Namibia: Erongo Governor in 'Racism' Storm

15 September 2020

Erongo governor Neville Andre is being sued by Sonja Olivier, president of the Namibia Gymnastics Federation, for alleged racist remarks he made over a year ago.

Andre serves as the deputy president of the federation. The two were both appointed in these positions in February 2019.

The Namibian has seen court documents in which Olivier is demanding N$100 000 from Andre.

Narrating events that led to the lawsuit in an email exchange on 11 July 2020, Andre accused Olivier of wanting him out of the executive committee of the federation "because he is black".

The communication, included in court papers, was about an executive committee meeting which Andre was to attend as an observer and not deputy president.

According to Olivier, Andre had forfeited his position as deputy president as he had missed two consecutive meetings.

"I have never missed any exco meeting that was lawful, and I have always given an apology when I am not able to attend a meeting. I have observed unfair treatment of myself on the issues that are lawful, but you have ignored," Andre said.

He added: "To me it is clear that you want me out of the exco because I am black and you have a serious issue against me being deputy president."

According to court papers Olivier responded by saying Andre should provide her with an apology by not later than the afternoon of 12 July 2019. "I refer to your email below and specifically to the portion thereof reading: To me it is clear that you want me out of the exco because I am black," Olivier said.

"I expect you to provide me with a written and unqualified apology, by no later than 13h00 tomorrow afternoon, 12 July 2019, published also to those who were copied in your email, failing which appropriate legal action will be instituted against you without further notice," she said.

Andre, who refused to provide an apology, according to the documents allegedly threatened Olivier that if she was to start a battle with him, he "will make it worse and will not stop".

"Sonja, I am not moved by your statement and you can go ahead. I do not know you and you do not know me at all and if you want to start a battle with me, I will make it worse and I will not stop. Will be waiting," Andre's response to rendering an apology reads.

Olivier is represented by Du Pisani legal practitioners while lawyer Sisa Namandje represents Andre.

Olivier claims the said words are defaming her, in that they are meant to be understood and were in fact understood by readers to mean that she is a racist.

Andre was appointed as the new Erongo governor in April this year, replacing Cleophas Mutjavikua, whose term ended.

Prior to that, Andre served as personal assistant to the secretary to Cabinet, George Simataa.

Andre's heads of argument filed by Namandje last week Friday raises three defences: That the context of the mail was not defamatory, that the content of the mail constitutes fair comment, and that the mail content is protected by qualified privilege. Olivier yesterday said Andre's comments remain hurtful until today.

"He intended to cause me harm. Some of the email recipients he had sent the message to are not part of the federation. He does not even know one of the email addressees he entered.

"I am justified by my actions to sue. The words are extremely hurtful. He refused to apologise. He refused to acknowledge that he has done something wrong. My name and dignity are tarnished," Olivier said.

Andre yesterday declined to comment. "The matter is still with the court and I will not comment anything," he said.

Judgement is expected to be delivered by judge Orben Sibeya in the Windhoek High Court on 19 November.

The federation was put under administration by the Namibia Sports Commission in August due to infighting.

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