I grew up in a village not too far from the border of Namibia and Angola. As a child born in the 80s, I was exposed to horror, having seen armed war being waged in my full view. Ours was literally a war zone.
In my village alone, I know of not less than five graves of men who paid the ultimate price for freedom. I’ve witnessed people, my parents included, being physically assaulted for non-existent transgressions.
If footprints of Swapo soldiers were found within the vicinity of your house, you could get shot in the head. My first cousin’s father – Tate Delafi Kamwandi – got killed in a hail of bullets as he drove home from the local shops at night. He shouldn’t have moved after sunset (in his own village), his killers told the bereaved family.
At Epoko Combined School, my school, heavily armed soldiers would literally come into class, flaunting their guns and grenades. At this time of the year, when mahangu (millet) cultivation is at its peak, Casspirs would drive in your fields in a military column formation (epala londjaba). They brought down everything that stood in their way, our produce!
It was deeply sad when a family spent their entire season working on food production, only to be wiped off earth’s face in such unprovoked fashion. And in a click of a finger.
War, especially when unsolicited, is bad. With war came oppression of basic rights such as that of movement. With it came racial segregation, whose indelible marks remain as clear as daylight on black lives today. The structural legacy of apartheid remains alive and well in contemporary Namibia. We’d be extremely lucky to see this resolved in our lifetime.
Today, our country, with all its glaring challenges, is by far a better place. Anyone suggesting otherwise is a beneficiary of apartheid and can’t stomach attempts to make the national cake accessible to all and sundry. A lion’s share of today’s challenges have their roots in colonialism. The rest were our own making and we must shoulder blame where such is compelling.
Today we’re far developed in terms of access to basic public services, but suffice to say a lot still needs to be done. Those who – whether by default or design – have directly benefitted from apartheid because of their skin colour, remain proportionally better off economically, and concerted efforts must be made not to impoverish them but ensure the rest of us are brought on par with them.
As we celebrate our 28th Independence Day, I sincerely and, as matter of genuine conviction, believe Namibia has a good story to tell. But while we rejoice in our success, we must first recognise the following: Patronage has become normalised without any iota of guilt, cronyism has hit unprecedented levels, greed has reached industrial scale (“our time to eat”) and we have neglected our duty of care (that sense of “I am my brother’s keeper).
Also, leadership has lost a greater portion of its meaning in our country. Leadership should be about solutions to society’s challenges, not amassing influence for parochial ends. The fact that almost everyone is scrambling for space in the political space, and that high-profile citizens would ‘kill’ even for a position at a sectional level of a political party structure, speaks volumes of how greed has shot through the roof.
Let’s go back to the basics. The basics where leaders do not demand respect and being worshipped. It should actually be the other way round. Leadership of humility. People-centric leadership. If we get leadership right, Namibia’s march to greater heights would be much easier. Happy Independence Day, motherland!
• Toivo Ndjebela observes politics and development economics from Epoko village, Omusati Region.