Namibia: Stop the False Promises

PRIME MINISTER SAARA Kuugongelwa-Amadhila would have us believe that the perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence and child abusers have finally met their match.

Kuugongelwa-Amadhila listed an array of promises in parliament this week after ongoing protests against sexual violence exposed a penchant of the police to resort to violence.

Tear gas was hurled at the mainly young demonstrators as they pressed for action on the scourge of women and child abuse; young women were manhandled as they protested against just that, the various manifestations of manhandling they face.

To add insult to injury, the prime minister did not condemn the cowardly abuse of power by the police.

The government's response comes as a flurry of politicians are criss-crossing Namibia, each promising to fix whatever is broken. They swear that this time it's for real, that deliverance is nigh.

Namibians would be well advised to wake up and realise it's election season, that time when politicians behave like they're superhumans.

It will take more than promises to dislodge sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), which has all but become embedded in our national psyche. What has been an ongoing national crisis for well over 20 years is now a daily crisis for too many women. Sadly, promises by politicians to put an end to the murders and violence have moved in tandem with the increase in cases.

Easy political promises no longer cut it. Intent needs to be matched by action. Now.

We can't wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow will never come for some.

We need an approach that is both proactive and reactive.

In terms of specifics outlined by the prime minister, deadlines must be set. Officials who drag their feet or fail to implement plans must be sanctioned. They must shape up or ship out.

A proactive approach should be on the scale used to tackle pandemics such as HIV-AIDS or Covid-19.

In addition to instituting tough jail terms, sex offender registers, and enlisting more police officers, our leaders need to move swiftly to outline the hard but systematic psychological work needed to change cultural norms.

Mass mobilisation at every level is needed. It will take commitment, unflagging hard work and a sense of urgency. There is no quick fix.

At the same time, how can our security forces be counted on to help root out SGBV when they use violence against women protesting SGBV?

How can police officers claim they were triggered by a woman protester who allegedly shouted profanities like "f*ck you, jou p**s" and the playing of a song with crude lyrics?

It's not good enough. They need to lead by example.

Public protests must be allowed to take place spontaneously. It is not acceptable for police inspector general Sebastian Ndeitunga to argue that the SGBV demonstration was unprocedural and to classify it as "anarchy and lawlessness".

It is one thing for the police to step in if a protest gets out of hand and threatens the rights of others. But to stop a protest because the organisers did not seek permission in terms of a dated law indicates a society that does not tolerate free expression.

In fact, it is shameful that independent Namibia still relies on an apartheid law like AG 23 as its Public Gatherings Proclamation.

The colonial law prohibits public protests unless notice is given "in writing to the commander of the police station", where the gathering will take place, no fewer than "three days in advance".

This does not meet the Namibian Constitution's guarantees on human rights. Our lawmakers must scrap archaic laws and practices that infringe on freedom of speech and expression.

One of the slogans notably chanted by the young protesters was "you f*ck*d with the wrong generation".

It was political philosopher Frantz Fanon who said "each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it".

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