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

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Take land but be fair to all

CABINET members have thrown their weight behind Deputy Minister Kilus Nguvauva in condemning a commercial farming family for throwing him off their property, as well as for their alleged remarks about the current and former presidents of the country. I have no problem when culprits are taken on.

Only do it in a fair manner and let’s think about the consequences of expropriation.
Over the past couple of years, I realised that politicians and officials keep looking for scapegoats for why our land reform programme is not working well.
And in most cases the blame is put squarely on the shoulders of the “unpatriotic”, “uncooperative” and “racist” white commercial farmers.
I am aware of racist white commercial farmers who abuse their workers. I am also aware of racist black farmers who are utterly inhumane towards their own people.
Charge the racist farmers and let’s move on while the law takes its course, instead of generalising every time there is a labour dispute or when someone eyes a certain farm!
Since Government started using the word “expropriation”, I have yet to witness a farm where ‘genuine’ resettlement has taken place or a farm which continued to be as productive as it was before it was expropriated.
The question I want us to ask is whether we should continue to expropriate farms based on the emotions of some politicians and union leaders or should we do it to resettle people? And if we expropriate to resettle people, isn’t it about time we do more than just dump them on the land and hope for the best?
At the moment, I have the impression that, for some of our leaders and unionists, the exercise is more retaliatory than genuine.
Let’s take, for instance, Ongombo West, a farm some 30 km northeast of Windhoek, where it all started with a dead goose, developed into a labour dispute, and ended with the expropriation of a farm in 2004.
The Wiese family grew cut flowers on the farm for 46 years. From there they exported around 150 000 flowers a year and were in the process of increasing the exports to 750 000 flowers annually, when a labour dispute resulted in the sacking, eviction, then reappointment of six workers and the eventual expropriation of the farm.
Today the Zantedeschia flowers (arum lilies) grown at Ongombo and exported to Germany and Holland are something of the past.
When I last visited the resettled former workers of the Wiese family at the same farm, it was with Alfred Angula, the firebrand general secretary of the Namibia Farmworkers’ Union.
He is the one who called for the expropriation of the farm and he is the one who returned two years later and told the resettled group to start looking for jobs or to initiate projects to help themselves instead of waiting for Government handouts.
In 2008 the Ministry of Lands announced plans to rehabilitate the irrigation infrastructure at Ongombo but things have never really normalised at the once flourishing farm which was the first to be expropriated.
I am not saying that farmers who bring in millions for the country’s economy should be granted a blanket right to abuse their workers. No.
But I remember very well the words of the then Minister of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, Hifikepunye Pohamba, in 2004 when he said expropriation would be “done peacefully and lawfully”.
It is of no use to punish everyone for the sins of a few.
Last weekend I spent time with two of Namibia’s prominent boer goat farmers, Oom Dirk Louw and Willie Coetzee down in the valleys near Helmeringhausen.
Both are not just good farmers but wonderful Afrikaans-speaking Namibians whose treatment of their workers would put many black communal, emerging and commercial farmers to shame on any given day.
Just as I can’t say that all Afrikaners are like them, I also can’t conclude that all their tribesmen are bad.
And because land reform is a burning priority in Namibia with over 200 000 people awaiting resettlement, it has become a volatile issue which needs to be treated with caution.
We don’t need small disputes to snowball and become political because, if not handled well, such minor problems can lead to more land lying fallow while the ranks of the unemployed continue to swell and hunger continues.
Let’s give land to the landless, but do it in a manner that is fair to all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Namibia’s Sleeping Giant Called Foreign Affairs

NAMIBIA'S silence around major, but non-related events in both Libya and Japan bedevil me.

