What has been going on in Katima Mulilo for some years now is uncalled for and very unfortunate, and if we are not careful, the repercussions and long-term aftermath will be fatal and regrettable, starting from street vendors’ evictions, and now to the demolitions of houses.
What is sad about it is that this is only endemic to Katima Mulilo as we had never seen it occur in any other part of the country! What we have seen in a post-independence Namibia, were only evictions, not demolitions.
The only episode that comes to mind on this is the Windhoek old location demolitions of 1959! Now, if people of the old location had the right to complain about the ill-treatment, even in the apartheid era, so do people of Katima Mulilo, they have the same right to complain about it 63 years later, in a post-apartheid and democratic dispensation Namibia.
Let my words not be twisted or misinterpreted, and I will not be doing justice to my conscience if I sugarcoat the status quo. They say no man is more eager to fight back, than the one who just lost everything, especially his hope and his dignity. I think that is what is currently going on in Katima Mulilo, as far as the residents of Lwanyanda location are concerned.
Can our leaders not be oblivious to the simmering tensions, because whether we downplay it or not, the fact remains that the tensions are there and people are indeed angry and hungry? A hungry man is equally an angry man, and I compare this incident to the events that occurred in Sidi Bouzid city of Tunisia, not so long ago.
This event is what sparked what became known as the Tunisian revolution or the much bigger Arab Spring in the whole Arab world.
The Arab Spring was started by a simple incident like what is currently going on in Katima Mulilo where the downtrodden and poor are being harassed time and again.
Not so long ago, we just lost a poor mother (may her soul rest in peace), who was vending in the streets just to provide for her daughter who is attending university and her other siblings. Today, we are again talking of poor countless single mothers, who have just lost their only dignity in the name of homes and shelter, built with their hard earned peanuts and crumbs of a few elites monopolising that town.
A right to shelter is enshrined in our constitution, but now seems to be denied for some. I say this might have a domino and vicious effect on our society, because when you look at it closely, the people trying so hard to own homes at Lwanyanda, are the same ones vending in the streets of Katima Mulilo.
In a nutshell, not only did council take their dignity, it first took away their source of income. Whoever orchestrated this must have been reading Sun Tzu’s novel, because this was a well thought out ‘Art of War’ tactic, where they had to first cripple them economically, so that they can no longer afford legal counsel, in the event of their home demolitions.
These events are akin to what happened in Tunisia in 2011, in a sense that Mohamed Bouazizi, the man who inspired it was also a mere street vendor who faced the similar humiliation and harassment by municipal officials that the vendors and informal settlement residents of Katima Mulilo are facing today. At the end of the day, he had no choice but to be a martyr for his people, by setting himself on fire because no one was willing to listen to him. Not even the governor of Sidi Bouzid city at the time agreed to have an audience with him. Mohamed Bouazizi felt this was the only way those in power would pay attention to the social evils his people had been facing for a long time.
His sister was quoted saying, “Bouazizi’s act was not just caused by that single incident, when the police confiscated his vending belongings, but there were many other countless incidents that had occurred earlier on in his life and the lives of the people around him.”
Therefore, we should all be thoughtful of the social issues going on in Katima Mulilo today, because according to what I have seen and heard in the videos that have been circulating on social media, which were taken at the incident, one can sense the bottled anger in our people and one can also sense the loss of hope in them. A man without hope is a catalyst for danger, and self-destruction.
Let us not give our people a reason to justify acts of anarchy tomorrow, because it might be too late. Analysts have said that what happened to the Tunisian revolution, was not just because of Mohamed Bouazizi’s act, but there were many social issues that society was dealing with at the time, from youth unemployment, price hikes and so forth. Though people couldn’t complain about it, their anger was just bottled up waiting for a perfect storm, so Bouazizi’s act only reignited it and became a perfect justification.
If those in power can hear, let them listen to the plights of our people in Katima Mulilo today and many countless others across the country, because something really has to be done.
Many people that I have listened to have also raised the issues of unfair justice, as they feel they have been discriminated by council, as far as these evictions are concerned. According to them, there is some sort of favouritism based on tribal lines, as some groups of our society are termed to be more important than others.
After the incident in Lwanyanda, many people have tried to justify it in many ways possible and describing the whole thing as being far-fetched by those who want to score political points. Believe me, with all the explanations given, it does not sit well with me, knowing that right now there are many families left in the open, taking into account the geography of Zambezi region, as very soon we might start receiving the first rains.
How urgent are the earmarked developmental projects on the Lwanyanda land? Can someone answer this question? I hope we won’t see the same thing happening, where we have heard stories of how people were chased in another area known as Piggery in the early 1990s, to make room for development, but up to this very day, the area can even be fit to be turned into a wildlife sanctuary, due to its favourable bushes!
Where will those families with schoolgoing children go from here, and can you imagine all the trauma caused by this, now embedded in those children? We then wonder, when 10 years from now these same kids turn into criminals and juvenile delinquents! No, we shouldn’t!
How dare we will become societal judges, because we will just be hypocrites that fail to admit and take accountability for the fact that we have indeed failed them, because this is what they are now being accustomed to, violence on a daily basis, both on the streets and at home.
Imagine yourself as a kid coming home from school, and all of a sudden you see your family home crushed to the ground, while your mom is handcuffed from the back, by the same people that your Social Studies teacher just taught you as being the ones entrusted with the responsibility to protect you! As horrific as it sounds, this is what has now become a norm for Lwanyanda children, though I wait to hear if there has been any counselling for the children going on after those horrific scenes, especially from the ministry of gender equality.
I challenge you to the fact that there is no difference between a child growing up in Lwanyanda today, to the one who grew up in apartheid South Africa or in the old location during the forced removals of 1959! More or less a Palestinian child living in the Gaza Strip, where people are being harassed every day. I think history is repeating itself!
I know there is no society without laws, and Katima Mulilo Town Council is trying so hard to enforce the laws of the town and the country respectively, which it should, but are there no better ways to go about it? Just like how other towns have been handling it?
Because if we are not careful, we might just as well shoot ourselves in the foot. Let me emphasise this again by saying, let us not give people a reason to justify anarchy, but let’s continuously engage our people in the issues of service delivery, because we cannot afford to lose the peace and harmony we enjoy today.
Let lessons be drawn from the Arab Spring that was sparked by a single man, but its aftermath continues to unfold and felt up to this day.
It is overwhelming how the mistreatment of a single poor vendor changed the geopolitical sphere of the whole Arab world forever. Yes, the intentions of the local council are good for the future of the town, but how we go about it should also matter. Dignity to our people and may peace prevail.
* Derrick Masangu is a social sciences teacher but writes in his personal capacity as an independent blogger.