By A. N. Matjila
Heard among government workers digging a trench, ” Tiro ya Goromente ga e fele banna. Iketleng, lo se ka lwa ipolatsa tiro, kamoso ke letsatsi.” (You can never finish government work, men. Take your time and don’t kill yourselves, tomorrow is still a day.)
This kind of talk is very common among low productive workers who have little commitment or pride to do a good job to earn their keep, or for that matter to build their country.
To them the job belongs to the Government, and as such they don’t have to increase production. This happens almost in every ministry where groups of government employees are concentrated in large numbers. Cleaners often simply gloss over chores, especially when cleaning latrines, where in the past they worked hard under the supervision of meneer Van der Merwe, to impress him and earn his favour.
Gone are the days when we looked upon a building and regarded it as ” die boere se goed.”
The brave who died in Namibia’s liberation struggle, died without flinching from the dangers, the hazards and fearsome array of all types of weapons that ploughed them into the African dust.
The sacrifices they made, the often faulty decisions they had to take in awkward situations and the long journeys they had to endure, often on foot, take us back to the words of Winston Churchill after the war of Britain during WW11 when he said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Yes, they died so that we of today can live in peace and eh……opulence?
This leads one to reflect on an issue that cannot be wished away, which brings the sacrifices of the dead into relevant context, viz., protecting and jealously guarding against abuse of all that which we inherited as a result of that struggle.
And, as they retreated back to old Europe, colonial powers of the past left assets behind in every country in the world from Tokyo to Patagonia.
In Africa free nations inherited State Houses from Cape to Cairo; cities, towns and roads from Marakesh to Tananarive; and trains and railways, ships and harbours, aeroplanes and airports in almost everyone of Africa’s 53 countries.
The billions, trillions, quadrillions and yes, say quintillions of dollars worth of assets were left behind as the colonial flag was lowered, and the flag of the independent state was hoisted.
Let me be clear on this one: Every African country that attained independence found valuable assets left behind by the colonials in place. Of course, in countries where the colonials had done little, there was little to celebrate about.
But in those countries where the colonial power had indeed put shoulder to the wheel, much was left behind for the new, black Government, to take it from there into the future. Let us take a glimpse into some of the assets inherited by Africa’s illustrious sons:
Ghana was the first to set the pace in 1957. The sixties opened with Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and others attaining independence. With the exception of perhaps Malawi and Botswana, the rest were blessed with big cities, exports, harbours, infrastructure such as tarred roads, railways, ships, airplanes etc., with which they could continue building their countries’ economies. But unfortunately it was not to be.
Within a few years, state coffers were often put solely at the disposal of the strong to plunder the funds as they saw fit, and they utilized resources in areas which they regarded as their own priorities. The rot set in.
Buildings were left unrepaired, unattended and often unswept. The rot set in.
Beautiful people with beautiful clothes came out of unkempt surroundings, oblivious of the rot that was setting in.
“Keep the order and the order shall keep thee,” warns an old saying. And, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” The rot set in.
Within a few years, beautiful cities like Leopoldville (now Kinshasa), the jewel of central Africa; the highly ingeniously well constructed tarred road, constructed by Italian prisoners of war in Kenya from Nairobi to Entebbe during the Second World War; the Lusaka to Livingstone tarred road; and many others in West Africa, became disaster areas.
In Africa many of our own mistakes are swept under the carpet, lest we belittle ourselves on the international arena. Some of our most glaring mistakes in the economic field are kept under wraps to avoid criticism from our former colonial masters. Yet this need not be so at all.
Every independent country in the world must go through a phase, at times a very difficult one. So did our former colonial bosses too during the middle ages. The very trying years of freedom bring with them great difficulties to governments and their people. After all, the colonial period conditioned us into having one-track minds, with often little deep thinking to solve problems.
New independent governments became dictatorships, apportioning the good life to a select few, while the masses went under independent states’ deadly policies and laws, to make life hell on earth for their citizens.
Hence the millions of wanderers called refugees in our midst. As these poured across the borders of neighbouring countries, the lucky few remained behind enjoying the inherited assets of a nation. Namibia should not fall into this trap.
The task of protecting our inheritance cannot be regarded as the responsibility of our leaders alone. Every citizen has a responsibility to protect and look after our inheritance.
The areas that need serious supervision and caretaking in the process of protecting our inheritance:
– Roads: These must not be left for too long until cracks start showing, and potholes start appearing. Once this happens, the repair costs involved become prohibitively unaffordable. Result: efforts to recoup losses are abandoned.
There is an important aspect of maintenance that must be pointed out here, and in many other areas affecting inherited assets, viz. lack of, or poor supervision due to colonial conditioning.
