Remembering Kosie Pretorius

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“I am, therefore, thankful to… Kosie Pretorius, chairman of the Monitor Action Group, for providing me the Hansard that served as the primary source of this thesis. Pretorius also welcomed me to his home when I needed to clarify my thoughts. I take a jibe at him below, which is poor reward for his ongoing hospitality to me.”

These are the words in the acknowledgements of my PhD thesis. When I visited him to present a copy, he laughed and acknowledged that he didn’t take it personally when he read criticism directed at him. Most importantly, he acknowledged that scholars are protected by academic freedom in order to record history correctly.

The role Mr Pretorius played in the drafting of the Namibian Constitution cannot be minimised. He was one of the 21 members of the drafting committee, who were tasked with coming up with a draft constitution of Namibia for consideration by the Constituent Assembly. It is safe to say the discussions were not always easy.

Pretorius’ conservative views did not serve him well. In the discussion of the draft proposal on a Bill of Rights, Pretorius was in favour of a clause that allowed discrimination of the admission of pupils or recruitment of staff based on race, colour or creed.

He believed very strongly that the principle clashed with the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of all forms of Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion or Belief, which will make it impossible for religious private schools not to discriminate on that basis.

This view was strongly opposed by Barney Barnes, a coloured or mixed race member of the DTA party, because ― the purpose of drafting the constitution was precisely to eliminate discrimination.

Given the deep-seated feelings prevailing among the majority of people – having just come out of a repressive apartheid rule, Pretorius should have foreseen that his comments would bring to light attitudes which the Namibian people have waged an armed struggle for.

Pretorius insisted that ― according to this United Nations document there must be freedom of religion, belief and worship and teaching, the right to train and appoint leaders. This statement seemed to confirm suspicion among some delegates – especially Swapo members – that Pretorius was determined to perpetuate discrimination.

This is clear from the remarks of Dr Ngarikutuke Tjiriange, who gently reminded the assembly members that Namibia was emerging from the nightmare of apartheid and it was therefore necessary to close all the loopholes that can be used to bring about an end to that nightmare.

In another heated discussion, Mr Pretorius objected to the inclusion of the word “secular” in the constitution on the assumption that the State didn’t recognise Christianity. In fact, he wanted Christianity to be mentioned explicitly. What the term simply meant was that the State does not recognise one religion over another and that all faiths were protected.

Pretorius was widely respected in the community for his Christian faith. Reconciling his strong faith and his opposition to include “secular” in the constitution was hard to understand. But he quickly understood that accepting the offer on the table and then asking for more may be the most effective route when you‘re at a power disadvantage, as he was.

When the Constituent Assembly became the National Assembly, Mr Pretorius became one of its erudite members. He became the first and only Member of Parliament to introduce a Private Member’s Bill. He knew he would not succeed. He tried anyway.

At the end of the road, Pretorius knew when to hang up his boots. He quit Parliament and the leadership of his party. He believed he had fought his battles the best he could. It was time for someone with a new pair of glasses to look at the problem anew.

He called my office at the beginning of the year. He didn’t find me. That would have been the last time I would have spoken with him.

* Dr Audrin Mathe is the chief executive officer of New Era Publications Corporation.

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