Diescho’s Dictum – Cry the Praying Country – Part 2 [opinion]

WHAT is called gender-based violence is not new in Namibia. The big difference between the past and now is that today we should know better how to manage our affairs as citizens in a constitutional environment that accords and guarantees equal rights for all the citizens regardless of gender, race, class and tribe. Whereas old cultural practices countenanced that a man exacted punitive measures on his wife, customary or other, for reasons of infidelity or insubordination, today’s life does not give a man any right to do that. Even in the old days, certain processes and rituals preceding the acquisition of a woman by a man of marriageable age afforded the participants, directly and indirectly, the knowledge and understanding and appreciation that such an acquired wife was not a property to be treated as a non-person, but to be cherished, looked after and protected.

The problem of gender violence in society generally, specifically in Afrikan settings, can be explained by looking at the evolution of society from what it was to what it is now. There is the overall breakdown of traditional family values that cemented the community. Whereas in the old societies, there was a collective understanding that people living together had a duty of care and an obligation to one another, life now is predicated upon everybody for himself and God for all. Afrikans had a saying that it took the whole village to raise a child. Members of the community shared a common bond from which proceeded their collective wellbeing and security.

The history of change in the world has affected Namibia and other Afrikan countries for that matter and has done severe harm to the African soul generally. What sustained the Afrikan extended family, and that which constituted the foundation of moral and ethical values, got eroded with the expansion of the post-modern western world. This leaves the African child not believing in what the parents are imparting to the children. Increasingly parents are perceived to represent things of the past and the backward Afrika. The parent on the other hand is left bewildered such that the child becomes the interlocutor of the truth and everything that is life-giving. In this atmosphere materialism thrives at the expense of human values that sustained humanity since its aent somewhere in Afrika.

The war, either in defence of apartheid or in the struggle for liberation created an absence of an Afrikan man as head of the household. The father who was there before to steer the young men into a productive future and as a future head of a household, the protector of the women, the aged, the sick and the young, was not present. The youth turned to external figures as role models, and these role models were often the negative ones: the freedom fighter who was seen to be unsparing in his commitment to destroy the enemy, and the tough Koevoet guy who flexed his muscles in a terrorized community. Then came the models of leaders who assumed leadership roles not because they represented the people organically, but because they were the closest to the means of destruction: political power.

The de-Afrikanisation of boys came about as a consequence of the disappearance of young men’s historical role in society. The emphasis on women’s empowerment was inaertently accompanied by an unsaid disempowerment of men in society. The more we place premium on the role of women in society, the more we sound as if we are saying that men’s role is either negative and must be discontinued or transformed into something we are not even certain of. The emphasis on women and the girl child has unarguably led to the growth of low esteem in young men, many of whom come from broken homes already with either absent or abusive fathers who themselves are trying to cope with non-traditional life styles and rapidly changing circumstances.

A Study by the World Health Organization and the Namibian Government that was conducted as far back as 2004 revealed already that we were on a slippery slope as far as our understanding as well as management of family violence in Namibia was concerned. The study already cautioned:

“Namibia’s political history, combined with social values and practices within which inequality between men and women are embedded and condoned, have created an environment where violence against women has flourished. This type of violence has, therefore, evolved to become the embodiment of unequal power relations between men and women [in Namibia].

This political history, from the two perspectives, namely apartheid abuse and the liberation struggle dismissiveness of the other, ill-prepared us to be equal citizens with same rights and obligations. The two perspectives prepared us to be suspicious, disdainful, indifferent, dismissive, and indeed hateful of one another in a climate wherein only one was correct, and the perceived incorrect had no space whatsoever to make a contribution. With the demise of a sense of community, a warped sense of individuality has taken centre stage as a compass for life. The youth are particularly vulnerable to this sense of Me Myself and I and the search for quick pleasure and a quick fix.

