Want some insight in Namibian politics? I am no expert but have 16 years (1995-2011) of writing on Namibian politics in The Namibian newspaper and can probably offer you a bit more than you know about the who's who in the Namibian political zoo. You will also find a few articles commenting on other issues of concern in the country. Hope you find it interesting. - Christof

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Governors can do with a bit of more truth

COME on, Swapo governors. It won’t do you any harm to tell the truth. These past two weeks have seen intensifying media reports on the upcoming local and regional council elections.

As a result some of the regional governors who are no longer standing on Swapo tickets have been quoted as stating that they are going into full-time farming, becoming full-time housewives, or going to concentrate on other personal issues.
As far as I can recall only one was on record as stating that he was ready to serve the party and the people in a different capacity. That ‘capacity’ was surely referring to the imminent appointment by President Hifikepunye Pohamba as regional governor with new and more powers.
I don’t understand why politicians find it difficult to tell the truth, even if it won’t hurt them. Especially those who hold responsible positions!
Why should dishonesty take the front seat when it comes to politicians?
In some countries, specifically in Europe, politicians have resigned after they were caught lying.
On the African continent our ‘elected liars’ regard it as some sort of sport or art to remain in office.
That is why there is a tale about an accident in which a plane, carrying politicians, crashed near a village. When the survivors reportedly approached the villagers for help their answer was a resounding “no”.
When a journalist asked the villagers why they ignored the fate of the politicians, one answered: “You never know when they tell the truth”.
There are of course professions where some regard it quite acceptable to lie.
Lawyers would fit in that category as they habitually substitute a ‘guilty’ plea with ‘not guilty’ when they defend rapists, murderers and other clients and use their talent of lying to generate income for their next splashy trip to Mauritius or some obscure place with a beach and lots of expensive drinks.
With reports going around – and to an extent confirmed by the Permanent Secretary of Local Government – that most of the governors will be appointed in a capacity equal to that of former regional commissioners, transparency should be paramount.
People who are about to be appointed in such capacities need to be trusted because their new duties require transparency.
When they continue with political lies which some used for gimmicking throughout their terms as governors, that is unacceptable.
Pathological liars have no place in regional leadership, especially since they will carry much of the dreams and hopes of the people through decentralisation of responsibilities.
What we need are people with gazillions of ideas to uplift the living standards of so many depressed rural populations.
Since Independence, most of our regional economies have struggled. The best among them only sputtered.
That is why anyone steering the regional ship will be more than a bootlicker or a ‘progressive’ pygmy who don’t think big and act as such.
Because of the many hurdles facing our regions, it will be suicidal to appoint people who just seek fame and fortune like bees seek honey. In other words people with the sole aim of staying in the limelight.
My understanding is that the commissioners/governors will have a skeleton staff of highly technically skilled people (some at the level of a Permanent Secretary) to assist them in their work.
Such skilled personnel will be expected to operate in tandem with already existing regional staff – something that needs very clear guidelines to avoid office conflicts.
While the idea behind the appointment of commissioners is a good one, former governors will be expected to work hard while keeping a low profile – something which might be a bit of a problem for those who have become self-styled demigods of regions.
Their new duties will be true to the fact that leadership can’t be faked for long. And they shouldn’t transform those offices into retirement villages.
Maybe, while we are at it, since the President seems to show increased powers, he should think of ‘real experts’ when appointments are made for the skeleton staff instead of using political affiliation as the main benchmark.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The rise of uxoricides

FIVE years ago, Judge Kato van Niekerk imposed a 20-year sentence on Rehoboth resident Prollius van Zyl for killing his wife after a heavy drinking spree. For outsiders the marriage appeared happy but was marked by several incidents of violence even though Van Zyl told the court repeatedly that he loved his wife and had been intent on saving his marriage.

