The assertion by retired Lieutenant General Martin Shalli and Prime Minister Nahas Angula that children born and raised in exile are a "special category of people" and that they are "the true heirs of Namibian independence" has sparked both positive and negative responses from different corners.
Shalli and Angula made the remarks at the first Namibian Exile Kids Association (Neka) congress held in Windhoek last week. At the congress, Shalli called for a distinction to be made between people born in exile and those born in Namibia, saying those born in exile are "a special category of people" and should be treated as such.
The Congress of Democrats (CoD) political party has come out guns blazing, labelling such remarks as "gravely insulting, false and plain nonsense".
Katuutire Kaura of the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) said he shares Shalli's sentiments that these kids are special, but maintained that all Namibian children are the true heirs of Namibian independence.
"The Prime Minister is reported to have spoken this past weekend at the congress of an outfit known as Namibian Exile Kids Association (Neka). The idea of this outfit seems to be to peddle the notion that somehow the nation owes them some gratitude or favour for reasons which are not yet clear. Retired Lieutenant General Martin Shalli, who spoke at this indaba, referred to them as 'a special category of people and should be treated as such'. We reject this rubbish," said CoD secretary general Tsudao Gurirab.
The secretary general of the National Youth Council (NYC), Mandela Kapere, said he doesn't agree with Angula's remarks that those born in exile are the only "true heirs of Namibian independence" and believes that such a remark has the potential to cause unnecessary division in the ruling party.
"I think all of the young people in Namibia are heirs of what we fought for. When we fought, we fought to liberate all Namibians," he said.
Kapere, who described himself as an offspring of the liberation struggle, said although he does not have a problem with those born in exile, it should be noted that there were many Namibians whose parents were inside the country during the liberation struggle who were equally victims of torture and arbitrary arrest.
"I don't have a problem with General Shalli's statement. Yes, the exile children are special, but what does it imply? Does it imply that certain posts within Government should be frozen to be made available only to the exile kids? Do such statements imply that we who were born inside the country during the liberation struggle cannot be heirs?" he said.
Kaura, who said he was in exile himself, said exile kids are special by virtue of having been born in exile where they faced many difficulties at a tender age.
"However, all the born-frees of Namibia are the true heirs of independence," he said.
CoD's Gurirab said it was for this reason that his party finds disappointing and outrageous "the dalliance between Swapo, government and Neka" to advantage a "minute minority" at the expense of the greater number of needy Namibians.
"The truth is that Namibians have been fighting colonialism since it reared its ugly head here in the 1880s. A small minority of Namibians went into exile to prosecute the same struggle by different means under the leadership of Swapo. An even larger and growing number of Swapo members continued to organise, recruit and agitate inside the country, in the beast of the belly, as it were. Their contribution is no less or second class," said Gurirab.
The CoD said it welcomes Neka as a youth organisation which should concentrate on promoting the interests of its members. "Those interests should not be to use false history to sponge off the government. When does one stop being a kid, because even those born in 1989 should now be adults? They should go out and use and benefit from programmes for all youth at the ministries of Youth, Gender and Welfare as well as the NYC," he said.
The CoD further urged the government to "grow up" and to look after the interests of all its citizens.
"The fact that our country's Constitution requires Government not to act like some Mafioso but as a representative of all the people of our country is not rocket science, which even this government should be able to understand," said the CoD.
Speaking in his personal capacity, Jeremiah Nambinga of the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) said that 22 years after independence, we cannot continue to discriminate on the basis of where people were born.
"We must admit as a nation that we have a problem of unemployment in Namibia and we must cater for all the youth, irrespective of where they were born. I don't agree with the remarks that exile kids should be treated special, they are just Namibians like everyone else," he said.