This history, we must admit, was not tackled properly after the attainment of our independence. There was a need for a process of healing by way of an acknowledgement and some accounting for what went wrong without finger-pointing and name-calling. The teaching that should have accompanied that process is that after a war, nobody’s hands are clean.

With the World Health Organisation report a clear warning was issued by the government in 2004, many questions arise, such as what did the government do to combat this epidemic of family or relationship-based violence. It would appear that this is something that the nation ought to have anticipated and done something about. Like with our education system and other phenomena that we as a nation are not too happy about, we tend to react when problems occur instead of putting in place mechanisms to obviate the ills. In the same vein it would be neither accurate nor fair to say that the government did nothing about this spectre of violence. Consider the acts that were promulgated by the Namibian Government in its attempts to steer the nation towards an awareness and readiness to collectively deal with violence: The Combating of Rape Act No. 8 of 2000 the Married Persons Equality Act No. 1 of 1996 the Combating of Immoral Practices Act No. 7 of 2000, and the Combating of Domestic Violence Act No. 4 of 2003. In spite of these initiatives, however, there is not sufficient evidence that these efforts were accompanied by a level of seriousness that is required to deal with the problem frontally. It is this background that gives rise to the general perception that the government either does not care or is not serious enough about a situation that is tearing apart the society at its core: the family.

What complicates any understanding, never mind the development or design of a strategic intervention is the socio-economic conditions under which the majority of the people in the country find themselves. Most informed observers from other societies, well to do, and not so well to do, are inclined to come to a conclusion that given the resources Namibia has, the levels of poverty could have been lowered with better planning and utilization of resources by the state.

This is part of the general failure of African states in that they never manage to attune available resources to the needs of the people. Instead, resources are used to keep afloat oversized government bureaucracies that are totally out of sync with the sizes of their populations. National resources are used to keep comrades in high positions at the expense of sustainable development so much that this becomes the culture of the state and its affairs. In this state of affairs, it is unavoidable that the rich get richer and the poor poorer. Those who are connected to the political elite are the biggest beneficiaries of the largesse of the state which in turn gobbles up the public space as the biggest employer. This is why the political game to seize the state is so severe and general elections become a zero-sum game with no option to lose as the winner takes everything and the loser loses even the little he had before the election was lost. African governments would do better and secure a better future for their inhabitants if they managed more frugally the resources at their disposal and to combat poverty by cutting down the sizes of their cabinets and making them commensurate with the population sizes in order to respond to the needs of their nations rather than the needs of their buddies. It is very difficult to convince a hungry stomach to obey the law, especially if the admonitor himself or herself is not hungry.

As long as the gap between the haves and the have-nots in Namibia is not tackled effectively, the feeling of marginalization and alienation can only grow and in turn exacerbate the apathy of carelessness and no respect for life. Let us not exaggerate the phenomenon of poverty as the only explanation for the criminal culture that is growing. Namibia is not the poorest even in the SADC region, yet they do not kill women where people are poorer.

It would appear that in other countries poverty is mitigated by the existence of cultural values.

Namibians, especially the youth and the have-been-tos appear to have internalized values that make them full-time copy cats of other people’s civilizations. One can easily generalize that the youth in Zambia, Botswana and Botswana have more of their cultural values that cause them to, for instance, have respect for older people and authority. The youth there, especially the girls, are mindful of the people around them so much so that they do not dress to expose their bodies in public.

The quest for material things is not as pronounced as in post-independence Namibia that the youth need to be alerted of the dangers of material accumulation and pure greed. This is compounded by the role models of our new society – those who have become wealthy overnight and who, to all intents and purposes, flash their wealth and provoke the poor!

What can be done? A good foundation has been laid with the Prayer Day, even though it was without impact. At least awareness has been created nation-wide that there is ‘trouble in Paradise’.

In addition to the laudable efforts and pronouncements of the government and the Head of State, more tangible strategies need to be considered and wherever possible implemented with a fierce urgency.

Source : New Era