The Namibian (Windhoek)

Namibia: Political Perspective

column

IT IS really not my strength anyway, but no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot do the math on this exile/returnee/veterans issue.

I've tried to research in order to try to find out how much of a problem we really have in this regard (because to find solutions we really need to know the extent of the issue we have to tackle) but the figures I turn up bamboozle me time and again, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Even Swapo, I suspect, because they didn't get their lists in order a long time back, can't accurately tell us what the status quo is in this regard.

MY question is about the futility of trying to solve problems such as what to do about veterans, returned exiles and/or struggle children, when we really can't put (accurate) numbers to them.

The one figure we do seem to have, and that too is a contested one, is the 51 percent unemployment statistic, but of course that includes all Namibians in this category, and not just the exile folk, who continue to be the main focus. Unfairly so in my view, but my views are well known on this subject, and it is not the time to discuss it now.

Perhaps I need to start at the beginning, prior to independence, when the UN High Commission for Refugees registered some 43 400 returnees from exile. This number included combatants who were not separately listed as they had been demobilised in Angola prior to their return to Namibia and so returned as 'civilians'. (I think most of the figures I cite are more or less as they were reported at the time).

Shortly after independence there was another registration process where some 32 000 former combatants identified themselves for a payout, and of these 16 080 were verified by a special committee. Later a number of over 24 000 received severance pay as it was known then.

After independence, Namibia's public sector increased by some 50 percent, and it was estimated that this represented about 23 500 new jobs, which mainly went to exiles.

I'm not going to delve into history and everything that has been done for the exile community as a whole since their return to Namibia, including various initiatives to pay out lump sums, free housing, pensions and allowances, creation of various training opportunities through the less than successful Development Brigades, and many others. It is true to say that while they have had more attention than the rest of the population who have their own special needs, the whole process involving returnees over more than two decades has not been handled well and they probably do have some understandable gripes and grievances still today.

Just a glance at the above-mentioned numbers probably shows that a fairly major portion of exiles were taken care of in one way or another. Yet the problem not only persists 22 years later, but is growing bigger by the day. The so-called 'struggle children' continue to multiply, and so do veterans as a group.

At a press conference this week, Minister of Veterans' Affairs Dr Nickey Iyambo revealed that Namibia officially has 24 457 registered war veterans and that since independence, 42 062 veterans had applied for registration. (Remember 43 400 returned from exile so this means that even those thousands who were gainfully employed thereafter are still feeling 'entitled' , or alternatively the bandwagon has grown in leaps and bounds!) Registration processes ad infinitum ... costly processes too. Still no clear distinction between combatants and those who were simply in exile, and as yet no clear figures.

Exile undoubtedly (and not inexplicably) created what might be called a dependency syndrome, which has translated, post-independence, into feelings of entitlement.

The Namibian government is definitely in urgent need of getting its house in order on the returnee question. To do so would inevitably mean they have to put specific figures into the equation and not allow things to spiral out of control again as they have done recently vis-a-vis the 'struggle kids' and even the veterans as a group. Our Constitution supposedly forbids discrimination and so we need to bring an end to it with regard continued favouritism to returnees, once and for all.

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