Prior to independence and after independence, disability was viewed as a health and charity issue. People with disabilities were often literally invisible citizens in Namibian society.
People with disabilities continued to live on the periphery. The common reaction towards them was either one of pity, or viewing them as useless people. The invisibility of persons with disabilities was taken for granted, or accepted as ‘natural’.
Clearly, the difference of disability counted more as a ground for exclusion than as a cause for the celebration of the diversity of the human family (Gerard Quinn, Theresia Degener 2000).
The Namibia 1991 Census revealed that there were 42 932 persons with disabilities, which represented 3.0% of a population of 1.4 million. This number doubled in 2001, recording 85 567, which was 4,7% of 1,8 million people. It increased to 98 413, representing 4,7% of the 2,1 million people (Namibia Statistics Agency, 2016).
Based on the above and with influence from the disability movements of other countries, especially from Zimbabwe, South Africa and Uganda and the Southern African Federation of the Disabled (SAFOD), Namibians with disabilities started to group themselves into organisations of people with disabilities. This was to ensure that they speak with one voice, and that they may have a better chance to collectively raise their challenges and problems.
From the onset, one may want to honour people with disabilities who selflessly ensured that the disability movements took a stand in human rights’ advocacy. They are in no order of priority, and some may have passed away. May their souls rest in eternal peace.
They are the likes of Mr Gerson Mutendere, Mr Tjiueza Tjombumbi (author), Mr Martin Tjivera, Mr Elia Shapwa, Mr John Uheka, Mrs Alexia Manombe-Ncube (maiden name Muningirua), Mr Nicklaus Nicky Nghumono, Meme Tuliki Nekundi, Mr Nixon Munamava, Mr Adam Baisako, Mr Manase Shangalala, Mr Simon Ndakeva, Mr Michel Mbukuza, who always travels from Katima Mulilo to attend NFNPD meetings (known as the Big fish) and Mr Kalumbwa, who started the Albino organisation. Their contributions and commitments at national level would never be forgotten. Their work encompassed the period from 1990 to 2000.
Prior to them and from the 1970s to 1990s, we may remember the roles played by sportsmen and women with disabilities such as Ms Anna Kandiwapa Shipena (after whom the A. Shipena Secondary School is named), Mr Ruben Kandami Uheua, Mr Seben Katjiuanjo, Ms Marie van der Walt and others. Mr Paul Hester, Ms Tekla Zauana, Ms Silvia Maaso, Ms Hileni Uulumbu, Mr Marius Nujoma, Mr Simon Ndakeva are also recognised for they were engaged in advocacy and sheltered workshops. It is of great importance to recognise the southern African people who supported the establishment and functioning of disability organisations in Namibia, and who ensured that these organisations were functioning. They are amongst others Mr Alexander Phiri, former director general of SAFOD from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Hon Moses Masemane, former minister of justice in Lesotho and former legal adviser to SAFOD, Mrs Rachael Kachache of Malawi, Mr Jabulani Manombe-Ncube of Zimbabwe, Mr Samuel N. Kaboue of Kenya, Hon James Mwandha of Uganda, and others.
The above and many others from the continent and internationally empowered Namibians with disabilities and those in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) at large.
The struggle for the empowerment, self-determination and autonomy of people with disabilities did not start today, neither in recent years. Today, you may only know about the National Disability Council of Namibia and the Department of Disability Affairs in the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, but you may need to do some research about how these institutions came about.
These were created out of a struggle for empowerment, self-determination and autonomy.
The Disability Council of Namibia was not given on a silver platter to people with disabilities. We had to struggle. We spoke to our various national leaders like His Excellency Dr Sam Nujoma; His Excellency Dr Hage Geingob, First Prime Minister and now the 3rd President of Namibia; Hon. Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, former Speaker of the National Assembly; Hon. Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, former Director of Women’s Affairs in the Office of the first President, now Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations; Hon. Nangolo Mbumba, former Minister of Education, former Secretary General of the Swapo Party and now Vice President, (former Patron of NFVI); His. Excellency Hifikepunye Pohamba, second President of the Republic of Namibia, and other national leaders like the late Hon Gabes Shihepo, former Minister of Information, Broadcasting and Communication; and Adv. Bience Gawanas, former Ombudsman and former patron of NFPDN.
All these national leaders have supported the cause of disability.
*Tjiueza Tjombumbi is the Head of Department: Research and Development at the National Disability Council of Namibia. He wrote this article in his personal capacity as a disability rights activist within the disability fraternity.