements: for some people with connections or capital or a lot of luck, life has improved as they moved into the other side of town, but for most citizens life has become meaner and shorter. There is a breakdown of all social and municipal services and a growing chauvinistic brutishness about the bureaucracy. At the same time we are witnessing a new desperate scramble for Africa's mineral wealth, that will make the evils of 19th century colonialism look pleasant in comparison. So let it be said, the struggle is not over.

We must speak the truth to power, insisted the Palestinian scholar, Edward Said. And in Namibia the truth is that there is actually a war going on, a secret war, a war of the rich against the poor.

Now the ruling class and the ruling South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO) party have chosen their team for parliament, but the poor and unemployed, the destitute and the diseased, the hungry and depressed -- though still pacified and disorientated by the shock of post-colonial economic reality - remain a lurking threat to the established order of extracting our natural wealth. Although there is a call for all to pull together as a nation now, there are many forces more strongly pulling us apart.

The ideological hegemony and control of the nationalists is not as strong as it was two decades ago when the whole world was celebrating "the miracle". Because even now there is no clear way to resolve the outstanding tasks of the national democratic revolution under SWAPO (or the African National Congress in South Africa) leadership. The land and natural resources are still under foreign ownership and control and the majority live in a concentration of shacks. This very day, after returning from Namibia's celebrations South African President Jacob Zuma was faced with masses of people marching for houses, jobs and a decent life in Durban.

Today SWAPO does not claim to be leading the Namibian revolution. The party has gone over entirely, decisively and openly to the side of global capital and actually facilitates the extraction economy as the party of law and order, so it acts not so much as a representative of the people, but rather performs an "overseer", or managerial function on behalf of Western capital. This is reflected above all in the government's neoliberal economic strategy, which involves giving everything up to the highest bidder. That much is becoming clear to everyone. Today we are faced with an even greater threat to our health and safety as government begins to soften up and open up the country to whore itself to the world as an easy source of uranium.

For all these terrible reasons the representatives of capital, in the form of an emerging national capitalist class, must come more and more into direct conflict with the people who are bearing the brunt of so much exploitation and inequality. The reason being that increasingly the conflicting class interests that separate the political elites from the masses of rural and urban poor, make rubbish of the notion that the elites represent the national interest, as they are openly seen as allies and accomplices of international capital, so the workers who have to pay for it all, including the accompanying pomp and ceremony, are forced to rethink our position, because not only our jobs, but often our very lives depend on it.

If we scratch beneath the surface of this idea of the "national interest", we find that it refers to the partial interests of the ruling class and economic interest groups. Radical analysis has been suppressed from the national debates in the mainstream, but we must persist in presenting the perspective from the left and show that unbridled capitalism is at the core of the social contradiction and crisis engulfing, and indeed devouring, the country.

This is not an isolated view. As a baromoter of international opinion one need only refer to the motion [debated by the Friends of Namibia and the Royal African Society] at the Houses of Parliament in London on March 18, which proposed that Namibia is a shining example of democracy, good governance and post colonial development. It was voted down.

The point is for us not to base ourselves on vague hopes and fantasies, nice as they may be, but on our real historical experience. Our history is contested, that is true, but it is being reclaimed and rewritten from below. That is a basis for reclaiming our future. Based on the experience of the past 20 years, the working class must prepare itself for a period of renewed struggle as we face attacks on our living and working standards; we must prepare for renewed struggles to defend our communities from the causes and effects of superexploitation and from privatisation of services. We will have to struggle for a renewed understanding that only the combined force, effort and will of the working class can solve the cause of economic inequality and lead the oppressed people of the country out of this crisis.

[Jade McClune is an independent researcher and former coordinator of the Archives of Anti-Colonial Resistance in Windhoek. He writes for the online journal, The New Worker.]

Comments

Whither the shine in Namibia's peace, democracy and development?

By Tangeni Amupadhi

2010-04-01, Issue 476

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/63499


Supporting Henning Melber’s arguments against the motion,

‘This House believes that Namibia is a shining example of post-colonial peace, democracy, and development’, were those of Tangeni Amupadhi. Amupadhi paints a picture of a controlling ruling elite, fearful of losing hold of power: 'In Namibia this day, dogma has replaced rationality.'

Countering the motion: 'This House believes that Namibia is a shining example of post-colonial peace, democracy and development.'

Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

It is sad indeed, taking this position and being the bearer of bad news. But we have to speak some home truths. Have you heard that hammers were selling very well at Namibia’s hardware stores last year after our founding president, Sam Nujoma, said whites, especially the English, must be clobbered in their heads? And just what was their crime? Alleged criticism of the ruling party and the Namibian government.

