The Namibian House – Built for All?

PRESIDENT Hage Geingob delivered a much-applauded, carefully crafted State of the Nation Address (Sona). His repeated reference to the “Namibian house” under construction served as a symbol for his commitment to be a head of state for all Namibian people. This claim merits a closer examination.

It is widely accepted that beyond the politics of the day an ethical and moral compass should be guiding political office bearers as well as civil servants employed by the state to ensure good governance in the true meaning of the word. This compass should be coordinated by norms and values reflecting all dimensions suitable to serve the public interest and well-being. Meaning: as many people as much as possible.

President Geingob’s speech was a remarkable rhetorical step into such a direction by stressing the all-encompassing nature of the “Namibian house” as a powerful metaphor. It was a deliberate message to embrace otherness and stressed ‘inclusivity’ (sic). As a core message he recognised that “Namibians deserve a dignified life”. He conceded: “A house in which a few are affluent while the rest are poor is not a healthy house.”

While his overview seeks to be anything but indiscriminate, it should be asked, however, if the younger generation is indeed adequately considered as the true owner of the future. That we use borrowed time – and wealth – to build a house not mainly for us but for the future generations.

Climate change, environmental degradation and related issues got little attention. But they are among the biggest challenges to cope with, in order to provide adequate living conditions based on sustainable development for a secure future for our offspring.

Inter-generational perspectives need to be a priority. They should be at the core of a meaningful social contract. This requires proper maintenance of the house with no waste of resources, especially when they are non-renewable.

But have we not already sold most of the family silver during the last 25 years without consolidating a basis, which would have used the generated wealth for lasting pillars on which to build the future extensions of the house? Finally, talking about the need for poverty reduction is not the same as talking about class structures, class interests and structurally embedded inequality. Social ‘inclusivity’ requires more than poverty alleviation.

Geingob’s concluding appeal that, “no one should be made to feel guilty or inadequate because heshe is … from a minority group” and that “Namibia is big enough for all of us and no one should feel as if they don’t belong here” sounds comforting. But is it indeed applicable to all? There are people, whose lifestyles are not tolerated by many, though they are not violating the rights of others or act illegally. They often remain stigmatised.

At a press conference just before taking office in March 2015, the President elect ridiculed the enquiry about his attitude towards homosexuality, dismissing these “things” as “luxury”. But these “things” are not “luxury” for those who remain discriminated against and suffer from being excluded from the family.

Similarly, the President in late April 2015 rebuked the ongoing debate over pensions for former SWATF and Koevoet soldiers by categorically stating that, “the problem with defeat and winning is that dictation comes from the victor. It will be the history of the victor.” This can only be understood in the way that rules are confined to a winner’s perspective. Such an understanding, however, excludes and marginalises.

These are just examples to illustrate that rhetoric cannot replace politics aware of realities in all their differences. The government will be measured against the extent to which it is willing to put the money where the mouth is. This includes decisions for or against the implementation of values and norms, such as the respect for otherness or the recognition that in times of reconciliation old enemies might qualify for mercy and inclusion into the “house”.

Many of these principles, once they are turned into practical policy beyond lip service are a matter of controversial views, different preferences and conflicting convictions. Policy is not there to please everybody and will never be able to do so. It needs to make choices.

While President Geingob stressed the overall ‘inclusivity’ of the “Namibian house”, it remains to be seen how inclusive it is and how much its architecture and interior design provide equal treatment to all. Is the “Namibian house” indeed constructed to accommodate all Namibians with proper facilities and a spacious living room in which all can gather?

The symbolic metaphor needs to be deconstructed by means of the following questions:

– Who owns the “Namibian house”: the tenants in community of property or the President as a landlord? Or is the President the caretaker, employed by the tenants to serve their well-being?

– Who represents the tenants in meetings of the community living in the “Namibian house” and which groups are for any given reasons excluded from living in the “Namibian house” or having a meaningful voice?

– Who defines the rules and what is the division of labour in the “Namibian house”?

– Is there the same wining and dining for all, are all sitting at one big table, and are those serving the food and drinks and afterwards wash the dishes taking turns among all tenants?

– Is there a similar rotation when it comes to the occupancy of the rooms? Is there mobility between those living in the basement and those having a view from the top floor with a balcony, or are the occupants entitled to live in their respective places without fair share?

– Are there proper beds and linen, decent furniture and all other amenities (shower, toilet, kitchen facilities, electric light, maybe even TV) for all? Who does the laundry and cleans the windows?

Last but not least: let us also not forget that the architect of the “Namibian house” as envisioned in the Sona, is not a newcomer. He served this country for 15 out of the last 25 years as Prime Minister. The ground for the house under construction was paved under his direct oversight. For one generation into independence, the President already had a major responsibility for the state of affairs. He has to deal with a legacy, which to a large extent is already of his own making.

– Henning Melber joined Swapo in 1974. He is director emeritus of The Dag Hammarskjoumlld Foundation in UppsalaSweden and extraordinary professor at the universities of Pretoria and the Free State (Bloemfontein), South Africa. His book “Understanding Namibia. The Trials of Independence” was published with Jacana in 2014.

Source : The Namibian