Yesterday marked Constitution Day – the day dedicated to that document that we all cherish and love, yet know little about for we have not internalised its content and real meaning to our lives. The Namibian constitution is a product of blood but also love for one another and our country. We fought for it from opposing sides, including fighting each other. When the elected 72 members of the Constituent Assembly met in 1990 for the first time to chart the way forward for our country, little did they know that they were destined to make history. They were highly suspicious and mistrustful of each other. Although some knew each other personally, many did not. Politically, they were real strangers, having been on opposing sides for so long during a bitter and highly contested political and military struggle. Some only knew each other through the media. Those in the know say it took Hage Geingob’s charm and humour to make things happen. When the time came for the pack to sit down together, they began to realise how close and yet politically different they were. All this because of Geingob’s charm, their chairman from the Swapo party who everybody began to like. He became the thread that bound them together, the thread that made them stick together for the sake of their country. And within 80 days, the job was done, well done. The team closed the chapter of colonialism and oppression forever. Our country is now free forever and thanks to the constitution, a nation was born out of the many diverse cultures that make up Namibia today. Although we are no experts on constitution making, ours has been hailed as one of the best constitutions in the world. It offers and guarantees freedoms and the protection of fundamental rights. In some ways, our constitution is unique. It was produced by Namibians for Namibia. Though the enshrining of a Bill of Rights as an element for curtailing the power of the state over citizens has a relatively long history, it is a new idea in Africa. Subsequent to Namibia’s including the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, most countries in Africa that made transition to democracy over the last decade, including neighbouring South Africa incorporated some form of Bill of Rights in their new constitutions. In the case of Namibia, impetus for the inclusion of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution came from the Constitutional Principles. Furthermore, recognising the fact that the United Nations played a very important role in our liberation struggle, it would have been ironic for the new state not to value the provision of human rights – as these were the very principles Namibians had fought for. In fact, the basic rights and freedoms in the Namibian constitution are largely but not exclusively derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even if these outside influences were not there, and the constitution did not enshrine human rights provisions, Namibia would most certainly have become signatory to the two conventions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as it did shortly after independence. In 1992, Namibia also ratified the OAU’s African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. However, Geingob and his colleagues felt so strongly about human rights that they embraced them in the supreme document. Most admirably, our constitution contains a clause to the effect that no repeal or amendment of any of the provisions of Chapter 3 shall be permissible. The various political parties had very different purposes for seeing the enshrining of the Bill of Rights. For instance, Swapo was concerned with ensuring that apartheid did not re-emerge and that adequate provision existed to reverse the wrongs of apartheid. It therefore argued in favour of Article 23 that deals with apartheid and affirmative action. The DTA on the other hand strove to ensure that property acquired by the previously advantaged was protected against appropriation. The formulation of this remarkable document was a give-and-take affair that resulted in general consensus on crucial issues related to our nation. We indeed commend the founding fathers and mothers of the Namibian nation for their genuine efforts to build a reconciled society out of ethnically and racially stratified, diverse and previously antagonistic groups, and promote democracy and reconciliation to improve the lives of Namibians. Our constitution is an affirmation of our desire for good governance and the upholding of human rights.
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