New Era (Windhoek)

1 February 2013

Namibia: 'Exile Kids Are War Veterans Too'

Photo: IRIN
File photo of street children in Zambia.

interview

Windhoek — For some time now the children of liberation struggle veterans born in exile and who are also referred to as 'struggle kids' or 'exile kids', have been demonstrating, or occupying the offices of the ruling party or government buildings sporadically to demand jobs from the government. Initially government offered to provide them with skill-based training, an offer they have rejected. Last year former Prime Minister Nahas Angula directed all ministries to offer them entry-level non-skilled positions in government and some have been employed through this process.

Others are still agitating for jobs, as witnessed by the most recent march to Windhoek by about 200 'struggle kids' who are reported to have reached the outskirts of the district of Windhoek. They are demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Dr Hage Geingob. The Prime Minister has told them to return to where they come from and to appoint representatives to take up their grievances with the relevant authorities.

New Era's Paulus Paulus (NE) engaged Rauna Amutati (RA), the secretary general of the Namibia Exile Kids Association (NEKA) to shed some light on the issues the struggle kids are grappling with.

What makes the children born in exile so special, above other Namibian children, that government should bear the exclusive responsibility of caring for them?

"Everybody is special in their own way. I feel exile kids are special in the sense that most of them did not get the same benefit as others, because of the circumstances under which they lived in exile. The Swapo government is responsible for the children of the struggle, in the same way that it is responsible for the living veterans of the liberation struggle."

Their main demand is for jobs, yet they have rejected offers of training to acquire skills that could have prepared them for employment opportunities? Considering that many of them are still young enough to undergo training, why have they rejected the training offer?

"What is young enough? The desperation of these children (sic) is to get jobs and feed their offspring. Training is not a problem, but it comes with many things. You must first satisfy the basic needs of food, shelter and transport while attending training. Who will cater for those needs?

"You also have to remember that training at a vocational centre or the Polytechnic comes at a cost. If the state really wanted to train people, why did it not do that earlier? If it is clearly stated in the Swapo manifesto of 1989, that training will be provided to the youth of Namibia, why is this coming only now, 23 years after that document was crafted?

"And why now at a time when people's needs are different? These are some of the fundamental questions that we need to ask ourselves. Do you think it is fair to keep people waiting for that long whilst others, whose parents survived the war, shower in luxury?"

Is the inflexible demand for jobs justifiable?

"It is justifiable because these kids' parents died while fighting for the liberation of this country, from which many people are now reaping the fruits, which stem from the sacrifices of those who died fighting. It is also justifiable, because if the Ministry of Veterans Affairs can reward living veterans and their post-independence children, then clearly it is only fair that you not only reward, but take care of the children of the veterans who will never claim anything from the state. Then we can sing as loud as we want about the heroes and heroines who died for this country."

In your opinion the struggle kids have not received the treatment they deserve, especially with regard to the many encounters with the police and other government officials. Please explain?

"It is really unfair for the police to treat these kids the way they did and I know that they receive instructions from the structures in the government, which I feel is against our constitution. No revolution came about easily and such is life. But because these people have determination, the police can keep kicking and pushing until the break of dawn. If the dead could come back, many comrades would die again over the way their children are being treated by the same forces that they have helped establish. It is a sad thing to even think about."

How many struggle kids are on the database, and how many are employed?

"There are about 10 000 struggle kids in the database and only approximately 40 percent have been employed."

Some struggle kids have alleged foul play and nepotism in the recruitment process, is this fair and credible criticism?

"It happened before there were procedures and processes on how to recruit these kids. Previously, in the 2009/2010 financial year the Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture simply sent out names to various ministries for recruitment. There was no verification of the names sent and of those recruited and you would be surprised that many of the people recruited were not from the list of the ministry of youth. But now there is a committee, which was formed by Office of the Prime Minister to do the recruitment, which is more accountable and transparent."

Having met most of these kids, how would you assess their situation and their general living conditions?

"I must tell you that these people are in a very poor and vulnerable situation, some parents even call me crying, because they do not know what to do with their brothers and sisters' children, whose parents died a long time ago."

Any other concluding thoughts on the issue?

"I would like to inform all exile kids and vulnerable children that our committee is committed to helping everyone where we can, and that we are not only recruiting those that are camping, but also from outside the camp. As difficult as it is, it is imperative that we maintain peace and stability. NEKA's responsibility is to ensure that all the children of the struggle have an opportunity in their lifetime.

"Allow me also to add that NEKA is proud to announce that the four scholarships given to NEKA some three years ago by the International University of Management were well utilised. All our four students will graduate this year. We wish them the best of luck in their pursuit of economic freedom. I urge the government to continue supporting the committee that has truly made an impact in many of the lives of the faceless struggle kids."

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File photo of street children in Zambia.

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