During the hearing it was clear that Van Zyl was a devoted and loving father, and a husband who liked helping his wife with household duties such as cooking – but when he drank, a hidden capacity for violence tended to come to the fore. Ultimately it resulted in a bloody end to the marriage.
Over the past couple of months, we have witnessed a disturbing trend of a sudden increase in similar uxoricides – men killing their wives.
There is also what others refer to as familicide – a multiple-victim homicide in which the killer’s spouse and one or more children are slain.
Such violent acts are almost exclusively perpetrated by men.
In most cases people believe they are an unintended result of violence that went too far, but spouse murder cannot be and should not be understood as loss of control or a moment of insanity.
I believe most of the cases are deliberate and have been thought about over time.
Many such culprits have reached a stage of readiness to destroy another even if it means destroying themselves.
But before I go that route, there are also those men who believe that their victims could not persist or cope in his absence and regard their deaths as ‘necessary’ or perhaps even ‘merciful’.
In both cases, though, it seems that the killers have some sort of feeling of entitlement to decide on the victim’s fate.
The many cases I’ve referred to are almost entirely linked to violent interpersonal conflicts between a couple – whether married or not – and shootings constitute a substantial proportion.
These men display a hostile masculine proprietary mindset – in other words they think they own their spouses.
In some instances they profess a grievance against the wife and this is usually about alleged infidelities or her intentions to terminate their relationship.
In a recent instance a man travelled all the way to the North from Walvis Bay to kill the woman who had fled from him.
According to neighbours and friends, it was the second time she had run away from him.
This made me think that some of the murders could be a substitute for either divorce or separation.
When one speaks to some of the relatives and friends afterwards, they recount how the boyfriend or husband had threatened: “I’ll kill you and the kids if you ever leave me”. In other words, they can’t picture her with anyone else.
They are using murder as a way to end a rocky and unhappy relationship or one in which the partner opted out. This leave others shocked and in a state of disbelief.
But most the culprits are prone to fits of rage prior to the incidents and have a history of violence, while there are also traces of being obsessed with controlling the partner.
These are men who will have a knife at her throat one minute, and the next minute will be kissing the ground on which she walks while pleading for forgiveness.
Clearly, based on the sudden increase in the number of uxoricides over the past couple of years, there is a need to ask why: What is wrong in our society? What can we do to curb it?
If we turn a blind eye to what is happening around us, we are likely to see more of the killings.
There is a need for parents to sensitise their children (especially boys), society to help educate young men and Government and other institutions such as the Churches to step up their campaigns against violence.
We should not only embark on demonstrations but, among others, educate men that life does not end when relationships are broken, or help them to accept that they do not own their spouses or their destinies.
I believe even politicians, some of whom many worship, can get more involved by utilising their platforms to talk about these issues, instead of ranting at colonialists, imperialists and other -list(er)s!

Monday, September 13, 2010

NUNW Congress: Issues Triumphed Over Personality

FOR the first time in many years, Namibian workers have spoken not only loudly but also demonstrated that they can take their destiny in own hands. Worker issues triumphed over personality at last weekend’s National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) congress.

While many thought that history would repeating itself and that the Secretary General of the NUNW Evilastus Kaaronda was about to be kicked off the podium at the congress, as they did with Peter Naholo five years ago, the workers’ voice kicked in and the planned hostile takeover by a group which has been flexing its muscle at both industrial union and at federation level failed.
Naholo was sacked after he dared to differ in public with a group aligned to former President Sam Nujoma. That group included the likes of former NUNW president Alpheus Muheua and Peter Nevonga of the Namibia Public Workers Union (Napwu). Interestingly Kaaronda was also in that camp and assumed the mantle after Naholo left.
Naholo took issue with Muheua and his group after they backed Nujoma’s account of the events of April 1 1989 and was shown the door. Shortly thereafter Naholo resigned from Swapo and joined the Rally for Democracy and Progress.
His resignation was further proof that rifts in the NUNW often reflect power struggles in the ruling party.
That is because the NUNW, Namibia’s largest umbrella group of unions, is not only affiliated to Swapo but also has voting rights at ruling party congresses.
Because of that, since Independence, workers’ issues have not always received top priority at the NUNW congresses, but were overshadowed by Swapo political intrigues.
Delegates mainly arrived at congresses ready to fight over leadership of the umbrella body knowing that the group which takes over the engine room will automatically ensure 15 votes for a particular clique in the ruling party.
That was also one of the main reasons why so many ‘men in dark glasses’ (intelligence) were present at the congress. They were there to maneouvre things to ensure a victory for the candidate of someone’s choice.
But, having campaigned in the region, prior to the congress, the group underestimated the power of the working class and believed that they could bulldoze their candidates through.
However, it was not to be this time around.
First, there was a clear division among those who were previously united. The outcome of the voting showed that there was no block voting by industrial unions.
In the past, Kaaronda would have been an ideal candidate for Nevonga and the congress would have been a formality.
Over the last weekend, it was a matter of dog eat dog as former allies spent hours campaigning against each other. Nevonga was backing a different horse and Kaaronda had to rely on the support of the workers. He played his cards well. Or, rather, he articulated workers’ concerns well.
Having picked up on the vibes well in advance, Kaaronda spoke openly about issues that concerned workers like the Basic Income Grant, Government Institutions Pension Fund, Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) vs Transformation of Economic and Social Empowerment Framework (TESEF), high unemployment rate and the Chinese investors, among others.
Tired of being used and abused, workers responded positively.
They had enough because, over the past five years, Ramatex closed down and it resulted in a loss of around 4 000 jobs while some unionists in cahoots with the new predatory elite syphoned workers money at institutions such as GIPF for own gain.
Even the central executive committee, which decided to pull out of BIG to please President Hifikepunye Pohamba, was given a vote of no confidence after the congress directed the NUNW secretariat to rejoin the poverty alleviation initiative.
Workers feel unemployment every day. It is their sons, daughters, wives, husbands and relatives who remain jobless and must live off their meagre salaries.
They were no longer the complacent, disempowered and unorganised crowd which would normally be coerced into and be limited to slogan-shouting but they pressed for debates and decisions on policies that will benefit the working class. If a similar trend prevailed with industrial union congresses as happened at last weekend’s watershed congress of the NUNW, this will only benefit the workers. A similar attitude at the congresses of affiliate unions can surely only benefit the workers.
In the meantime, Kaaronda and others who were voted into office must take their mandate seriously and use the next five years to the benefit of workers.
For starters, they need to relook at companies in which workers have shares and how they benefit the members. For too long only an elite group have benefitted from such companies while workers do not even have a special fund to rely on when they lose jobs.

