23 November 2012

Namibia: Mind Your Language


"RADOPA and other cockroaches have once again failed in the Supreme Court where they falsely claimed that the 2010 election was rigged and tried to have the outcome of that election declared null and void."

These words were reportedly said by Jerry Ekandjo, the minister of local government who wants to be Namibia's next president. His fellow citizens and people he wants to rule are cockroaches? We hope Ekandjo has realised by now that he overstepped the bounds of civil discourse and entered the realm of hate speech. If he does not understand or accept this fact then Namibia is looking at a potential president who is likely to be divisive.

President Hifikepunye Pohamba has used similar inflammatory terms, calling erstwhile comrades 'Judas Iscariots', in other words, devils. Founding President Sam Nujoma has referred to homosexuals and others he did not approve of as 'worse than dogs', and he too was not sparing in his insults. That kind of politicking should be confined to the past.

Politicians, especially when drunk on power, tend to forget the weight of responsibility that comes with high office. They fail to appreciate the symbolism of their behaviour and often appear to leave their mouths ajar, simply to let the words escape without thought or consequence.

Ironically, often in the same breath, as Ekandjo demonstrated two Sundays ago at Eenhana in the Ohangwena Region, such leaders then call for 'unity of purpose', love and mutual respect as foundations for nation-building. It would be funny if it were not so dangerous.

The tinderbox of the Rwandan genocide between April and July 1994, when 800 000 to one million people were killed by fellow citizens was rooted in the psychology of dehumanising one another. We should learn from the mistakes of others, especially when they are so costly.

Ekandjo correctly pleaded for unity and was right in appealing to Namibian men to stop killing women. But he must realise that people who think nothing about wasting another person's life is because they see objects, even more so when they are termed "cockroaches" and devils that must be crushed.

Many politicians behave as if their jobs gives them carte blanche to demonise and dehumanise others; as if everything and anyone is fair game and that the end justifies the means. With this kind of behaviour they are sowing seeds of destruction.

Leaders ought to exercise a high level of civility, responsibility and professional decorum as opposed to adopting a devil-may-care attitude.

Nothing stops them from making a spirited attack on political opponents. But there is a way of doing and saying things without instigating hate and virulent contempt among fellow citizens.

It is about time leaders, especially at such a high level, deliberately begin to introduce a language of mutual respect and tolerance.

We can start with simple steps. Professional interpreters can help design the right terms in our disparate vernaculars in order to build this nascent democracy – for instance the term opposition party should be seen more as an alternative party rather than the derogatory entities which minority parties are current viewed as, particularly in our ethnic languages.

The DTA was a pro-apartheid creation, and there may have been justification in lumping them with the colonial evil. But times have changed and the DTA should now be viewed as partners in building our nation, however much sinister their past was.

Similarly, people vying for office in the same party or in opposing parties are not political enemies, they are competitors with the broad aim of prosperity for all of Namibia.

There can be no winners in seeing one another as obstacles that must be obliterated from the face of Namibia. And those who should be setting the example more than most are those who would be president.

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