19 February 2014

Namibia: War On Women

Photo: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
Sam Nujoma.

analysis

Violence against women and children in Namibia is reaching critical proportions. Of late there have been some particularly horrific incidences of what are unfortunately termed 'passion killings'. The usual public outcry follows each gruesome story. Calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty, a 'national state of emergency' and a return to religious education in schools are but some of the 'solutions' offered for this escalating social evil.

Shocking headlines spelling out the latest horrific attack are an almost weekly occurrence. Most recent was the panga killing of a woman in full view of her five-year-old daughter in Omusati region in northern Namibia. In the Kavango region too, a 63-year-old man was arrested for stabbing a young woman in the chest with a spear. In Katima Mulilo, Zambezi region, a two year-old-girl was raped and killed. Calmly and with an absence of remorse, a 24-year-old man, who was in court for stabbing and then virtually decapitating his girlfriend, admitted he had killed her because she threatened him over a son he had with another woman. And the list of bloody incidents goes on.

There is clearly a moral breakdown in Namibian society. This is manifest not only in the rape and murder of women and children, but also in rising levels of alcohol abuse and corruption. Yet there seems to be little social or political will to tackle the crisis.

While Namibia is said to be 95 per cent Christian, the churches appear to be hopeless and helpless in the face of the breakdown in the country's social fabric - with their voices seldom being heard.

Politicians, on the other hand, are all talk. At the opening of parliament recently, President Hifikepunye Pohamba made gender based violence (GBV) the focus of his speech, recommending that the criminal justice system deal forcefully with perpetrators. "I believe that our society needs to carry out a deep introspection and reflection in order to get to the root cause of such evil and cruel deeds. We need to look at ourselves as a nation and identify the causes of such destructive behaviour that has no respect and no regard for human life."

He also called on parents "to teach our children from a very young age, the values of self-respect and respect for others. We must teach them to be law-abiding citizens with empathy and love for themselves and their fellow human beings. We must teach them that violence is not acceptable."

But concrete proposals are few and far between.

Meanwhile, the National Council Women's Caucus responded to the rising tide of violence by saying that the war against GBV could only be won if religion was reinstated in the education system. And Deputy Speaker Maggie Mensah called on the President to declare a state of emergency due to the recent brutal killings of women and children. "We did it during the drought and it worked. We can also do it in times of gender-based violence and it can work", she said. Quite how this would help was a question she did not answer.

There's also been plenty of righteous condemnation - as if that alone would bring the killings to an end. Labelling such men 'cowards', Prime Minister Have Geingob also called for 'isolation' and 'proper punishment' for men who committed such deeds, adding that men who killed women and young girls were 'sick in their minds'.

But as the SWAPO party chief whip, Peter Katjavivi, said words alone are not enough to stop the killing. He expressed the need to 'revisit' the country's legal system and called on people to ensure "there are no hiding places for such characters". Others have called for the death penalty to be brought back but this is not a viable option as Namibia's inalienable Bill of Rights prohibits its reinstatement.

So as Namibians prepare to go to the polls in this election year, there are no obvious solutions - no clear and effective ways of stemming the tide of rapes and killings. Few seem to doubt that Namibia's moral fabric has been severely torn. How - or indeed whether - it can be repaired are questions for which the nation will have to find real answers soon.

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