When Will Crimes against the Vulnerable End?

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK Towards the end of last year, the body of Juanita Mabula was buried without the head. The police offered a reward of N$20ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 for information that could lead to the recovery of her head, but then it took two weeks before the yet-to-be arrested murderer dumped it five kilometres south of the Groot Aub turn-off on the Windhoek-Rehoboth main road. It is believed that the murderer, still at large, had raped his victim before the gruesome and ruthless killing. The severely mutilated body of Rachel Hamatundu (6), at the time a Grade 1 pupil at the Atlantic Primary School at Tamariskia in Swakopmund, was discovered by a worker at the municipal sewage works in February last year. Despite her tender age, she is also believed to have been a rape victim before her unforeseen fate. One early morning in January 2003, Mawisa Lungile picked up his girlfriend, Ipula Akwenye, from her home and took her to a secluded part of the city presumably to discuss the issue of her pregnancy. Mawisa was armed with a pickaxe handle which he claimed was for their protection but, after a heated argument, he allegedly used the same pickaxe to bludgeon Ipula to death. This is just the tip of the iceberg when one looks at ongoing violence committed against women and children in a seemingly independent Namibia. Despite Namibia’s small population – or perhaps because of it – crime bulletins provided by the police are mainly dominated by stories of domestic, sexual and other kinds of violence and abuse on a daily basis. The statistics are shocking and the stories disturbing, leaving most members of society in complete despair at the thought of the brutal nature of the crimes being committed. The question is, are we a violent people, or is it because we are such a small country where every single case is reported? Clinical psychologist, Shaun Whittaker, says cases of violence against vulnerable women and children are difficult to explain especially when nowadays the perpetrators resort to ‘double crime’ involving mostly rape and killing thereafter. “Killers are in a distinct category, and so are rapists. One cannot really put a finger on what this is,” he says. He believes that violent backgrounds in most families, accompanied by the trend that adults in modern times have become poor role models to their children, have all contributed to this situation. The daily function of perpetrators is that they are usually in a state where they believe they are not valued in life as such; they tend to be loners, and mostly form part of the under-class in society. Their profile shows that they are unemployed and education-wise; they are semi-literate and are school drop-outs. With the increased numbers of abused women and children, Whittaker confesses it would not be surprising that perpetrators apply ‘copycat’ kinds of behaviour. Minister of Gender and Child Welfare, Marlene Mungunda, says that although the grave reminder of this recurrent situation sends chills down the spine, the problem can never be solved single-handedly. “If we join hands as a nation and put resources together and invest more on education, starting with our children at home, kindergartens, primary education, secondary education up to tertiary institutions, then we may win the battle of violence and have a peaceful country.” She adds that the whole nation must stand up against the abusers and murderers. “People committing these crimes are from our houses and, if anything is to be done, it must start at family level, continue with the community and then the whole nation,” Mungunda said. The factors contributing to women violence, the minister believes, remain alcohol and substance abuse. She says many families are torn apart with children running to the streets for alternative shelter. They become prey to adults without human morals, and the spiral goes around with these children repeating this kind of behaviour in adulthood. “Alcohol brings poverty to many homes and subsequently affects the spending by the State in the health and education sectors. Such families suffer economically, psychologically, and later from depression. They either commit crimes or become victims of crime.” Cultural beliefs, myths and discrimination against women and children take their toll on these vulnerable groups. Whenever there is resisted behaviour, it brings conflict which, in most cases, leads to abuse and crime. The one who has power uses it on the weaker members of society who are invariably women and children. The high unemployment rate has made most women remain in abusive relationships especially if their partners are the sole breadwinners. As part of the solution, the ministry has established a task force that is currently collecting information from all the 13 regions. Once this process is finalized, a meeting with relevant stakeholders will be held for future planning on how to tackle this problem. Besides the intensification of information dissemination, other strategies are in place. One of them is the gender sensitization workshops conducting specific legal literacy trainings aimed at educating citizens on existing laws such as the Combating of Rape Act, Domestic Violence Act, Maintenance Act, Married Persons Equality Act, Family Law and Will-Writing Act, among others. The popularization of existing laws will enable citizens to know their rights, freedoms, obligations and responsibilities. They will also be able to contribute towards tightening the loopholes, if any, in the existing laws. In addition to that, Mungunda stated that her ministry would continue to intensify its awareness campaigns through workshops and the media. On the contrary, Whittaker says this daunting challenge will not be easily tackled if opportunities in the country are not created, especially in rural areas. These types of crimes – rape cases and killings – the psychologist believes, are committed mostly by people who are unemployed, among other social factors. “It is an economic issue and, until a difference is made in terms of creating opportunities, we will see more of this,” he said. Unfortunately, this cannot be done overnight, and Namibia might have to endure all these evils committed against women and children for a while, until things come right.