WINDHOEK – Information and Communication Technology Minister Stanley Simataa yesterday moved to counter what he described as a deliberate distortion of what he meant last week in a statement in which he urged the nation to not hurl insults at leaders.
He said political leaders would be first to acknowledge that by accepting the positions they hold, they would be subjected to appraisals of all sorts – including criticism.
Insulting them though, he said, was a violation of their constitutional rights.
Last week Simataa took issue with citizens who insult leaders on social media, saying that government will not shy away from using the provisions of the law to hold the perpetrators of such morally and culturally moribund acts to account.
The minister said he has noted with great concern a deluge of derogatory and insulting messages directed at President Hage Geingob, Cabinet members and the entire government, currently circulating on social platforms.
The minister did not divulge in his statement the identity of those hurling insults.
“Such derogatory and insulting language directed at the Head of State for that matter, Cabinet members and the entire government is not only contrary to the letter and spirit of the constitution but also goes against our cultural values and norms as humans and as Africans,” stated Simataa in a statement issued Thursday.
Yesterday, the Namibia Media Trust (NMT), in response to Simataa, said freedom of speech must be protected at all costs as a fundamental right which is entrenched in the country’s constitutional bill of rights.
“Politicians, in particular elected officials, and others who have placed themselves in the public eye, can and should expect more public scrutiny than the average person would face, and therefore cannot expect to be immune from even the most vigorous criticism and even insult at times,” the Trust’s Executive Chairperson Gwen Lister said.
Simataa responded by saying his statement was misconstrued to mean that leaders may not be scrutinised and criticised.
“We must make a distinction between criticism and insults. Criticism is part of the ecosystem of governance, so we can’t escape it.”
“You can still criticise your president and your ministers as long as it is advanced in a constructive and dignified manner.”
“We know the challenges the country is facing and the desperation among our people. So we understand the criticism. But when insults become lingua franca of everyday communication, we cannot accept it. As leaders we have a responsibility to mold society and this is not the kind of society we want to have.”
Yesterday, former Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) executive committee member Sioni Iikela wrote a letter to Simataa, castigating the minister for what he deems selective action regarding the alleged insults.
He cited, as an example, alleged insults by Swapo member Chris Paul Haingura, whom Iikela said is a close associate of leaders in the party, that have supposedly gone on perpetually without any action being taken against him.
Accompanying Iikela’s letter to the minister yesterday were screenshots of what Haingura is alleged to have written on social media about former Swapo secretary-general Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, calling her a gossip-mongering witch.
“Mr. Haingura is always seen with the personalities higher in the leadership echelon of our country. He posted pictures on social media with the President, with the secretary-general of Swapo Party and with many top leaders of Swapo Party and government. Hence, his writing with these kinds of morally and culturally junky status words put the names of the very same leaders your media release seems to protect, into disrepute,” writes Iikela.
Speaking to New Era yesterday, Simataa said his statement condemns all kinds of insults from anyone and not only a section of the perceived transgressors.
“My statement condemns all insults, whether from Chris Paul or someone else. It’s unacceptable to insult anyone – leaders, elders or ordinary citizens. They are all protected under the constitution,” he said.
Haingura yesterday denied that he authored the insults against Iivula-Ithana, saying his account was hacked after his phone was stolen in December 2018.
However, he maintained that he has been a subject of insults himself and has fought back by returning those insults.
“I clap back. You insult me, I insult you back. If you slap me on one cheek, I won’t give you the other cheek to slap on. I’ll slap you back,” he said.
Simataa said that while Article 21 of the constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, it should be noted that with this comes the obligation and responsibility for all citizens in exercising their rights, not to impinge on the rights of others.
“Indeed while Article 21 (1) (a) of the constitution states that all persons shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of press and other media…”
“If in the name of freedom of speech, we’re going to mold a society whose first point of communication in insults, I’d rather not live in Namibia – even if it means resting in my grave. I don’t want to be party of any society that’s like that,” Simataa concluded.
2019-01-29 09:27:16 18 days ago