Diescho’s Dictum – The State and the Future of the Public Service in Namibia – Part One [analysis]

BEFORE Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a single bullet fired by Nathuram Godse on 30 January 1948, he articulated his wishes for the future of India in different ways. One of such wishes was for the civil service to assume more of a role and relevance in establishing nationalism in that vast country. Gandhi turned to the civil service as a vehicle to fashion the type of body politic for a new India as a home for all – Hindu and Muslim alike. In this regard, Gandhi said: A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of [India’s] history.’ Fired by the spirit of constitutional democracy, the Namibian government after twelve years of operation came to a collective conclusion that the public service in independent Namibia was predicated upon a wrong business model and was not fit for purpose. This does not mean that the people working as public or civil servants were bad people, but that they arrived at their work stations on tickets whose raison d’ecirctres were not geared toward assisting the government of the people, by the people and for the people to deliver on its mandate of making Namibia a better place for all who live in it. This calm realization followed an assessment by the leadership that revealed the following picture of the general public service of the nation.

Generally speaking, there are three categories of public servants in Namibia today. The first category consists of those ‘Staatsdiens’ officials who entered the public service before independence. This lot would include your old-style ‘staatsadministrateur’, who was schooled emotionally, and politically and behaviourally in the world of white supremacy and black subservience. They created the rules of public service and they remained important in moving the country forward when there were not many black people with the requisite skills to run the huge and cold bureaucracy of the state. The sad admission that must be made is that white folks put in place and left behind a foundation for a bureaucracy that can work. It is very sad that where Afrikans are on their own, they hardly create the type of economy and attendant infrastructure that we have inherited from apartheid.

At independence we found the foundations of an economy and an infrastructure that no Afrikan government could have built from scratch. In the building of this infrastructure, white people developed a mindset that fuels sustainable development better than the Afrikan mindset of subsistence economies. White people privatized the knowledge so much so that it is incumbent upon black people to have to learn from them the ways of running a post-subsistence economy in modern Afrika. Namibia’s policy of national reconciliation assisted to retain the white Namibians such that the country could proceed with development. The altruism remains that there are certain things white people are better at and there are those that black people can do better. Learning from white people good professions is not a bad thing in this context, as long as this learning enriches the learner to borrow intelligently in order to contribute to the general wellbeing of the society and the country. It must be said that it will take a long time for black people to learn the coldness of bureaucracy and the work ethic that white people have developed over the centuries, so that black people take charge of their own resources and economies.

The Afrikan work ethic tells a different story that instructs us that where there are no white people development suffers. And we must deal with this to remain as sane agents of change and development of our nations. On their part, the white people with the skills that they have acquired in the bad old days are not enough to build a country. They need to transfer those skills they honed during colonial times to their black countrymen and women who happen to be in the majority – for the benefit of all. This first group also includes those many black people who served in the old ethnic government arrangements, such as the Owambo, Kavango, Caprivi, Nama, Coloured (Kleurling) administrations and the like, except that one would not find any of these people anywhere any more. They are either all dead or claim to have been in the struggle! This lot, together with the white ‘administrateurs’ was not schooled to serve all Namibians in a unitary state under the Constitution as the supreme law of the land. They were prepared to serve something else and not what the government of Namibia today requires from public servants.

The second category of public servants comprises former freedom fighters, real or imagined. There are those men and women who truly gave up their youth to make this country what it is today. They deserve all our love and respect for their great sacrifice. It is not their fault that they did not get the opportunity to learn andor acquire a skill that is equivalent to a qualification to run a system. By virtue of our politics, they have to be appointed to senior posts in the government sector. As such they are activists and not bureaucrats they get bored by office work and would be happier attending political meetings instead. These people are augmented by those who joined liberation politics after independence and even very recently not because they embrace the values of the liberation struggle, but for career considerations. As a matter of fact, these are the people who shout ruling party slogans the loudest and even have the lowest tolerance levels for dissenting perspectives. Very often they claim to have suffered, even died for this country whilst they are still alive. In the main this group suffers an inability to tell the difference between the ruling party, the government and the state. To them the ruling party is higher than the government and higher than the state. With the best of intentions, this group does a great disservice to the Namibian government that has matured over the years and is seized to serve the citizens of the country.

The third category comprises the growing number of young Namibians from all race groups who are entering the public sector with qualifications from Unam, the Polytechnic, IUM and even from tertiary institutions outside of the country and who wish to make public service their life long career. They constantly face a brick wall from their older white supervisors, who loath to be challenged with new ways of doing things on the one hand, and by the freedom fighters who shut the new professionals up with the question: where were you during the struggle, on the other.

Source : New Era