By Catherine Sasman
Namibia remains a beacon of hope on the African continent as it is consolidating the gains made at independence, which is the maintenance of peace, stability and democracy, said African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, Bience Gawanas.
“Yet, there is no room for complacency. We must continue to raise awareness of the citizens’ right to a living constitution and empower them to stand up and speak out,” said Gawanas.
Addressing a small crowd that had gathered in Windhoek to celebrate Constitution Day last Thursday, Gawanas said it is important to provide redress to victims where human rights violations have occurred, to take action and decisions intended to deal with such perpetrators and to reduce the recurrence of violations.
“Unless Namibia takes such action, an atmosphere of cynicism and distrust for the law and public institutions will prevail,” she said.
“I am convinced the people of Namibia share the ideal that in their everyday lives fundamental rights are guaranteed and protected in word and deed, that there is respect for the rule of law and that there is equitable access to public service. Together, no doubt they provide the legitimacy to democratic governments.”
She said the adoption of the Namibian Constitution ushered in a new era, but for the constitution to remain relevant, it has to create a sense of belonging and it must be owned by all through the internalisation of the values it embodies.
“It must be understood and relied upon by ordinary people and lastly, it must give priority to the voiceless, the marginalised and the defenceless.”
Lamenting the apparent culture of fear and silence in Namibian society, Gawanas said this is due to a lack of debate which drives many things under the carpet.
“People must continuously speak out; this is the only way that we can create a culture of debate and engagement. Intolerance is big on the African continent. Conflict arises due to a culture of intolerance and not because people like playing with guns as toys,” she responded to questions posed by the audience.
Members from the audience also expressed concern over what they view as unresponsive public service delivery, which might translate into the infringement on basic human rights enshrined in the constitution.
“Corruption in the public service denies people access to service,” said Gawanas, adding that public service delivery must be dealt with, and that it is necessary that the public service must recruit “the right people for the job with commitment to deliver”.
National Planning Commission Director, Helmut Angula, said the real challenge for democracy is poverty and unemployment.
“The challenge is how to address the re-distribution of the country’s natural resources,” he said.