Prisons We Choose To Live Inside


(With acknowledgement to Doris Lessing’s collection of lectures published under a similar title) By AndrÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚© du Pisani A phenomenon that has characterized many public events, such as Independence and Heroes Day celebrations, is the small attendance of Namibians of European descent at such events. I have been troubled by it and have asked myself why this is so? Are Namibians of European descent behaving like any other minority group would in a political context where the composition of the political decision-makers is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future? Have ‘white Namibians’ resigned themselves to their fate; their inability to influence the direction of national politics? Or are there other explanations, such as the decline of parliamentary opposition in the country and a relative ineffective and urban- based civil society when it comes to national agenda setting? Or have economic status and class considerations become all important in post-colonial Namibia? Group think All of the above factors may play a role. What about other equally plausible explanations? Perhaps, Namibians of European descent – even if they claim to be African – have been educated in ways that postulate: ‘my mind is my own, my opinions are chosen by me, I am free to do as I will, and at worst the pressures on me are economic’, to paraphrase Doris Lessing. The logic of this argument is that as a citizen of a free society, I am an individual, making individual choices. Conveniently, this logic ignores the social context, individual responsibility as well as the moral obligations that all citizens have in a democracy. Independence was a defining moment for all Namibians irrespective of their cultural background, party affiliation, religious belief, race and class membership. The more troublesome aspect of this form of group think is that the underlying assumptions and assertions that govern such individuals are never discussed, hardly challenged, rarely noticed. In the absence of deliberative and participating citizens democracies ossify. There is indeed room for the lonesome individualist who challenges (and sometimes even overturns) conformity. The deeper challenge in our country seems to lie elsewhere: our capacity to devalue words. We speak of (and appropriate) ‘national reconciliation’, but sixteen years after independence; do we see ourselves and others differently? Do we value others differently? Has the way we talk about others become a means of not thinking? Recently, I have experienced a concentration of vituperation you would never think possible when a prominent business person of European descent described fellow Namibian business entrepreneurs as ‘lazy’, ‘corrupt’ and ‘criminal’. I am afraid that many of the patterns of apartheid thinking are in us still. Have many of us truly rejected the repressive and unjust society of old, white- and male-dominated Africa? Equally, have some of our fellow citizens moved away from the diet of beliefs that revile anybody who does not agree with them? Do Namibians understand that democracy serves no purpose when we agree on everything? Democracy has been designed to deal with disagreement. Self-righteousness and denigration Another factor that could conceivably explain the small attendance of Namibians of European descent at national events is the immersion in self-righteousness, intolerance and self-glorification of recent liberation history on the part of some politicians from the dominant party. Admittedly, this strain of politics has ebbed since the coming to power of the current President. Instead of using such occasions for national reflection and working for the good of the country, there is a disturbing tendency, more especially amongst certain Namibians of European descent, to denigrate their own country. I wonder what are the psychological mechanisms underlying the need to denigrate one’s own country and seek eternally for paradise somewhere else, in Europe, Australia, South Africa? Perhaps a case of unexamined mental attitudes on the part of those who engage in such practices? Finally, all Namibians need to give content and meaning to national reconciliation, for national reconciliation requires justice, truth, ethical behaviour, and emancipatory thinking and action. Only then, can and will reconciliation, ring true in the lives of all Namibians …. – Doris Lessing (1994) Prisons We Choose to Live Inside. Hammersmith: Flamingo. * AndrÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚© du Pisani teaches politics and philosophy at UNAM. The views expressed in this brief article are solely his own.