Zambezi Regional Governor Lawrence Sampofu has called on people freed on high treason charges recently in the marathon Caprivi treason trial to reintegrate themselves fully into society and embrace development, despite 16 years of incarceration.
Sampofu made the remarks on Friday when he welcomed the 35 freed men, who were implicated in a botched plot to secede the then Caprivi Region from the rest of Namibia in 1999. Some 35 people were cleared of all charges last month, while 30 were found guilty of high treason.
Of the 35 men freed, 26 were present during Sampofu’s welcoming ceremony at the Zambezi Regional Council. Flanked by Zambezi Chief Regional Officer Regina Ndopu Lubinda and Katima Urban Constituency Councillor Bernard Sibalatani, Sampofu noted that it was imperative for the men to reconcile and not harbour ill feelings, as doing so is counterproductive.
“What happened in 1999 in our region is still fresh in our minds. Now is the time to heal, to grow, to forgive and reconcile with one another and work together for a better life and a bright future for socio-economic development of this region”, implored Sampofu.
He invited those freed from prison to join other citizens in contributing to the economy of the country by applying their skills. “Dear brothers, you are now out of prison and you are free from any form of discrimination. You may apply for any job anywhere as teachers or lecturers. I am reliably informed that some of you obtained academic and other qualifications, it is now time to use your qualifications in any field of study wherever you get an opportunity”, said Sampofu.
Although the 35 men were in holding cells for 16 years before the court pronounced them innocent, Sampofu noted that forgiveness and reconciliation are the best options and added that he shared in their loss of dignity during their period of imprisonment.
“You were afflicted with profound grief, suffering and loss in terms of dignity, family and material, but the pain, suffering and hurt are issues that you have to put behind you for you have a new life ahead”, pleaded Sampofu.
Sampofu urged them to join in the fight against tribalism that he believes has bedevilled the Zambezi Region. “When I took over as governor I made a commitment to the residents that we must stand united. We must fight against tribalism, regionalism, corruption and the evils that continue to divide us. I call upon you to remain united and join us in eradicating tribalism in this region”, Sampofu said.
According to Sampofu many government policy interventions exist to advance development, but oftentimes these policies are befuddled by tribal politics.
“There are many government policies that need proper implementation so that we all can benefit. Let us not mix democracy, policy and governance with tribalism. By doing so, we shall not develop,” Sampofu said without elaborating further.
He further cautioned the freed treason suspects to shrug off any bad influence as that may be a recipe for instability in the region.
On their part the freed men pleaded for assistance to rebuild their lives and make up for the last 16 years that they have lost. Some spoke of their deserted homes that have fallen apart and the continuous stigma of being called “rebels”, a term that has generated a negative connotation in the region.
They further appealed to Sampofu to intervene on their behalf in seeking compensation for their losses. What also seemed to agitate one of the men was the absence of regional councillors at the event, except for Cllr Bernard Sibalatani. However, Sampofu explained that councillors were rushing to meet the deadline for registration for the upcoming regional and local authority elections slated for November this year.