This might sound like a bad joke, but it is the material comedians are presented with from public rallies addressed by our most revered political leader. Such jokes remind me of the time during apartheid, when the best way to deal with ghastly realities was to make light moments of those conditions to avoid national depression and insanity.

The truth is Nujoma’s call, made at a SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Orgnisation) elections campaign rally in September last year, was a continuation of anti-democratic, anti-peace, fervour not only by the first president of democratic Namibia, but by many other leaders of the former liberation movement, which has been in power for 20 years.

Please, do let me dwell on a few examples, which have continued to wipe the shine off any aspiration we harbour to be the barometer for post-colonial peace, democracy and development.

JUDAS ISCARIOT AND SATAN:

The Namibian head of state, President Hifikepunye Pohamba, at a public meeting in February 2008, called his erstwhile comrades Judas Iscariots. These were people who, after several years complaining they were being witch-hunted and hounded out of the SWAPO, left the party to form the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP). The message the president was sending was unequivocal, as you’d imagine in a country with 90 per cent Christian following. Such a label means nothing less than a call to SWAPO followers to destroy the devil. Small wonder then that violent scenes broke out in Windhoek and some northern parts of the country during the elections campaign last year.

My team member has told you about the violent attacks that SWAPO supporters inflicted on opposition members who dared holding meeting in the areas traditionally regarded as strongholds of the ruling party. These SWAPO supporters were not ignorant, ordinary followers acting on their own. In fact, they were putting into practise a warning by Namibia’s prime minister, Nahas Angula, that this newly-formed opposition party should not be allowed to campaign in places he identified as ‘no-go areas’ for any politician but SWAPO.

And when the ruling party leadership were asked to condemn the violence and the notion of no-go areas in the interest of peace, democracy and development, guess what they did? Instead of promoting a contestation of ideas, they feebly called on their members to restrain themselves and strongly criticised the opposition for ‘provoking’ SWAPO members by campaigning and holding meetings the so-called no-go areas. Even trees were marked off as belonging to SWAPO. Talk about shining examples of post-colonial peace, democracy and development. The opposite is more apt.

MINISTER SHOOT SON:

And have you heard about the shooting incident last year? A senior minister in theNamibian government, a law-maker, fired at his son. Yes, with a gun and live ammunition. He was apparently blind with anger because the 20-year-old joined an opposition party.

Asked by a newspaper reporter why he had resorted to firing squad measures, he said: ‘I raised him with my SWAPO money, now he wants to go to RDP? He knows that I am working and getting my money from SWAPO. It irritates me so much that I breed someone with my SWAPO money and then he defects to the opposition, let him go and be educated by RDP.’

It is scary enough that a father would draw a firearm on his son because the young man joined another political party. But that shouldn’t stop you asking what SWAPO money this minister was talking about. Is it the funding that the then liberation movement received from its anti-apartheid supporters all over the world or is he talking about his government salary that comes from taxpayers’ coffers?

Anywhere in a peaceful and democratic world, such a leader would have done the honourable thing. As it is, he remains in cabinet and I don’t remember him being charged with the crime of drawing a weapon and shooting at someone, albeit his flesh and blood.

There are broader general examples of anti-peace, anti-democratic measures the country’s politicians take to discourage dissent.

ECONOMIC STRANGULATION:

ADVERTISING BAN

Ten years ago, the government at cabinet level banned all state advertising in The Namibian newspaper. The Namibian is not only the biggest and most widely read paper in the country, it is also the newspaper that ideologically aligned itself with SWAPO and the broad anti-apartheid movement.

Yet the SWAPO-government had the temerity to do what apartheid rulers did – ban state advertising from appearing in The Namibian. And this they put in writing. The reason, listen to this, ‘because of unwarranted criticism of government policies’. This would have been funny if it were not a decision of a democratically-elected government.

To date, no government money is allowed to buy a copy of The Namibian. The ban, however ineffective, remains in place as a political message that criticism of the government comes at a cost. That wipes further shine of our democracy, peace and development.

BUSINESS BOYCOTT

The Namibian newspaper is not the only entity that has had to incur the ire of its former comrades because of dissent. Several businessmen in the former war-zone of northern Namibia are finding out the hard-way the price of leaving SWAPO, especially to support opposition politics.

Several of these former SWAPO members have seen their businesses crumble after their customers were instructed by SWAPO leaders to stop buying from them because they dared to support opposition parties. Unlike The Namibian newspaper, these businesses operate in an area totally dominated by SWAPO, where mob-rule can severely punish anyone who deviates from the popular view. Economic strangulation has worked as intended.

The same economic strangulation has been used in the form of political patronage. Many Namibians of notable intelligence have been denied the opportunity to work in the civil service because they were not ‘loyal party cadres’. And no proof is needed that a person is indeed an opposition party member. For nowadays, we have ‘hibernators and saboteurs’, you see. Jobs go to comrades. And these jobs for comrades are offered without regard to competence. Mind you, I’m not referring to politically sensitive positions, but to civil service positions below that of a permanent secretary, for instance.

