Tutu’s Message a Grim Reminder to Africa


By Wonder Guchu WINDHOEK One paper called Belinda Garoes – the woman who confronted members of the National Assembly last week asking for help – a mentally ill patient, but did not say the same thing to the South African Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, who said the same thing in an interview with the BBC a day after Garoes was manhandled and dragged out of the parliamentary chamber. Garoes’ case was simply the story about a forgotten people who live in abject poverty. In her case, she had watched helplessly as her own child and several others from Okahandja died of malnutrition. Her efforts to start an organization to help these children had all come to naught, and she claimed that the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare had not been of much help with regard to her endeavours. Even efforts to get through to President Hifikepunye Pohamba were hampered because she was unknown. Her confrontational move was out of desperation because she sees no end in sight to the grinding poverty that has claimed the lives of innocent children and will definitely claim more if nothing is done. Although Tutu, who was a Nobel Peace prize winner for his role in the Truth and Peace Commission that helped to heal wounds caused by apartheid, said South African poverty was likely to lead to social unrest, the fact is poverty in any African country today could lead to the same. In an interview to mark his 75th birthday with BBC’s Alan Little last week, Tutu said those who had not benefited from the end of apartheid would demand their share of the ‘freedom dividend’. “People have turned freedom into a licence and forget that freedom has its obverse – responsibility and obligation.” Calling the poverty levels powder kegs, he said the gap between the wealthy black and the poor was widening. “We need to be very careful that the poor don’t begin to say ‘where is the freedom dividend?’ I am very surprised that it has taken them so long to vent their anger and their impatience,” Tutu was quoted as saying. It is true that the poor have taken too long to realize their anger but for Namibia, Garoes is the face of the tired poor who feels she has been deprived of her share for a long time. But last Thursday afternoon one such voice, that did not want to remain silent for too long, addressed the National Assembly through the Speaker Theo-Ben Gurirab. “Excuse me Speaker, Excuse me Mr Speaker. I want my share of this country’s wealth. I have been doing voluntary work for the past 14 years and I want my share of this country today,” she said before she was dragged out from where she kept on with her demands. “I will stand here until you hear me, until the President comes and shoots me. I want my share of this country,” she said blaming politicians for talking without doing much. “I am tired. I have tried so many times to meet the President, but they tell me he has a tight schedule and cannot see me, but he has the time to see foreigners,” she said. Garoes sounds insane for now, and Tutu’s grim message falls on deaf ears, but every African who suffered during the wars of liberation and is now living in poverty, feels the same too – that the freedom they now enjoy has not yet brought with it the economic equivalent. There is no doubt that there are many other Garoeses out there who are crying silently, but for how long, if nothing is done to help their situation?