Within hours of Japan's devastating earthquake on Friday, South African President Jacob Zuma sent a message to his Japanese counterpart.
This is the same Zuma who recently sent a tough message to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to "stop killing innocent civilians". Pretoria also froze the Libyan government's assets in South Africa.
Zuma is not everyone's favourite but he seems to be on the ball with some of the things that matter - and especially foreign policy related.
When Gaddafi came under fire Zuma called him by telephone and raised his concern about the killings before he ordered the department of international relations and co-operation in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to write to financial institutions, private agencies and state departments ordering the freezing of assets belonging to Gaddafi and his close associates.
In Namibia, we have yet to hear what either our President Hifikepunye Pohamba or the Cabinet has to say about the civil war in Libya.
I know that Libya supported Namibia materially, morally and politically during the liberation struggle.
Many of Swapo's freedom fighters and nurses were trained in that country.
But it took Libya 17 years to open an embassy in Windhoek. It had only a Charge d'Affaires until 2007.
Last month we read about how Namibia stood up against Gaddafi at an African Union meeting when he pulled an integration report for an 'alternative United States of Africa'. In fact, Namibia reportedly led a group of countries which called for the release of the Libyan report.
That is why it is puzzling when there is a total blackout about our stance regarding current events in Libya.
Worse of all is the fact that Foreign Affairs hardly moved an inch to explain or say something when Namibians on a trade mission, of which the Ministry of Trade was also aware, were trapped in Tripoli.
Officials in the ministry might have been involved in assisting the Namibians (and I hope they did) but doing it quietly is of no help to other Namibians who might want to know about the whereabouts of their relatives.
And the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is there to be seen to serve the interest of the wider Namibian public.
As the mission statement says, it is there to promote "national interests".
Similarly, it is now a week since the earthquake in Japan which has killed thousands and caused destruction worth billions.
But we have not had a single word on the whereabouts and fate of Namibians in that country.
One would have assumed that our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Utoni Nujoma, his deputy Peya Mushelenga or someone high up in the ministry would have called a media briefing to inform the nation about the events there and how we are involved in assisting Namibians there, if not even the Japanese.
When the Libyan revolution started, reporters struggled to get comment because the top three in the ministry were all travelling.
Apparently one or two even attended an African meeting which discussed the situation in Libya but returned quietly without informing the nation about the outcome of this meeting.
Or are they only accountable to President Hifikepunye Pohamba, to whom they are supposed to present a regular progress report on their work?
Isn't Minister Nujoma seen as the next big thing in Swapo? Is his promotion to Foreign Affairs not meant to expose him to the outside world as a future President of the country? If so, I would have thought that he would grab such opportunities worth both hands to show that he was on top of his job!
For his part, Mushelenga is supposed to be Swapo Youth League's secretary for international affairs. It means he is another youth leader being prepared for the future. He should also know the game by now.
Why do they actually travel if they can't brief the nation upon their return? I am not saying we want to know about their everyday affairs but events such as those in Libya are surely of interest to the wider Namibia!
Something is lacking at Foreign Affairs. It is called openness and proactiveness.
It is high time that the ministry wakes up.
, Zuma

Thursday, March 10, 2011

104 000 Jobs Grand Plan: Hopefully Not Another Empty Promise

TWENTY-one years ago many Namibians had the expectation that ‘all wrongs would be righted’ with the anticipation of ‘houses from heaven’ and jobs for all under a new Swapo-led Government.

Fast-forward 21 years and we are baffled why many, in a mineral-rich country with a population of only two million people, still live in abject poverty, struggle with access to education, jobs, food, a roof over their heads and thus cannot exercise their fundamental rights.
Although we knew that freedom and independence could bring both rewarding yet tough times, a country our size which has an abundance of natural resources should have been able to create thousands of jobs outside Government and afford others the chance to generate their own income through enterprises.
People don’t eat peace, tranquility or independence.
We have done well, in the context of Africa, to look after our elderly through pension allowances; accommodated many former fighters through the peace project which created jobs in the army, police and some ministries; but many other formerly disadvantaged people such as those in northern Kunene, former Bushmanland and even the southern parts of the South have not been assisted.
Over the past couple of years Finance Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila came up with several income tax relief initiatives, for those individuals who have jobs and earn certain levels of income, and pumped billions into the health and education sectors.
But there have always been concerns whether the huge budget allocations for education were improving teaching standards, for instance.
And now for the past three years we see that Government has been going on an unprecedented spending spree in a desperate effort the create jobs.
On Wednesday, we were informed about a grand plan to create over 100 000 jobs within the next three years but there were hardly any details as to how this will be realised.
Also puzzling is why, if it is such an easy thing to do, it took so long to come up with the plan.
Job opportunities, whether self-created or generated for others, is what counts most.
The revolution which we see playing out in north Africa and which seems to be spilling over to the southern parts lately, started in Tunisia with a government overthrow sparked off by the treatment of an illegal hawker.
An official reportedly slapped a young man, Mohamed Bouazizi, and tossed aside the fruits and vegetables he was selling on the street. It was the last straw - he set himself alight outside a government building. This act set off protests by unemployed youth that brought down Tunisia’s dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
You don’t play with people’s bread and butter!
For the last 21 years, Swapo’s record on addressing unemployment has been woeful if you look at it in the context of the resources we have and the size of the population. If the statistics revealed by the Labour Ministry last year are true (51 per cent), it is in fact calamitous.
Yet, and with breathtaking disregard for reality and pitiless contempt for the plight of the unemployed, we seem to push and pull self-employed people like hawkers around towns and cities.
I get the impression that too many senior politicians seem to occupy two distinctly different worlds.
In the real world they are rich and privileged, being driven around, getting travel allowances (which enables them sometimes not even to touch their monthly salaries) and living in posh areas. In the imaginary world they are either villagers who pound mahangu during weekends or working class (comrade) heroes.
In the real world, Namibia’s poverty and unemployment rate is high and can be solved by taking bold decisions. In the imaginary world, all our problems can be politicised and shouted down with party slogans.
Although Minister Kuugongelwa-Amadhila’s grand plan for jobs is to be applauded, one hopes it is not in the same league of ‘houses from heaven’.
The citizenry won’t have the patience to wait another 21 years.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rape Of Our Women: The Great Shame

