23 January 2013

Namibia: Strike Leaders to Be Sentenced for Contempt

THE leading figures behind a strike by hundreds of teachers that disrupted Namibian schools in early November last year are due to be sentenced for contempt of court today.

Acting Judge Collins Parker heard arguments on the sentences to be handed to the strike leaders in the Labour Court in Windhoek yesterday.

Lawyer Sisa Namandje, representing Government and the minister of education, argued that the aggravating circumstances in the case outweighed mitigating factors, and asked the judge to impose "a serious and appropriate sentence" on the strike leaders.

Steve Rukoro, representing the five, argued that they were "ordinary citizens of this country" who had been moved to demonstrate their grievances about a bread and butter issue, being teachers' salaries. They never insulted or threatened the judiciary, or called it names, Rukoro said, asking the court to show clemency to his clients.

In a ruling given on December 5, Acting Judge Parker held the president of the Teachers Union of Namibia, Mahongora Kavihuha, trade unionist Evilastus Kaaronda, and teachers Dankie Katjiuanjo, Josef Katjingisiua, and Elfrieda Mwagbo, who were claimed to have been the prime movers behind the strike, in contempt of court.

Kaaronda was held in contempt of court for having publicly encouraged other civil servants to join the teachers' strike and to cripple Government after an interdict in which the teachers were restrained from unlawfully engaging in any strike had been issued in the Labour Court on November 2.

Acting Judge Parker also found that Kavihuha, Katjiuanjo, Katjingisiua and Mwagbo had disobeyed the court order of November 2, and thus were guilty of contempt of court.

The minister of education asked the court to grant the interdict against the strike 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.

Kaaronda, Kavihuha, Katjiuanjo and Mwagbo did not testify in person yesterday. Affidavits in which they tendered their apologies to the court and undertook not to again do anything that might amount to contempt of court, were submitted to the judge, though.

In her affidavit Mwagbo stated that she had actually returned to work immediately after the November 2 court order had been issued.

Each of the five stated that he or she "from the bottom of my heart tender my sincere apology" to the court.

Katjiuanjo and Katjingisiua, who are also members of the Interim Khomas Teachers Strategic Committee, which played a leading role in the strike, stated that to show their respect for the rule of law the strike leadership had urged teachers to return to work and to abide by the outcome of the salary negotiations which were in progress at the time.

For his part, Kaaronda stated in his affidavit: "I remember vividly when our courts were used by the colonial masters as tools of subjugation and how we fought to bring about the current dispensation based on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary and thus never had the intention to undermine the rule of law."

He added that he addressed the striking teachers on November 5 "to simply show my solidarity and sympathy for their cause".

Kaaronda also stated: "As a trade unionist myself I could fully appreciate the abject poverty that our teachers were living under and could simply not be indifferent. This was a mass meeting where emotions were running high especially in light of the provocative attitude unjustifiably adopted by the (minister of education and Government) but I never intended to show any disrespect to this honourable court."

Namandje was not moved by the apologies and professions of respect for the court. He argued that the five were now putting on a show, trying to portray themselves as law-abiding citizens of the country, after they had publicly stated that they would not be backing down in the face of the court's interdict and that they were ready for whatever would be coming their way.

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