In Namibia this day, dogma has replaced rationality.

How much of the shine would you think such incidences have already taken off any possible exemplary stage that Namibia has been through for post-colonial peace, for democracy and for development?

Examples are plenty to support our position that Namibia is not a shining example of post-colonial peace, democracy and development. The state-funded media for instance, are a classic example of Stalinistic propaganda.

Even Namibia’s former prime minister, Hage Geingob, cautioned in his doctoral thesis about a trend that was emerging in Namibia towards a concentration of power in one person. It was a subtle jab at founding president, Sam Nujoma, and Geingob went as far as comparing the tendency to the likes of Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Kamuzu Banda of Malawi. Geingob said we were at the cross-roads. I’d argue that instead of power being concentrated in an individual it is concentrated in a small group. That, in itself, does not auger well for peace, democracy and development.

DEVELOPMENT

Land resettlement has become largely the preserve of the privileged, few black elite. And many take the land more for the pleasure than productivity, in the process threatening food security for the country. That my learned friends does not augur well for peace and stability.

EDUCATION

Worrying still is the education system that spews onto the streets 50 per cent of its grade 10s and 12s every year. On the whole, we are sowing the seeds of disaster instead of being a shining example.

SOLIDARITY

I bemoan the loss of solidarity by the elite. Here I refer specifically to solidarity with the poor and the most vulnerable in society.

I therefore argue, without the fear of contradiction but with sadness – Namibia is not a shining example of post-colonial peace, democracy and development.

Ladies and gentlemen, the only reason you and I can support this motion tonight, is if we take the lowest common denominators – Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Angola, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Our beautiful, beloved ‘Land of the Brave’ deserves better. We should aim to be the best!

BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS

* Tangeni Amupadhi is editor of lnsight Namibia

* Tangeni Amupadhi was second speaker to Henning Melber at a discussion organised by the Friends of Namibia and the Royal African Society at the Houses of Parliament in London, 18 March 2010.

Writings by Namibian Women

Title: Namibia: Book review: Writings by Namibian Women
Author: edited by Elizabeth IKhaxas
Category: Africas Image: African Culture
Date: 9/1/2009
Source: Sister Namibia, p.24,25
Source Website: www.africafiles.org

African Charter Article# 17: Every individual shall have the right to education, cultural life, and the promotion and protection of values.

Summary & Comment: Writings by Namibian Women is edited by Elizabeth IKhaxas who founded the Women’s Leadership Centre in 2004. It reveals ordinary, women who resist Namibia's male-dominated culture, stand up for their rights, and make a case against the cultural abuse of women. They write to resist Namibia's male-dominated culture and bring changes in their cultures and traditions for their daughters. DN

Writings by Namibian Women
- Book review: Between yesterday and tomorrow
by Dr. Marna Broekhoff

http://www.sisternamibia.org/pdf/sister_namibia_2009-09.pdf
After decades of struggle against colonialism, racism, and apartheid, the Republic of Namibia was finally established in 1990 as a "democratic…State securing to all our citizens justice, liberty, equality and fraternity." These proud and inspiring words in the Preamble to its Constitution gave hope for a new era to all Namibian citizens, women and men alike. Article 23 even states "that women in Namibia have traditionally suffered special discrimination and … need to play a full, equal role in the life of the nation."

The myth of gender equality

Sadly, however, these words have remained mere verbiage nearly twenty years after Independence, inspiring only bitter disillusionment. Gender equality in Namibia is a total myth! Indeed, Namibia is one of the most violent and unequal societies in the world, with an "apparent increase in violence since independence," according to Deputy Minister of Education Dr Becky Ndjoze-Ojo. To temper this climate, the Women’s Leadership Centre (WLC) was founded in 2004 by Elizabeth IKhaxas with the primary purpose of fostering women’s writings as a means of consciousness raising, empowerment, creative expression, and resistance to male-dominated culture.

The Centre’s first book, Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, is an anthology of poems, stories, and essays about gender inequality in Namibia, which still exists just as much today as when the book was first published in 2005. The second WLC anthology, We Must Choose Life (2008), puts faces into the bleak AIDS landscape in Namibia. The third, Moments of Courage (forthcoming), showcases women defending themselves in a male-dominated society. A fourth volume will focus on the role of Christianity in the oppression of Namibian women.