* This column also appeared in The Namibian.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Of national days, ‘comrades’ and ‘traitors’

I MISSED last week’s Heroes Day celebrations. No, to put it more bluntly, I deliberately avoided attending any events and I don’t feel guilty or unpatriotic.

Swapo has hijacked national days and they have become platforms for the party’s rhetoric.

More disturbing is the fact that some of those who address such gatherings regard themselves more as ‘heroes’ than many of those whose contributions remain unacknowledged by the powers-that-be and who have thus become ‘nobodies’.

According to Tuesday’s New Era, David Namwandi, new Deputy Minister of Education had the following to say at the Omaruru Heroes’ Day commemoration:

“Comrades don’t be confused by some politicians who don’t have (a) long-term vision, let alone strategies to rule this country. Swapo and Swapo alone can claim to be the authentic representative of the people of this country, because it has liberated this country from the yoke of colonialism, that is a fact.”

First, if it was a day for comrades, why make it a public holiday? Why not call it a ‘Swapo day’ and let others, including businesses which could otherwise have remained open to make money, continue with their daily operations. As it was last week, any business which operated on that day had to pay their staff overtime because it was a public holiday.

Others, which opted to close for the day, obviously lost out on some business.

Yet we see a national leader addressing the gathering with words such as ‘comrades’. I thought Namwandi, being a founder of a university, would know better.

He was obviously addressing a Swapo gathering and not people who attended a national day to remember why they no longer have Casspirs parked on the fringes of their rallies and can move freely within the country as opposed to being beaten up if found in the centre of a town after sunset.

Of course, many who attended the event were Swapo sympathisers and members. They have come to accept that such days are actually ‘Swapo days’.

That is why their leaders arrive fully clad in party colours and greet them with the ‘mannetjie sign’ as they emerge from Government-owned vehicles.

The NBC TV had similar visuals on the Tuesday evening bulletin with a Heroes’ Day event addressed by NUNW acting president David Namalenga, who was telling people to vote Swapo in the upcoming elections.

Again, I wondered whether it was Heroes’ Day event or a Swapo day.

My contribution to Namibia’s Independence was very insignificant. At one stage I was dismissed from a school for refusing instructions and attending student political meetings until the early hours of the morning when I was supposed to be in hostel learning or sleeping. That’s my only claim to fame which, obviously, is not really worth mentioning.

But I am aware of many stalwarts inside Namibia who opposed the abominable system of apartheid by leading us as students to class boycotts; teachers who refused to feed us with Bantu education; parents who lost their children when they abandoned school and went into exile without returning; those whose houses were, night in and night out, raided by the apartheid forces apparently looking for ‘terrorists’; those who sacrificed their lives by harbouring and feeding known political activists; girls who were brutally raped by both sides in the struggle; and many who criss-crossed Namibia in the late evenings to hold clandestine meetings to mobilise people.

Many others were detained for turning their church sermons into political speeches while others, like The Namibian , were petrol-bombed and their staff often harassed and arrested.

Today, many of those nameless and ordinary people are regarded as unpatriotic, puppets and traitors just because they question certain things and opted to stick by their principles instead of being dragged into name-calling or mudslinging or refused to become lapdogs, like The Namibian.

Yet there is a group of people who have decided among themselves whose contribution was worthier than others in opposing apartheid rule. They are ably assisted by some who conveniently weren’t part of the struggle in the past but now know more than many who were actually involved.

Not only are their vehicles plastered with Swapo colours but they have the audacity to downplay the role others played.

In most instances, they use platforms at national days to create the impression that they are more heroic than others.

Whenever they have nothing to say or lack something of substance, they jump on the bandwagon many of us have grown tired to.

I wonder whether they are not intellectually bankrupt!

Those are the people who keep some of us away from national days.