PERCEIVED or real hostility between political parties in Namibia as evidenced by the latest incident at Okuryangava in Windhoek and the assault of Simon Nakale by a group of employees at the Onambango Supermarket in the Ohangwena region last week is a clear manifestation of extreme intolerance.
In many instances, such intolerance is underpinned by ethnicity and hunger for political power and dominance. Politics has come to mean jobs for some.
It offers opportunities for personal wealth and power and is no longer about service to one’s country and people. That is why those who feel threatened by rival parties go to lengths to fend off such rivalry. Others see betrayal on the part of those that break away from them. The result is that personal contacts and bonds of friendship built over many years are severed. In extreme cases, what follows is hatred.
Political intolerance is not confined to the Swapo Party and the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) as some would like to believe. It is more pronounced and prevalent in all other parties that have undergone a break-up more so if the parties are dependent on a common support base for political survival.
Intolerance is prevalent in all sectors of our society. It cuts across all divides and is visible among ethnic groups and communities, churches, business and sporting bodies – you name them.
Therefore, to single out the Swapo Party for intolerance is to miss the point because the problem of intolerance is not a problem endemic in Swapo alone. It is a national problem, a Namibian problem.
The Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) and Nudo offer a perfect example of parties that hardly tolerate each other. Not so long ago, members and supporters of the two parties clashed on several occasions over venues for meetings in the same way that Swapo and RDP recently clashed at Okuryangava.
The skirmishes between the DTA and Nudo turned physical at times and police had to come in to rescue the situation. It is also an open secret that at a personal level, the leaders of the two parties are not on talking terms and do not see eye-to-eye.
Another example of inter-party warfare is that of the two factions of the Congress of Democrats. A story is still being told today about how the leader of the party, Ben Ulenga, was prevented from attending the funeral of the late Kalla Gertze ostensibly because of the political fall-out between the two. If true, the incident represents a form of intolerance and explains very deep-rooted hostilities that exiss between the two factions.
Yet another case is that of a young man who lost his life at Aminuis when rival groups clashed over the installation of a traditional councillor in 2006. The incident marked one of the most extreme cases of political intolerance ever recorded in the country. There is little doubt that politics was at the centre of the incident.
A New Era journalist Kuvee Kangueehi was last year subjected to verbal assault by none other than RDP interim secretary general, Jesaya Nyamu, who accused the reporter of ‘spreading lies’ and of being ‘stupid’. This was in apparent reference to Kangueehi’s work as a political reporter. Nyamu refused to give the reporter an interview. If this is not extreme intolerance on the part of a national leader who is supposed to know better, then we do not know what is.
The catalogue of the many forms of intolerance is long. Intolerance exists in all parties and society. While not officially sanctioned, it is most common among all political parties and communities. Leaders are intolerant and so are ordinary people. We all are.
The Okuryangava incident is therefore the tip of the iceberg and a wake up call to all formations and society in general. In the same way that individuals cannot chose who their neighbours are, political parties have to understand that they too cannot chose their opponents and critics.
A nation whose citizens cannot allow for divergent views is doomed because success can only come where there is a market of ideas. Equally, democracy without tolerance is hollow.
Political parties must therefore rise above petty power politics and channel their energies towards building sustainable peace and development. Every political party and leader in Namibia is called upon to engage in self-introspection, to interrogate themselves about whether or not they are committed to peaceful co-existence and democracy. May those who say Yeah, rise.