Women writing change

Submissions for Between Yesterday and Tomorrow were solicited through 20,000 flyers distributed throughout the country, followed by four Women’s Rights and Writing workshops in Windhoek with 150 participants, who then conducted more than fifty local workshops. From the hundreds of submissions, 89 were published, many by first-time writers. Some submissions were translated for non-English speakers, and some were also transcribed for illiterate women. Many women had to be coached to overcome their objections that writing requires computers and printers, library access, education, social mobility, and that it interferes with family responsibilities and cultural expectations for women to be shy and silent. Finally, though, they came to see writing as a top priority because "Through writing we are standing up for our rights and making a case against the abuse of women," and "We are writing for our daughters, and to bring about changes in our cultures and traditions."

Thematically, there is much overlap among the nine separate sections, but several motifs stand out. One is the similarity in attitudes between "then" and "now." Grandma Susan, born in 1934, comments sadly about watching toddlers being given away to older men as wives because "we were nothing, simply objects." A poem about the present, I’m just a girl, makes a similar case:

"They call me names…
They rape and abuse me
They say I’m their property
Coz I’m just a girl to them."

As one perceptive woman comments, "The truth is that most men [even advanced degree holders] believe that women are subordinate to men."

Patriarchal culture prevails

Marriage customs have not improved. Women are still sold for lobola: "They told my father that the cattle would be sent the following day. They had sold my step-sister, Tupawo, to a man she had never talked to." Widows are stripped of their possessions and forced to marry their late husband’s relative: "Immediately after this the possessions of the deceased are divided. And then one of the elders says, ‘The widow is given to the brother of the deceased.’" Polygyny is common:

"Then he brought her
Number Three he called her
I thought I’d never
Ever
Share him
But he said it’s Africa
It’s his right."

Divorce is not allowed by the church. A woman thinks that "if she leaves her marriage she will be a laughing stock in the community." "Disobedient" women, whether married or unmarried, are raped and even murdered with impunity:

"Today
I saw love
Or so I thought
I saw your hand in his
…And then the evening news: I watched your face splashed over my little screen
The reason: A lover’s quarrel
Another daughter lost
My sister. My friend."

In Nangula’s story we learn that she "died with her unborn baby, brutally killed by a man who raped her and got away with it."

Children, unsurprisingly, do not fare well in these circumstances, as poignantly expressed in Everybody’s Child:

"I remember when Anybody’s child could walk the streets
free from fear and protected by Everybody
…Now Anybody’s child cannot be rescued, because it is Somebody’s child
…Nobody hears Somebody’s child scream
Somebody’s child gets raped and killed
Now, Everybody asks, where was Somebody?
What happened to Everybody’s child?"

Along with rape and murder of children is the all-too-common crime of incest. In A letter to Papa, the daughter asks,

"Do you remember…
When I woke up and found you fumbling with my bloomers…
how I trembled and struggled….
Did you ever think about saying, ‘I’m sorry, please forgive me?’"

My friend, my pen

Most readers of Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, like Marlene Mungunda, Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, are likely to feel "profoundly shattered by these testimonies." Facing such pain, one may wonder what is the value of these stories for both writer and reader? The unique contribution of all the WLC books is that they empower Namibian women, particularly the most marginalised, to tell their stories and advocate for social justice. In so doing, they "become writers" and create art in their own right as black women. In the words of one impoverished poet,

"My friend, my pen!
Help me to talk
Without you
people see me
as nothing/
My friend, my pen!
Speak for me…
My pen!
Sit down with me
and I will give you/ wings to fly
You are my only friend
My only way to let the world
know what I feel."

The penned products in this anthology are surprisingly eloquent and stingingly heartfelt, thus rising to the level of literary art. For writer and reader alike, the anthology should serve as an important agent of social change. Indeed, only by understanding the past can one transform the present and create a different future. The hypocrisy surrounding the Namibian Constitution must be exposed because "the state must always be made accountable and responsible to the people, regardless of who the people are." And not only in Namibia. Strong evidence supports the existence of similar abuses of women and girls all across Africa in "pernicious continuities between colonial, nationalist, and postcolonial systems," according to feminist researcher, Amina Mama.

In addition to advocating, Between Yesterday and Tomorrow profoundly educates. It is a supreme example of auto-ethnography, an account of one’s own experiences as grounded in and reflecting a culture. As such, it enables the writers to realise that research is not something that only white or educated people do, a radical insight. The anthology can also serve as a gold mine of qualitative data for researchers. Additionally, with the recently developed curriculum for the book, it can be used in numerous secondary and tertiary instructional settings. Most of all, perhaps, the book provides an education about the resiliency of the human spirit, for along with the pain, the reader also experiences the optimism, the energy - and the power - of Namibian women.

*Dr. Marna Broekhoff worked in Namibia in 2008 as English Language Fellow, U.S.
Department of State. She is a writing consultant to the Women’s Leadership
Centre.

*Compiled and edited by Elizabeth IKhaxas, Women’s Leadership Centre, Windhoek
2005

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