High treason trial and the lessons so far

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The curtain is finally coming down on the high treason case, emanating from the failed attempt to secede the then Caprivi Region (now Zambezi) from Namibia in 1999.

It is the longest-running court case in Namibia’s legal history, but Judge Elton Hoff is seemingly winding it down with a lengthy judgment that he has been reading out the whole of this week and is set continue next week.

The high profile case that is being televised, sometimes live, by the national broadcaster, NBC, dominated front page headlines all week. Several key points come to mind when following Hoff’s judgment.

It is evident there were long-standing, conclusive plans to ‘cut’ Zambezi from Namibia, and the architects of this plan were prepared to achieve their ill-fated pipe dream by any means possible.

The fact that several lives were lost in the skirmishes of the failed coup cements this very argument – that the rebels were determined to succeed by hook or crook. The national security apparatuses acted swiftly to arrest the situation. The masterminds of this treasonous plan, at least some of them, cowardly vacated their trenches for safety.

This swift arrest of the situation by the country’s security forces, nine years after independence, is commendable. Their heroic deeds say a lot about the capacity of the country’s security apparatus, and perhaps answers armchair critics’ perpetual castigation of the annual defence budget.

Zambezi Region could possibly be in the hands of ruthless warmongers today had the country’s security institutions lacked the capacity to deal with the 1999 attack, due to under-funding.

The successful operation also highlights why it is imperative for each nation to have an active and well-funded national intelligence service to detect any suspicious movement by would-be dogs of war.

It also points to the self-centredness of some politicians, who used ordinary civilians in a war that had nothing to do with them. Such politicians, some of whom served in the Parliament of Namibia, a country they later claimed was not theirs, were in front of runaway queues while their loyalists were being arrested for their heinous collective crime.

The case was the greatest test of the independence of the country’s judiciary, as well as restraint between the three arms of government. Often, the executive had been asked to intervene in the matter, on grounds that the matter has dragged on for way too long and that only a political solution would resolve the marathon court case.

The three presidents between 1999 and 2015 have, however, and at all times, reasoned that the country’s statutes are crystal clear on the separation of powers between the judiciary, executive and legislature.

It would have been a real violation if anyone among presidents Sam Nujoma, Hifikepunye Pohamba and Hage Geingob had complied with calls to interfere in the business of the judiciary.

Undoubtedly, mistakes were made during the process, such as poor police investigation in some cases, leading to the late acquittal of some suspects. In several instances the court could not find evidence of the suspects’ involvement in the secession attempt – which could mean that these compatriots should not have been arrested in the first place.

Also, acquittal is sometimes not a sign of non-participation in a criminal act, but a result of sloppy work by the police or the court itself. For more than a decade now, the judiciary has been accused of failing to expedite the case, which in all fairness was a justified accusation.

But looking at Hoff’s lengthy judgment, which is set to continue next week, it can now be more easily appreciated why the matter took so many years to conclude, although we still believe the case could have been concluded in a shorter span of time.

Whatever the final verdict against each individual would be, there is reason for Namibians to be proud – particularly in the manner the armed forces prevented the loss of more lives in 1999.

On the flipside of the coin, the entire misadventure of the secessionists also brought pain to Zambezi as a region, caused the destruction of lives and families, the loss of income and, regrettably, the loss of precious lives.

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