Uncle Bob Kandetu
Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa told an interesting story about media. He visited Robben Island alongside then South Africa’s President P.W. Botha. That was the time while South Africa’s stalwarts, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu were still on the island.
Upon their return, the hat of president Botha was blown off his head by the wind and Tutu stood up and wrapped his broad priestly attire around his body. He walked over the water and returned with the hat of the president.
People expected that media would run this story about Desmond Tutu the man of God. The following morning the headlines in the South African media screamed, “Desmond Tutu cannot swim!”. The moral of the story is that media cannot be predictable.
Twenty-eight years ago, Namibia attained freedom from Apartheid South Africa and the potential to make her own laws. Before that, we were under the Apartheid state and our media complexion was primarily characterised by two types: Pro-liberation media and pro-Apartheid media.
Newspapers like the Windhoek Advertiser and later the Windhoek Observer had tried to balance the business of reporting but were always caught between a rock and a hard place. In time and as the local South African governance system attempted to sophisticate their exposure to the international environment, some new media formations evolved, such as the Republikein newspaper, later organised as the Democratic Media Holdings (DMH). Also born during this time was an English daily called The Times of Namibia. The two seemed to have been conceived to strengthen the internal accords regime in their thrust against Swapo and to check the broad liberation support groupings around the world.
Along the way there was a paradigm shift in how people perceived media and this kept influencing the configuration of media houses and media outlets, mixed in with the extent to which the liberation struggle intensified and the South African regime refined its repressive laws inside Namibia. It so happened that in the process of promulgating legislation, the South African regime also had inbuilt gargets that sanctioned negatively, newspapers that reported favorably the work of Swapo and who were critical of the South African military. Two of these laws come to mind. They were AG 26 and AG29, both that had to do with curbing the act of aiding the work of the liberation movement.
One day, the Windhoek Advertiser was under siege from the South African police and damning documents were confiscated. Gwen Lister, a staff member, decided to launch an independent newspaper which materialised through the assistance of international progressive organisations and the Namibian churches. This introduced a new chapter in Namibia’s media and it was not easy for Gwen, her personnel and her readership as the South African regime was bent on nipping this initiative in the bud.
Namibia’s independence in 1990 brought about new dynamics in the media landscape. During Namibia’s struggle for independence, The Namibian newspaper and the liberation movement led by Swapo, had formed strategic alliances and this in the eyes of Swapo, now as ruling party, seemed to have taken a paradigm shift.
The Namibian had reorganised its approach to reporting and had equally redefined its relations with Swapo as ruling party and the Swapo government. This played against the backdrop of media in Namibia being perceived to be ganging up against the new Swapo regime. The Namibian was perceived by government to have grown indifferent or at best ambivalent. These perceptions led to the creation or reorganisation of government media. New Era Publication Corporation was created by government, alongside the Namibia Press Agency (NAMPA) and the reorganisation of the South West Africa broadcasting Corporation (SWABC) into the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).
The current media configuration in Namibia is one of change with continuity, mixed in with the free to air type of media culture that was ushered in by the advent of the open information society the world has become, enhanced by the advent of technology. But the Namibian state is to a large extent to be credited for having created the legal framework and the political environment for media to prosper.
The role of media on the Namibian landscape has been effective in supporting development in our nation state, but it has also not treated with respect its newsmakers all the time. Members of society are at times treated without adherence to the minimum standards of respect and more so through social media.
The same can be said with reference to our leaders in society, the church leaders, members of the legislatures, the members of our government systems and more so the head of state. When we treat one another in a fashion of disregard and disrespect, we leave the impression that we have limited understanding of our legal framework and thus no adherence to the minimum standards of mutual respect.
Civil liberties and social freedoms are necessary for members of society to claim as entitlements, but it is equally important to accept as citizens that our freedoms and liberties are interrelated.