OF late we fight corruption, terrorism and racism almost all the time through workshops, media briefings and public demonstrations. But we seem to ignore one of the most barbaric forms of atrocity in Namibia – the rape, brutalisation and killing of women.

This week the media carried reports of two significant cases of the rape of two youthful women at Otjozondu near Okahandja and Ntara near Rundu respectively.
The communities’ reaction to the two events were as far apart as the east is from the west.
While at Otjozondu the community stood up to show their anger at the alleged rape of a teacher, the villagers of Ntara, including the parents of the victim and alleged culprits, protested the fact that a teacher had reported the gang-rape of a 14-year-old girl by nine boys to the Police.
The parents wanted the issue settled through the Ukwangali traditional court where the culprits’ parents would have compensated the other party with money or cattle.
Firstly, these two cases are just the tip of the iceberg.
Many rape cases remain unreported while the Police, especially in the Khomas Region, have imposed a blackout on crime reports to the media.
Also, since many of the unreported cases are dealt with at traditional authority level, hardly anyone else would know about the injustice against the victims who receive no counselling, for instance, while their relatives smile all the way to the bank!
I agree with Education Minister Dr Abraham Iyambo that everyone associated with the demonstration and threats to break classroom windows at the Ntara Combined School were “sick”.
Although the boys have not been found guilty by a court of law yet, the fact that their parents were willing to negotiate for compensation, in a way, indicates admission of guilt and the boys, aged between 14 and 17, who gang-raped the girl at a cattle crush pen as she was walking home from a funeral need to be firmly dealt with by the parents.
It is a fact that many convicted criminals start with ‘little’ crimes such as stealing something at home or at neighbours’ homes before the severity of their offences increases.
It is also true that if a case is not reported to the Police, such a culprit will continue to commit similar or other crimes. They feel protected by their relatives and the society they live in!
The law permits a minimum sentence of five years for rape. It also states that, if you are involved in gang-rape, you can be sentenced to another minimum five years for helping the co-accused.
The result is the nine boys risked being convicted on nine counts for a minimum of five years – the total being 45 years each.
It is clear that the parents of the boys realised the gravity of the crime and wanted to avoid such a sentence at all costs, but how can the relatives of the victim support a demonstration against the person who reported the matter to the Police when we are supposed to be waging a war against the rape and murder of women? How could they remain indifferent to the suffering of their 14-year-old daughter?
I am happy that Minister Iyambo did not remain quiet about the matter. If anything, he should order the suspension of the boys from school and an investigation into the matter.
The case clearly offers a window into the everyday corruption and injustice endured by many rural-based rape victims in Namibia.
I also hope that the powers of the traditional authorities in dealing with serious crimes such as rape would be reviewed.
If not, families should have the liberty to also charge the suspects criminally apart from receiving compensation at traditional level.
If the families fail, the State, as the laws permit, has the right to charge them.
The rape and violence against our women has already brought great enough shame on the country.