African wisdom has repeatedly taught us that “In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive” and that “If you speak when you are angry, you will make the best speech you will ever regret”.
These words of wisdom were paraphrased by Mafwe Chief George Simasiku Mamili when he appealed to the 35 Namibians, who were released from prison after they were found not guilty of high treason, to desist from harbouring any resentment but to engage in productive activities to help develop the country.
“Those who have been released and found not guilty, I urge you to join the rest of the Namibian house and be identified as such. Remember, no amount of anger can solve any problem. Your families and your Namibia need you to make good of the opportunities. This traditional authority will try as humanely as possible to ensure you peacefully integrate into society as you join your family”, Chief Mamili said.
These words of wisdom deserve commendation and salutation. Now that the chief has spoken and the nation has listened, the logical task ahead is to ensure a smooth re-integration of these men into society. It would be unfair to expect the Mafwe Traditional Authority to single-handedly bear the burden of integrating the 35 men into society.
This is a momentous task that requires government intervention. Failure to integrate the 35 into society peacefully may have adverse consequences politically, socially and economically, taking into consideration the number of years these men spent in prison.
The release of the 35 high treason accused comes at a time when Namibians at Dukwe refugee camp are staring the December deadline to evacuate in the face. They have come up with a myriad of excuses as to why they do not want to be repatriated back to Namibia, including allegations that they fear for their safety.
They have been reassured repeatedly that they face no persecution should they return home. The commitment by government to ensure that the refugees return safely and are subsequently and peacefully integrated into society was echoed by Chief Mamili when he said Namibia is free and safe for them to return and that those who returned earlier were not harassed. On this score, government has demonstrated that those in Dukwe have nothing to fear should they opt to return home.
The litmus test, however, will be the integration of the 35 formerly high treason accused into society. One would hope that government has developed a systematic and comprehensive programme on how to deal with situations of this nature. If such mechanisms do not exist, it would be wise for our lawmakers to pay urgent attention to developing programmes on how to deal with people after their release, irrespective of their alleged crimes.
Failure to address the issue may well backfire, and gains in crime reduction may erode if the cumulative impact of their release on families, crime victims, and communities is not considered.
Consideration should be given to the impact this will have on community cohesion, employment prospects, economic wellbeing, participation in the democratic process, family stability, childhood development, and mental and physical health, as well as homelessness for those who might find their homes destroyed by natural calamities.
Their release after being found innocent of the charges of high treason demonstrates that our judicial system is functioning and transparent, notwithstanding their lengthy stay in prison for a crime they did not commit. Without full legal rehabilitation and full integration into mainstream political, social and economic life, their release will remain just half a step.
Their civil, political and economic rights need to be fully reinstated. A mere release from prison after sixteen years may not on its own atone for the injustice that they may feel has been inflicted on them. It should be noted that these people will forever carry the stigma of association with a crime they did not commit – high treason.
That stigma is most likely to jeopardise their chances of fully participating in the political life and socio-economic activities of the country. They are likely to also face discrimination and exclusion from employment opportunities.
It might therefore be wise to caution both government and society, on the one hand, and the released 35 on the other, of the dangers of acting and speaking in anger. Those who have been released were found innocent. This fact should be drummed into society and accepted as such.
We should be mindful, as Chief Mamili cautioned us, that anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. Bitterness is like cancer. It feeds upon the host, but anger is like fire. It burns it all clean. Both society and the released 35 should embrace this notion, bearing in mind that silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute.
* Dr. Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California.