Eveline de Klerk
Seething anger over a rise in sexual gender-based violence in the country spilled into the streets of Windhoek, while scores staged protest marches countrywide, demanding justice and asking government to do more to protect them.
Riot police in Windhoek had to fire teargas to disperse the crowd of activists, who were predominantly young women, under the banner #ShutItAllDown.
The confrontations escalated and resulted in the arrest of 23 protesters and three journalists. The journalists were later released without being charged on Saturday. The activists were, however, charged for contravening section 2 of the Public Gatherings Proclamation Act by holding a public gathering without having given notice to the police.
They were also charged for contravening the Public and Environmental Health Act for conducting a public gathering of more than 50 and for failing or refusing to obey police instruction to disperse.
The group of 23 are due to appear in court today. The police at the weekend also warned against the holding of “unlawful and disorderly” protest marches.
“The Namibian police have been lenient enough for the three days and has been pleading with those involved in the demonstrations to remember the need for the observance of the law.
This country is governed by the rule of law and the police will not tolerate any unlawful acts and will sternly deal with anyone who makes themselves guilty of such acts,” said deputy police chief Major General Oscar Embumbulu.
In a statement, he further detailed the group raged at Wernhil mall and into some shops in a rowdy manner.
“They proceeded to KFC along Mandume Ndemufayo Avenue, stormed inside, infringing the rights of the patrons of the facility. The police had to implore them to desist from what they were doing but they continued to obstruct both the police and the patrons, prompting the police to employ a smoke generate and teargas.”
He added: “They then regrouped in the city centre and this prompted the police to once more use a smoke generate and teargas and eventually detain 27 of them for questioning and obstructing the police in executing its duty. Twenty-three of them have been charged accordingly and will appear in court today.”
Renowned human rights lawyer Norman Tjombe, one of the attorneys offering their services to the protesters, said their case is likely to be postponed for further police investigations.
“All of the things are unclear. We will look at the charges in detail once we know exactly what the police are saying,” stated Tjombe.
‘Enough is enough’
Anti-femicide protesters also rallied in Swakopmund on Friday, where they stormed the local police station in town and blocked entrance to the station at least for an hour. Scores of men, women and teenagers took part in the protest that blocked several roads from Tamariskia to town.
The chain of protests started shortly after the human remains, suspected to be that of Shannon Wasserfall, were discovered on Tuesday at Walvis Bay after six months of her disappearance. Shannon’s friend Azaan Madisia has been charged with murder and defeating or obstructing the course of justice.
Chana Wagner, an advocate for the non-profit Missing Persons Unit, pleaded for gender-based violence to be treated as a matter of urgency. She, on behalf of the unit, expressed her disappointment towards the lawmakers and police for the lack of accountability and sufficient protection for victims of GBV.
“The Namibian government and its police force do not care about the safety of our women and they have taken zero accountability. How many times do we refresh our social media pages and we read about an eight-year-old girl raped by her father, 10-year-old raped by her brother or a 20-year-old killed by her boyfriend?” she expressed.
‘Guard against violent protests’
Meanwhile, Wasserfall’s family has urged Namibians not to resort to violence when protesting against violence.
Speaking to New Era yesterday, her father Tega Matheus said he is concerned about the increase of incidents of violence during the protests that took place in Windhoek, Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, which resulted in several people being detained and arrested.
“Violence does not solve anything nor will we be taken seriously if we resort to violence,” he said. He also called upon everyone to follow and comply with all procedures needed to protest and respect the law to avoid clashing with the police.
“We can do this in a peaceful manner and still have our voices heard but fighting violence will not end violence. We are all hurting for our women and children that are victims of violence; let us not taint their memory,” he said.
At least one person was detained at Walvis Bay during a protest on Saturday at the town. Another protest has been planned this afternoon in Kuisebmond.
‘Drop the charges’
The ACTION Coalition in a statement yesterday condemned the actions of the police and demanded that charges against the protesters be dropped.
“It is clear from the video footage of the protests that the police acted wrongly and committed human rights abuses – ironically mostly against women who were protesting against gender-based violence. The police response, particularly the throwing of tear gas canisters and smoke grenades and the use of excessive force, in some instances brutal, against protesters, was unacceptable. The justified anger of the protesters is a direct result of the failure of the government and the police to protect women and prevent SGBV and femicide in Namibia over a long period of time,” read the statement.
The pressure group further called on government and President Hage Geingob to offer an audience to the protesters.
“The President should also meet with the protestors to assure them that their concerns are being acted on with urgency. We call on the minister of safety and security and the police inspector general to jointly institute a public inquiry into the police’s response to the protests. The aim should be to ensure police respect human rights, improve the police’s crowd control responses, and develop gender-sensitivity training for all police officers. We call for the charges against the protestors to be dropped immediately. Their cause was legitimate (and one we should all back) and the protest was non-violent. The arrests were not warranted.”