16 July 2012

Namibia: Of Shebeens and Struggle Kids


The issues of shebeens and Namibian children born in exile have become the subjects of intense debate in Namibia and have exposed gaping knowledge gaps on the two emotive phenomena.

Shebeens have become controversial and going by what has appeared in the mass media, community perceptions on them are at best conflicting. On one side are the shebeen queens and shebeen kings who are convinced that they are a viable and indispensable economic industry.

They see shebeens as a form of employment. There are some people who actually depend on shebeens for their livelihoods. On the other side are people who are adamant that shebeens are a social evil being promoted by people who operate them as a pastime or to generate additional income, sometimes out of an insatiable desire for money.

The bottom line is that this is a socio-economic issue, which is insufficiently researched to identify it in its entirety. There is a need to understand why shebeens mushroomed in Namibia in the first place. Who are the beneficiaries? What is the financial implication of the shebeens; what is their turnover? What sort of things do they sell? Where are they located? What is the social impact of the shebeens, which may have triggered the kneejerk response that we have witnessed recently?

Are they REALLY promoting social ills like alcoholism, shambolic sexual behaviour or domestic violence? Is the man who gets drunk from beer bought and consumed at a shebeen more likely to kick his spouse than the one who gets roaring drunk on beer bought and consumed in a five-star hotel?

Are shebeens REALLY interfering with the enjoyment of life for the people who live where they are located? It is my considered view that these and other questions and many others need to be sufficiently explored before we can determine the way forward with shebeens. I know anecdotally that there are between 5 000 and 6 000 shebeens - the overwhelming majority of them operating illegally - in Windhoek alone.

However, I am clueless as to how many people depend on them for their livelihoods throughout Namibia. Does anybody know what harm will come to those running them, their dependants and society in general if they are closed down?

Filling up the many gaping knowledge gaps around shebeens before formulating, implementing or modifying related policies appears to me like a rational approach. I doubt that shebeens - which are like mushrooms and can sprout again - can be wished away or exterminated through police action. There is need for a thorough study on the life of shebeens and their impact on society.

That aside, there needs to be sufficient information on the legality and constitutionality of shebeens. Whatever we do, it is advisable to be guided by the constitution, which is the supreme law of the land. Everything else is subject to it. Therefore, one has to ask the question: to what extent are the owners of shebeens merely exercising their right to economic equity and access? Are they justified?

Can one perform an illegal action in pursuit of one's constitutional rights? My view is that ultimately, one's right to constitutional recourse ends where one interferes with the rights of others or commits a criminal offence. Food for thought for the country's legal scholars! So far we seem to have dealt with the symptoms, not the causes of shebeens.

Another spirited debate that has captured the imagination of the nation revolves around Namibians born in exile during the war of liberation.

This group is now commonly referred to as the 'struggle kids'. Its members have been picketing at the Swapo headquarters from where there have issued demands for preferential treatment to the government.

It has been a long drawn-out tussle, dramatized by skirmishes between the 'kids' and the police. The government says it is doing its best for all Namibians. The 'kids' want jobs now. Prime Minister Nahas Angula has met with representatives of the 'struggle kids' and enjoined the 'kids' - the youngest of them would be aged at least 22 years old if born before independence in 1990 - to grow up and acquire skills.

That is my entry point on the issue. In this day and age one needs relevant skills to survive. In the past, one would get a piece of land from one's parents and be taught to hunt. Today the source of skills is generally education. To that extent, the Prime Minister is right.

My understanding is that the government has put up a programme in place to help exile children and help them gain skills. Perhaps the time has come to evaluate the level of uptake of that programme by the intended beneficiaries with a view to improving it.

However, as much as one may try to acquire skills, seeing graduates from other tertiary and other training institutions stuck in the ranks of the unemployed may be a deterrent or discouragement.

Clearly, skills alone are not a panacea. In addition to skills one needs capital and opportunities. Are the struggle kids asking for handouts or opportunities and jobs? My view is that those of them asking for opportunities seem to have a legitimate request, not so much because they were born in exile, but because every citizen has the right to ask for a job or opportunities. In Europe now, government leaders are having sleepless nights because people want jobs.

The challenge for Namibia's 'struggle kids' seems to be to prove that being in exile deprived them of the opportunity to reach their full potential. In some countries that have come out of wars of liberation, interested international players have made noise about the whereabouts of exile children, prompting some newly independent countries to bring the children home.

In some cases children who had been studying abroad were plucked out of school, only to realize an arrival home that they could not continue for a plethora of reasons. That disruption of life can, in my humble view, constitute legitimate or reasonable grounds for assistance or even compensation.

In some countries including Namibia and Zimbabwe, war veterans were given payouts. What was the rationale? Precedence was set. The question that needs to be asked and answered is: why are these 'kids' making these demands at this stage? There must be many other struggle kids who are employed and living well. These ones are not. They need to be listened to, together with many other Namibians in need. Piecemeal solutions may not be the best to deal with issues of access and equity. I submit that there is need to open up opportunities for every citizen, particularly the youth.

Having said this, the fundamental issue is that society must invest in social order. Today we are discussing the 'struggle kids'.

There is need for descriptive and predictive research to ensure that the numbers of people in need and the momentum of their demands do not swell and burst unnoticed. It is, therefore, in the interest of all nations to work on workable, long-term strategies.

I am not suggesting that citizens must just sit back and wait for government to do everything for them. Individual citizens also have a role to play. As an individual it is your obligation to strive to improve your lot. That is your primary responsibility. However, while that is true, citizens cannot just be left to struggle on their own. Even in the most developed economies, governments still go to the rescue of those of their citizens in distress.

It is about time that we consider social safety nets in Africa to help the have-nots, short of giving people unemployment benefits.

In some countries people above 60 years of age like pensioners get cash handouts from the state. Why should it be a big deal to design programmes to help unemployed and restless youths? Everyone must get relief whatever their condition. Social safety nets are unavoidable even in developed economies.

There will always be some proportion of the population that - not out of cussedness, laziness or lack of brainpower - may not have a legitimate means of livelihood. They need to be helped. The alternative is worse; they will turn to crime.

Given growing unemployment, how about large-scale investments in infrastructural development to create jobs? Are there jobs for people who lack formal education?

Having said all this, it is a stubborn fact that different people experience deprivation differently, hence the need for specific, evidence-based policies to address their unique circumstances. Take the 'struggle kids' for example. From a distance they seem like a homogenous group with similar challenges and needs. That is not the case. Some of those 'kids' are now parents. Their needs are different from those of their contemporaries who are single. It may be better to deal with them on a case-by-case basis because there is nothing more unequal than treating unequals equally.

 - Moses Magadza is a postgraduate student in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. He writes in his personal capacity.

Copyright © 2012 New Era. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.