12 February 2013

Namibia: 'The List' Is in the Past


THE melodrama of the past week was 'the list'. As we write this morning, we are still none the wiser whether the list is a phantom or whether it, in fact, exists. But the mere suggestion of 'the list' engendered some angst, frantic denial, pandemonium and reams of posts on social media last week threatening to upstage the solemn memorial events of the home-going of the mensch Abraham Iyambo.

It brought out the worst in Namibians with the few voices of the sane being easily drowned out by the philistines. Those who considered the sexual choices of 'the other' on 'the list' as disagreeable, thumped the Bible, the laws of the country and 'culture' as shields in their armour. They were adamant that the sexual preferences of those on 'the list' (where is the list, anyway?) stripped them of their constitutional rights as well as the protection of our laws. They are, consequently, fair game for burning on the stake, or so they argued.

It is Chapter III of our Constitution which defines the scope and limits of the rights of Namibians and residents of our country. Specifically, Article 10 which deals with 'Equality and Freedom from Discrimination' states unequivocally:

"(1) All persons shall be equal before the law"

"(2) No persons may be discriminated against on the grounds of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status."

These rights are absolute and universal in their application and the very idea of our Constitution is to create a pluralist democracy whose strength is derived from its diversity. It is clear then that our Constitution does not permit discrimination of any sort and that the courts are obligated to uphold the same scrupulously. The consequence of this is that crusaders against those on 'the list' and similar other life choices are bound to collide head-on with the law.

Would they, we wonder, pursue agnostics and/or non-believers with the same primeval fever? The world has witnessed too many persecutions of minorities of all description and enlightened constitutions, such as ours, are informed by this history. It is fascinating and absurd to observe that the type of persons who are crusaders against 'the list' are the same pseudo-revolutionaries who profess to have little time for alien values and mores.

But someone needs to wake them to the 21th century realities that the European church, in whose name they fulminate, has long embarked on the road to ordain church leaders of all sexual preferences. As for the sword of tradition and culture, it helps little to be unscientific and ahistorical in these matters, as Ruth First has taught us. And that was, indeed, the essence of the useful debate recently generated by harking back to Olufuko, for example. Of course, the world has moved on and our culture, traditions and values are bound to change as a consequence of influences from both within and without. The point is that we can no longer burn people at the stake. The point is, we no longer live in the cave.

However, rights granted in our Constitution will be trampled should we fail to live up to them or rise in their defence in the event of selective application. To be sure, the citizens and their civic organisations constitute the first line of line of defence of these rights, supported by their elected representatives. And it is the relative inaction of citizen education around rights issues which are exploited by the advocates of reactionary agendas.

It must also be the responsibility of state agencies such as the ombudsman to be out there educating and informing on the values intrinsic to our Constitution. It is, of course, axiomatic that a law stands on our statute books in contradiction to the rights granted by the Constitution. So perhaps the time has come to test whether some archaic laws on our statute will pass the constitutional muster.

The lesson from elsewhere is that diverse societies, such as ours, prosper by recognising this diversity as a strength. The converse is also true namely that those who sought to herd their societies in the direction of numbing uniformity are the poorer as a result thereof.

As we build this nascent nation, we would be wise not to smother its vitality by adopting social mores similar to McCarthyism , which are bound to ostracise some and deny us the contribution of all our citizens. Of course, it was always fallacious and unfortunate to seek to denigrate a section of the citizens as less than beasts on the basis of sexual preferences. It is possible to get out of others' bedrooms and still create a prosperous and progressive society. We need not copy the Immorality Act of our erstwhile tormenters.

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