The Namibian (Windhoek)

1 February 2013

Namibia: Political Perspective

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IF WE wish to level the playing field in Namibia, then there should be no such thing as 'struggle credentials' anymore. Most of those who claim to have 'struggled' more than others have already been rewarded in one way or another, and in most cases, more ways than one.

It is an appellation that has become discriminatory in itself over two decades of Namibia's independence. It has often been applied in blanket fashion towards virtually anyone who was in exile, regardless of what they did or didn't do; and more grudgingly been accorded to some of those who remained in what Prime Minister Hage Geingob recently aptly referred to the 'belly of the beast', under the apartheid regime.

AND if we abandoned the 'struggle credentials' as the entitlement it has become, then we could look at currently disadvantaged Namibians, most particularly the youth, in a more equal light.

I say this apropos a number of things, but with particular reference to the dilemma of the so-called 'children of the liberation struggle', a contentious topic which was addressed this week by the prime minister within the context of the more general framework of unemployment.

Reacting to the 'march on Windhoek' and a 'struggle children' demand to meet with the prime minister, Geingob took a fairly firm and moderate stance in his statement.

He said the government was also concerned about the unemployment situation "and its impact on the entire society including the youth, whether they be struggle children (those born and raised in exile) or internal children (who were born and raised in Namibia, in the 'belly of the beast)".

He said the government would 'continue' to address unemployment in a "holistic, systematic and methodical manner because this is the only way which can yield desired outcomes for all Namibians". He informed the 'struggle children' that coercive tactics would not work and emphasised that they and others should engage with the appropriate structures, such as Government's Ministry of Youth, the National Youth Council, or Swapo and its Youth League (SPYL) and finally advised them to return to their places of origin to do so.

Some may call his approach 'tough love', but the fact is that these young adults (for they are clearly not struggle 'children') always manage to get attention somehow, even if it is via a statement from the office of the prime minister attempting to put them in their place. I don't want to say we should ignore the plight of these, or any other unemployed youth, but I'm sorely tempted to do so.

Unfortunately, the fact of 'struggle credentials' has always made some Namibians feel more special, and they've generally been treated as such by government, which now clearly realises that things can't go on this way.

It is also not as though nothing has been done for veterans, war orphans, 'struggle children' or others who were in exile, since independence. They have been favoured with all sorts of privileges that other Namibians have been denied. The risk for government always was the fact that most would come back for more, and that their numbers would multiply until the point where the linkage of many of them to the 'struggle' would be tenuous indeed. It has perhaps already become a case of 'children of the struggle children', and so it will continue until they are at a point when they can get what they want, or more hopefully, are able to fend for themselves.

Patience though, is clearly wearing thin at all levels and we may yet rue the day that we tried to draw a line in the sand between those we felt were entitled to all kinds of benefits, simply because of their association to the struggle, and those whose commitment was more in question because they chose to remain in Namibia.

At least Geingob's statement in referring to those who lived "in the belly of the beast" is some recognition that most of those who lived under apartheid were engaged in the struggle too, but who perhaps can be said to have made an even greater level of sacrifice because they expected little or nothing in return for their convictions.

So when I suggest we put an end to an era of more than two decades where 'struggle credentials' count more than anything else, I believe therein lies a solution to our problems. We have forfeited characteristics which would have helped put our country on its feet: aspects like merit and hard work and skills, professionalism and excellence at all levels, because people did not need these positive attributes to gain recognition, which is the way it should have been.

Most of our leaders have become such not because of their abilities but because of their past contributions. We have lost considerable national impetus through this system of reward for 'struggle credentials'. Let's put them to rest now and make things more equal for all.

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