Where We’re Headed Isn’t Pretty

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By Audrin Mathe

– Speak about Namibia in Future Perfect Tense

Recently, a panel discussion on Zimbabwe took place in Windhoek. The room was fully-packed. Chairs extended beyond to capture the overflow. But the chairs were still not enough and late arrivals stood against the long walls where they hoped to catch a snatch of the discussion.

One could not help but notice how Namibians are hungry for dialogue and debate. One, then, wonders the extent to which we Namibians need a debate among ourselves. Let’s begin.

As Namibians, we must not focus on some abstract notion of living comfortably if we do not work harder and think different. We must cleanse our habits, embrace personal responsibility and reclaim the traditions that fortified our past generations to win freedom and independence.

We must drive our values and responsibility in a vision that is starkly different from a mentality that should have ended on 21 March 1990. Namibia is neither a perfect country nor are Namibians a perfect people. But we cannot be beggars for many more years. Oprah is not going to build schools for us.

Bono is not going to bring us mosquito nets. We will probably get condoms from the World Health Organisation.

We must fix our moral fabric: alcohol abuse, the scourge of HIV/AIDS, discipline, etc. When we have fixed that, we must fix everything that is wrong with our education system so that we can supply the demand for doctors, accountants, engineers, and the like professions.

It is a tough argument to sell that jobs are not in short supply, but skills are (otherwise we will not have many jobs occupied by non-Namibians).
That will fix everything about our addiction to anything foreign: music, names, and clothes. Local is lekker?

We have done a great deal to record local music. To their credit, local musicians have gone as far as recording songs in the vernacular. But the message falls far short of inspiration. If anything, the lyrics are mostly insulting or offensive in some manner.

Added to that, a Namibian brand of music is found only in traditional music such as sipelu, otjiviriye, etc.

Among young people, kwaito rules the waves. A couple of years ago, two well known musicians quarrelled about who first brought kwaito to Namibia.

What we must recognise is that our sense of culture in its present form is bastardised and pathological. Unless we recognise that, our understanding will flatten history and smoothe over the wrinkles that have characterised Namibia since colonialism.

What others have said about that which haunt us originates in post-independence culture and does square with our history as a people. After independence, we should have embraced a sense of hope and new direction.

We were supposed to return to our communities and families inspired by a new feeling of responsibility. Yet here we are again, 18 years later, with seemingly little tangible change. More babies without fathers have been born.

The crisis of absentee fathers and the rise of crime will lead to social and cultural suicide.

Some crimes are being committed in the name of poverty.

Judging by the work of the Anti-Corruption Commission, corruption is rampant – committed not by those who are poor, but by those who are affluent.

Under these circumstances, we must (re)introduce a gospel of discipline, moral reform and self-reliance as a way to reclaim our lost identity.
The rise of the organic conservatism in Namibia, especially among the older generation, is partly responsible for the present situation.

Our elders have condemned young people for their dress style, yet provide money. Elders condemn young people for their slang, yet they have not made an effort to teach their children an African language.

It is amazing to look at the number of young people who do not speak an African at all when the parents had an opportunity to teach them Oshiwambo, Thimbukushu, Cisubia, Setswana, etc.

If a liberation movement like SWAPO could teach children born of exiled parents Namibian languages, how about parents who live with their children everyday?

It is not uncommon in Namibia to find an American accent only after a week’s visit to the US or by merely watching Pimp My Ride on MTV.

For the sake of completeness, such people as Dr Hage Geingob and Mr Theo-Ben Gurirab who lived in the US for a very long time, sound as Damara today as before their exile.

Mr Nahas Angula sounds equally Ndonga. It is because they are proud of their tribes and they are proud of whom they are. But yet, they all became prime ministers of our country.

Part of what must drive us and reinforce our message is the rage that lives in our country – a collective feeling of disgrace and shame that borders on self-dislike and dislike for our country. It will not be correct to categorise every Namibian with the same language. There are those who recognise that we must turn around and look at where we are because where we are headed isn’t pretty.

It is not where we want to go. That is why we must start speaking about Namibia in a future perfect tense.

May be, young people will rise to the challenge of leading our country into a more perfect trajectory. May be, the music we play will resemble the kind of values that we hope to instil in our people to lead them to positive action.

May be, may be, it will not matter that our neighbours are not like us. May be, we will believe that humanity working together will transcend.

May be, may be we will know that, as Aristotle says, democracy arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects.

Because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal. Or may be a whole is that which has a beginning, middle and an end. May be, may be, Namibia has never been more united since the day of independence.
Or may be we were more tolerant of each other then.

May be we will stop thinking about tomorrow because tomorrow does not come. Or may be we just need a dialogue among ourselves. May be.

– Audrin Mathe is a doctoral candidate in Rhetoric at the University of Cape Town. His previous works include Canons of Classical Rhetoric in Sam Nujoma’s State of the Nation Addresses (1990-2004). His current work The Rhetoric of Negotiation: A Study of Constitution-Making in Namibia is due in 2009. He can be reached at audrin@email.com

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