Lessons From the South

WHAT happened to the time when Namibia occupied the high ground in terms of democracy and all that it encompasses? Looking back, it appears that time was short-lived – perhaps from 1989 to the mid-1990s.

Then, Namibia was the “shining example” that the United Nations, the African Union (forerunner the Organisation of African Unity), the Southern African Development Community and a host of other international organisations pointed to whether it was to encourage freedom for all and reconciliation in countries still colonised or to introduce openness in dictatorial states.

The country’s Constitution was lauded by many for its stance on human rights and political freedoms. The institutions of the State were changing from apartheid and colonialism but with a huge promise of better things to follow. Elections in those earlier years appeared to run smoothly. Unlike in South Africa and other African countries that seemed to have difficulties with their transitions, Namibians appear to have handled matters during those difficult days much more seamlessly.

How times have changed.

The South African elections, which come to a conclusion this week, are just one indicator how far back we have fallen or simply stagnated.

Our neighbours to the south had massive divisions with civil wars being the way of life – whether it was the so-called third force of the Inkatha Freedom Party thugs on murderous rampage against mainly African National Congress supporters or the Afrikaner Weerstandbeweging (AWB) indiscriminately killing blacks and declaring unilateral independence for some parts of the country, South Africa seemed doomed.

From multi-party talks to Nelson Mandela becoming the first president to Bishop Desmond Tutu’s stewardship of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it is now South Africa that seem to be the leaders in the stakes for an open society.

That’s not to acknowledge major short-comings: what with a president like Jacob Zuma who seemingly cannot keep himself away from corruption as well as shady people, not to mention his penchant for multiple partners in this day of HIV-AIDS. Zuma had gone as far as dismantling institutions that were set up to crush corruption.

But the investigation and report of South Africa’s Public Protector Thuli Mandonsela about Zuma’s tribal home that cost taxpayers there more than N$200 million has shown that institutions set up for check and balances seem to endure. Madonsela issued a damning report on the Nkandla homestead barely a month before the elections, a report that damaged Zuma and the ANC reputation.

The ANC cried foul about the timing and tried hard to put a shine on such wanton abuse of State funds. And despite general belief of its impregnable support, South Africa’s ruling party was pushed to the limit in what turned out to be a robust campaign process. Debates among representatives of political parties at different public stages, including the media and public halls no doubt provided the voters direct access to question their leaders.

Not even the electoral regulatory body of South Africa was spared from harsh criticism with calls for the resignation of the chair of the Independent Electoral Commission Pansy Tlakula, who was accused of administrative misconduct unrelated to the elections.

The lessons for Namibia are many, including the fact that more than 10 million ballots were cast in one day on Wednesday, and by the yesterday afternoon more than two thirds of the districts had reported results. By today the final tally is expected to be known.

Despite the shortcomings, including violence, Namibians should not shy away from drawing lessons from their southern neighbours.

The Electoral Commission of Namibia has received harsh censuring from our courts for two or three elections in a row over poor administration of elections. The ruling party has surely gone backwards as far as the practising of democracy is concerned, with its declaration of no-go areas.

What the South Africans have shown is that we too can engage in robust and open contest without having close down spaces for free expression and association. In addition, the electoral commission can do well to avoid administrative lapses that only cast suspicion over the credibility of the elections.

Thus the ECN’s presence as an observer in South Africa as well as Minister of Foreign Affairs Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah heading a regional body observing it, could not have come at a better time.

And with lessons learnt, Namibia can once again start to occupy the high ground.

Source : The Namibian