In May 2019, various women from all parts of the country broke the internet when they named and shamed perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). This single moment in time created a movement that is now known as #MeTooNamibia – a coalition of several partners such as the Lifeline/Childline, the Regain Trust, BelEsprit Private Mental Clinic, the Namibian Women Lawyers’ Association, UNFPA Namibia, The Office of the First Lady, the Namibian Police Force, Nixon Marcus Public Law Firm, the Slutshame Movement Namibia and the Legal Assistance Centre. The movement has assisted numerous survivors of SGBV in accessing legal and psychosocial support.
In February, pictures of the dilapidated Katutura Hospital surfaced, causing a wave of public outcry relating to government’s abandonment of the hospital. Users on social media asserted that the government had abandoned poor and marginalised people, that there was no need for Independence Day celebrations, and that the money could be used to renovate the hospital instead. Weeks later, the president visited the hospital and announced that renovations would begin in April.
In both of these stories, one common: social media moved institutions and people to respond to the plight of the people. What was seen as disorganised noise resulted in decisive action on the part of the government and other institutions.
Our country is marred with massive inequality that is perpetuated by many complex factors and rooted in institutions of power – perceived or real. At the centre of the fight against (social and economic) inequality are changemakers and agents of socio-political dissent. These are the brave women and men who are not afraid of confronting institutions of power, such as patriarchy and the government.
Confrontation of institutions of power is nothing new – we have seen it before in the protest of the forced removal of people from Old Location; we have seen it in Sharpeville. We have seen it more recently in South Africa when protesters shut down the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. The confrontation of institutions of power represents hope and possibility: people confront because they have hope in the institutions’ ability to better serve them.
In the wake of social media, the youth have begun to organise themselves in ways that have not been seen before. They want to be heard and seen. They want better. However, their level of organising is seen as “misuse” of social media by these institutions of power. They are labelled as “social media activists”, as though their activism is any different from other activists.
Somewhere, Namibians and their government are missing each other. Somewhere, there is a dishonest logic that activism on social media is not effective; as though institutions have not been responding to it. In the centre of all this confusion lies the politics of agency, the possibilities of dissent, as well as the hope for better.
If Namibians will not use the invited spaces that exist to address issues affecting them, the Namibian government, institutions in civil society and otherwise must take it seriously when these ordinary Namibians invent their own spaces.
Lebbeus Hashikutuva is the Board Chairperson of the African Pathfinders Leaders Initiative and an activist at the #MeTooNamibia Movement. He writes in his personal capacity.
2020-03-17 07:35:58 | 6 months ago