Many black people think that another black person cannot be their supervisor. I know of many incidents where the workers even say “Ga o lekhowa man” (Jy’s nie ‘n witman nie man) you are not our baas, to their black senior. Work is often left half done, or simply undone if the workers are confronted by a black supervisor.
Often tribal affiliations play a major role. “Ons soek a Nama toesighouer hierso.” (We want a Nama or a white, or Wambo, or Motswana, speaking supervisor here). Does this sound familiar?
– Educational Institutions (schools): Many school buildings in Namibia are steadily but surely deteriorating by the day.
The same workers of the colonial times are still there though, but now prefer to address each other as comrades, meaning: don’t expect me to break my back on anything around here. But I must be paid of course.
Hennie Du Plessis High School was the jewel of the eastern part of Namibia.
No more, for the rot has set in. It is difficult to comprehend how teachers and pupils can go in and out of a building that is crumbling without batting an eye.
But this happens in certain societies. Disorder does not seem to irritate certain people. Many of our schools need urgent attention before major repairs are warranted in the near future. Such repairs will take a large bite of our budget, because the damage has been left to escalate.
– Hospitals: Before independence, Windhoek boasted two of some of the most beautiful and well-kept hospitals in southern Africa. No more. The rot has set in.
It was not long after independence that certain sections of the population were prompted to build private hospitals, where standards would be maintained, come what may.
But wow, at great cost to all of us.
Only the well-to-do can afford to go into private hospitals. Is it all necessary? No. Strict discipline, conscientious supervision, pride and patriotism, should help shore up our African values which surely include protecting what is ours. Or what is wrong with us?
It is evil to abuse or to waste what one has inherited. Remember the Prodigal son? And those people who do not care much about our hospital buildings need to refresh their minds, to remember that their forebears pushed wheelbarrows full of concrete to put up these structures.
The sordid state in hospitals that is sometimes shown on TV reflects on all of us i.e. what kind of people we are.
Other Government Buildings: Smashing into walls when moving furniture, scraping on paint because “it is not mine”, is a terrible indictment of persons who perform such deeds. We must ask ourselves the question, and answer it ourselves: “Who is the Government?”
The Government is “The people of Namibia”, and not the politicians who have been elected to sit in Parliament. Government buildings reflect the people of the country who use them daily to obtain the services they require.
Scratching on walls or writing on them, graffiti; banging doors and breaking them, breaking locks, destroying school desks, destroying hospital beds, equipment, tools, etc. willy-nilly, is a terrible indictment of citizens of any country. True, at times what we do at the workplace, reflects what we do in our own homes.
Government Motor Vehicles: “This car belongs to the Government, not you. I’ll use it as I please.” (Is nie jou kar die nie, is the Government se kar). Does this sound familiar? We need a re-education here.
One guy who was pissing on an electric standard in Windhoek town, in full view of all and sundry, when accosted replied: “Is nie jou paal die nie, is die munisipaliteit se paal.” There you have it, loud and clear. It does not belong to me, I can mess it up, it doesn’t matter.
State cars cannot, and must never be abused. During the days of white rule, nobody dared take a state vehicle and abuse it. It was all over for such a person. I know of many people (black) in those days who were caught using state vehicles without permission, who paid fines stretched for up to five years for having damaged state cars.
We seem to think that because it is a black Government, we can do as we please? No. The rot will set in. Treat a government vehicle as if it is your own, then, we will develop a spirit of ownership.
Other assets: Ships in the sea, the sea itself, our harbours, airports and Air Namibia, and all aircraft of our Government, bicycles, motor-cycles, choppers, etc., whenever you smash them into trees, walls, stones, barriers, bridges, etc., say to yourself: ‘That’s my tax destroyed there now.’
As long as we cannot take care of what is commonly known as government property, we still have a long way to go.
An English expression says: “Take care of the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves.”
If you care for little things, you are also taking care of the bigger issues.
Taking care of an ordinary broom in a school, is taking care of the whole school, because classrooms need that broom to be kept clean.
Finally. Confucius said, “Everything begins with two people – couples. Couples bring about families, and families bring about villages, and villages towns, towns bring societies, and societies nations, and nations form the world we live in.”
Similarly, parents (father and mother) must teach their offspring from early age to respect property, theirs and others’, to respect the law and law-makers, to respect every citizen in their country young and old, to behave in the presence of elders, to respect their teachers, because they stand in the place of Jesus Christ the Great Master.
Every member of the Namibian society must always, but always bear in mind that: “These cars, this property, this bus, this ship, which I destroy, men and women died so that I could have them.”
This might change our attitudes.