They say: What goes up, comes down; what goes around comes around; the pendulum does swing back and forth; every action unleashes a reaction; history repeats itself. Namibia has enjoyed more stability than perhaps most countries during the same periods of time after the attainment of political independence.
This is thanks to the leadership in the public and private sectors, non-governmental organisations, faith-based organisations, traditional authorities and youth formations. All of them believed that there was something greater and bigger than their own parochial interests, important though these interests were.
The 72 men and women who sat in the Constituent Assembly realised that Namibia did in fact belong to all who lived in it – black and white and those in between; exiles and insiles alike. The founders of our republic reached out to one another at the time when it was most difficult for former enemies to work together and give one another space to be, belong, and become part of a new society, a new world wherein there were no losers and no winners.
The picture has changed markedly as we enter 2016. For the first time in the nation’s republican life, there are consternations and uncertainty everywhere: Those in the top structure of government are showing signs of uneasiness that the country has not known before – political leaders speaking at the backs of their hands, because they do not know who to trust or who might listen.
The governing party that kept us all together is showing uncomfortable cracks within its ranks, and it is not healthy. We are seeing signs of decay in the system. These signs are similar to those that were seen in South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) in 2005/8 when minsters were accusing and suspecting one another of plotting to unseat the Head of State, Thabo Mbeki.
At that time the ANC, as the ruling party, and the presidency were not pulling in the same direction. The presidency was consolidating its position at the expense of the party and its long established ethos. Tenderpreneurs were paving footpaths to the ruling party and leaders of the ruling party were changing their revolutionary garb into business grey suits, as they were lining up to get tenders, not because they were business men and business women, but because they were in or close to Luthuli House, where the anointing took place to be politically correct and relevant to qualify for big tenders.
Sneaky business personages were gaining the upper hand of the political decision-making world, such that the ruling party became patently commercialised and ideologically compromised. Those who dared think differently were literally squeezed out of political and economic relevance. The youth became cannon fodder in the political and business machinations of the elite that was interested in one thing and one thing only: a combination of influence and wealth.
The political language became ANC-speak, not the original ANC of Inkosi Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. It was at that time when South African intellectuals, such as Ruel Khoza, described the then leadership of the ANC as a strange breed that was thinking more about itself than the interests of the nation.
Prof Njabulo Ndebele began to warn fellow South Africans of dark, yes, dark days to come, and Prof Rev Barney Pityana began to pray for the reform of a president whose character was distinctly flawed to lead the nation. These were the times when South Africa became ANC-ised, instead of South Africanising the ANC. The push to make people loyal to the ANC and its high priests went so far that barking and biting dogs of the ruling party at the time, such as Julius Malema, would boldly state in pubic that they would kill for Zuma!
The nation’s courts, even churches were so Zuma-nised that it made good business sense to get as close to the Zuma-phantom as possible. The spirit of the time became such that people had to try to be, sound, behave, and think like the ANC. The rest, as they say, is history. The pride that accompanied South African citizens in the days of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki is gone. What went wrong?
On Sunday, January 21, 2001 President Thabo Mbeki convened the biggest gathering of intellectuals at his official residence – I was personally invited as well – and posed the question: how are we theorising and analysing intellectually about what we are doing to take this country forward? There was a lot of drinking, eating, dancing and picture-taking with the president that day, obviously affirming that the crowd would not have turned up without the promise of a party.
An email address was given to these intellectuals to write to and offer their ideas to the president and his team. It pretty much ended there. Those who did communicate with the presidency only presented their CVs, no ideas were really presented.
So, instead of assisting the president to think things through, the intellectuals became businessmen and women, replacing the old white capitalist system with black faces and greedier stomachs, at the expense of what was good for the country. This is what Frantz Fanon, in his Wretched of the Earth, described as intellectual laziness and spiritual bankruptcy on the part of the political elite that assumed the role of governing Afrika after political independence.
It would appear that there are signs of this kind of decay in the Namibian political system as well, the kind of decay that was there in Zimbabwe in the early 1990s and in South Africa in the early 2000s. There is uneasiness in our body politic that everyone can feel, even though it is difficult to describe in intelligent and patriotic terms where this uneasiness really is.
It is like feeling indisposed in one’s body (wanneer ‘n mens olik voel; ein gewisses Unwohlsein) but one cannot say exactly where the ‘illness’ is located. But it is there. Iets is nie lekker nie. Da ist irgendwas! Poyidi yitjato, in my language. Let us look for it before it gets too late.
Human beings are very strange. History never runs in a linear line. Even when at the time cruelty is meted out by human beings to other human beings, there is a judgment that is passed later, which is always on the side of the underdog, on the side of the one that is not in power. This truth is that the people in power always forget while they are there.
People in power are totally incapable of bearing in mind that what goes round comes around, or that the pendulum of history always swings back and forth and back and forth. Maybe we have to continue to pay some price to build a nation. Other nations went to war to establish and build what they have today.
The price of being humiliated in public with the hubris of political office is perhaps nothing compared to those who were raped, forced to bear false testimonies against their own innocent friends and family members, tortured physically and buried alive so that we can have this ‘One Namibia, One Nation’ today.
Where are we at right now? Perhaps we are entering the world of African politics as the continent has known politics since colonisation. We are entering the politics of meanness and meaninglessness. The politics of the bogeyman that is to be feared because he speaks things that make others think differently.
The politics of fear, even when one does not know what is to be feared. The politics of silence, not because there is nothing to be said, but because the Big Brother, or some Big Brother, is watching and he is that big man who can take everything away.
The politics of fearing even one’s own shadow, because that shadow can speak dangerous stuff. The politics of greed and blind loyalty. The politics whereby citizenship is exchanged for seats on boards and winning of tenders for which a phone call from the high offices is very important.
The politics of ‘siyafana sonke’, otwafaathana atuhe; twa lifana natuvenye; atuhe tuasana; lwaswana kaufela; ons is almal dieselfde; Ho ta ge a /gui; re a tshwana rotle: (we are all the same) and any sign of deviation from the lack of common sense is dangerous in the true sense of the word danger.
The politics where nobody trusts anybody. The politics of take, acquire, steal as much and as quickly as you can, for tomorrow is too uncertain. The politics of sleeping with one eye open all the time. The politics of preferred voicelessness and hopelessness and helplessness and senselessness.
The politics of blind loyalty, yet militant mediocrity in leadership. The politics of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. The politics of upmanship, devoid of purpose. The politics of indifference and vengefulness. The politics of my way or no way. The politics of us versus them. The politics of rituals rather than virtues. I hope and pray that I am wrong.
In this world of sensibleness, we ought to return to the universe with meaning. There must be a purpose for which we exist and for which we have been placed here in this part of the world, as part of this brand of the human family to make a difference. When folks are vilified, humiliated, it must serve as a manifestation of the bigger challenge that makes us learn to appreciate our small contribution to humanity.
It is through this suffering that we learn, expand, grow and evolve into better persons. It is in times like these that we rise above the observations of others and indeed realise that we are not extensions of other people’s opinions and/or judgements.
It is in times like these that we are able to look beyond what we see, hear and become discerning. When we are vulnerable, we become better, and we know better who around us is truly for us, not as persons, but for the greater cause. It is in times like these that we develop a consciousness that we exist for a purpose that is obvious to us as mortal beings – a purpose much bigger, larger and greater than we realise when we are not challenged.
Challenges and suffering bake, mold and prepare us to serve others better, while we are still in our physical beings. The time for war must be over for evil triumphant is weaker than a right defeated. Certainly there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.