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Opinion - The culture of silence

2021-08-20  Prof Makala Lilemba

Opinion - The culture of silence

Prof Makala Lilemba 

It was not destined for Adam and Eve to remain silent in the Garden of Eden even after their fall from grace, but they were allowed to respond to their wrongdoing. However, many institutions today prohibit their workers from expressing themselves freely. 

This is equally against the constitutional provision which offers freedom of expression to everybody, provided it is done within the legal framework. 

Silencing people sends a wave of fear, which might lead to total submission and inhibit the sense of creativity. 

Still, forced silence may cause unnecessary paranoia among the people being led, who may fail to help one another. It is along these lines that the powerful quote of Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a Lutheran minister and early Nazi supporter who was later imprisoned for opposing Hitler’s regime, becomes relevant. 

He expressed his sentiments in the following words: “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.  

Then they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. 

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me. 

Unfortunately, this has become the Namibian way of doing things. Yet, during the liberation struggle, many people stood together to fight the racists. 


Pioneers of the struggle

The notorious contract labour system and the inferior Bantu Education could not allow the early pioneers of the liberation struggle to remain silent. 

They expressed their dissatisfaction either publicly or through the political organs they formed in the form of parties or civic organisations. 

It is this daring stand they took against the oppressive racists which forced them to flee the country.


The exile years

Though it was not easy to encourage people in exile to be vocal, the situation dictated that the culture of silence be maintained to safeguard and prevent the leakage of information to spies and other elements who would undermine the struggle. 

Unfortunately, the culture of silence was abused in some cases, which ultimately led to atrocities. We will not know the circumstances which led to the Cassinga massacre and Ashatotwa.

The fingers will point at the South African security forces, but it is likely that someone in the echelons of power of the struggle could have fed and leaked information to the enemy. What about the unfortunate situation of 1 April 1989? 

Surely, the order to enter Namibia contrary to the United Nations resolution 435 should have been issued by someone from above, and led to the massacre of combatants who were just at the doorstep of Independence. No one will dare to reveal the circumstances which led to these unfortunate events for fear of being victimised and possible disappearance. 

The post-independence years

Namibia has to a certain extent enjoyed freedom of expression after independence, which is enshrined in the Constitution as per Article 21. However, the culture of silence still lingers on as people have to exercise self-censorship. 

There are topics which are considered sensitive and the people are not allowed to air their views on those issues, especially those bordering on the security of the country. That is an international practice all over the world as no country can simply expose its citizens to dangers emanating from outside and inside forces.


Corruption levels

Despite the high levels of corruption in the country, many Namibians have decided to remain mute on the scourge and curse.

 Millions of dollars are being siphoned and stashed in foreign bank accounts, ceilings and trunks, but people with information have decided to maintain the culture of silence.  

The watchdogs who are supposed to monitor and report corruption practices usually end up joining the syndicate. The targeted ones are the small fish while the sharks remain untouched, yet the wheels of corruption keep on grinding and rolling without any signs of stopping the rot. 


Ethnicity inequality silence

Namibia has entered a vicious ethnic cycle which very few people talk about, and where the heads of departments or ministries are prone to promoting their own. 

Unfortunately, this ethnic inequality vice has permeated even institutions of higher learning, where the leaders of such bodies only promote colleagues from their tribal orientations. These cases are never raised for fear of reprisals or being stigmatised as tribalists. 


Exploitation of Namibians 

One of the main aims of the liberation struggle was to end the exploitation of Namibians by the South African racist regime, but alas, this situation has reached precarious levels. It is not only South Africans who exploited Namibians, but other nationals with vested economic interests. 

Namibians seem to be foreigners in their own country. Yes, we entertain the Global Village dictum, but charity begins at home. How can one explain a situation in which foreign companies bring in workers from their countries of origin, while leaving the majority of Namibians unemployed? Yet, many Namibians have decided to maintain a state and culture of silence, even when they can talk about these issues. Maybe the citizenry have realised that their voices are only heard during election campaigns and not when our politicians are comfortable within their five-year terms of office!

2021-08-20  Prof Makala Lilemba

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