6 December 2012

Namibia: Strike Leaders Guilty of Contempt

THE statements with which trade unionist Evilastus Kaaronda encouraged the continuation of last month’s strike by teachers, in defiance of a court order against the strike, were “irresponsible and reckless in the extreme”, a judge commented in the Labour Court in Windhoek yesterday.

The statements uttered by Kaaronda at such a volatile time cannot be allowed in a free society like Namibia and in a country guided by the ideals of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, Acting Judge Collins Parker said in a judgement in which he held Kaaronda and other leading figures in the teachers’ strike in contempt of court for defying a court order that should have ended the strike on November 2.

Acting Judge Parker found that Kaaronda made himself guilty of contempt of court by publicly encouraging other civil servants to join the teachers’ strike, after Judge Kato van Niekerk had granted an interdict on November 2 in which the teachers were restrained from unlawfully engaging in any strike.

Kaaronda incited the striking teachers to disobey the court order, Acting Judge Parker found.

The judge also held the president of the Teachers Union of Namibia, Mahongora Kavihuha, and Dankie Katjiuanjo, Josef Katjingisiua, and Elfrieda Mwagbo, who were claimed to have been the prime movers behind the strike by hundreds of teachers, in contempt of court.

The minister of education asked the court to grant the November 2 interdict after teachers in the Khomas Region, demanding salary increases, embarked on an illegal strike on October 29. Teachers in other parts of the country soon joined the strike, which still continued for about a week after the interdict had been issued.

When the strike continued in spite of the court order against it, the education minister and Government returned to court on November 9 to ask that the strike leaders and Kaaronda should be found guilty of contempt of court.

The next stage in the legal proceedings against Kaaronda, Kavihuha, Katjiuanjo, Mwagbo and Katjingisiua is scheduled for January 17, when Acting Judge Parker is due to hear evidence and arguments before he would have to decide what sentence to impose on the five respondents.

Government and the education minister have asked the court to hold the respondents in contempt, and then to impose a period of imprisonment or a fine on them. This sentence could be suspended on condition that they adhere to the November 2 order, it has also been suggested.

Given that Kaaronda was not part of the legal proceedings in the Labour Court when the November 2 interdict was granted, he was no more bound to that order than any other member of the public, Acting Judge Parker said in his judgement.

“But he is bound, like other members of the public, not to interfere with, and not to obstruct, the course of justice,” the judge added.

“The evidence is that (Kaaronda) openly and in public uttered words that were aimed at inciting the parties to the 2 November 2012 order to disobey that court order,” he stated. “He did not stop there; he incited them to disobey the court order so that their interdicted strike would form part of a wider strike action he incited public servants to embark on so as to cripple the government.”

The judge also stated: “It is trite that an order of the court must be obeyed and could not be set at naught and disobeyed by any member of the public by inciting those against whom the order is made to disobey the order.”

Acting Judge Parker further said that he agreed with lawyer Sisa Namandje, who represented the government and the education minister, that when Kaaronda called on other public servants to join the teachers’ strike he “with respect, behaved like a loose cannon – and a dangerous one at that, I should add”.

Kaaronda was removed from his post as secretary general of the National Union of Namibian Workers in the same week that the strike started.

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