• July 13th, 2020

Opinion - Reconciliation through restorative justice

Oiva Angula

The issue of national reconciliation has reappeared in the National Assembly. This resulted from a motion by Swanu president Tangeni Iijambo last week. The debate on the motion is expected to continue this week. In a democracy like Namibia, parliament has a very significant part to play in advancing reconciliation. In addition, an all-inclusive reconciliation process means that all sectors of society, in particular those who were most affected by the war of liberation, but also those who may have been at fault, have an opportunity to take part in shaping the nation-building agenda and not only the ‘victor’. 

The truth, Iijambo said, is that Namibians continue to preach a fiction that has no bearing on reality or the situation on the ground.
It is sad that the reconciliation issue still rages on 30 years after Namibia’s independence. Rightly, however, the issue of true reconciliation cannot be swept under the rug when intense pain, boiling anger and deep sorrow are palpable in our society today because of a failed national reconciliation enunciated by our Founding President Sam Nujoma in 1990. Segments of Namibians feel left out and marginalised today.

The Namibian people have experienced unfathomable offences against humanity arising from the pre-independence experiences of dehumanisation and brutalisation. In post-colonial Namibia we have failed to engage the history, to admit the crimes, to hold accountable those who committed them and to move toward something resembling reconciliation. We are well past overdue for such reconciliation, social integration and national healing and the need to account for the history of brutality against Namibians by successive colonial powers and Swapo as a then liberation movement. True reconciliation is a necessary component of post-violence reconstruction and nation-building, as well as lasting peace-building.

The Swanu leader is also right to question the country’s policy of national reconciliation and to squarely state that there is no evidence suggesting it has worked in an independent Namibia.
One example is that of the ex-Swapo detainees.  Let us briefly retrace our recent past.
Swapo in exile committed grave crimes by carrying out so-called anti-infiltration campaigns of hysteria which were in fact bloody witch-hunts bereft of respect for human rights. 

In the first session of the National Assembly, late MP Moses Katjiuongua proposed the establishment of a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to probe the detainee issue. After a vigorous debate, Katjiuongua’s motion was defeated by the Swapo majority in the chamber. Subsequently, in October 2006 late MP Kalla Gertze, himself detained for six years in the dungeons of Lubango, moved a motion to discuss the Swapo detainee issue in the National Assembly but it was rejected by Swapo.

Even the book of Siegfried Groth, Namibia - the Wall of Silence: the Dark Days of the Liberation Struggle, in 1995, which relates tales and circumstances of rights abuses committed by Swapo in exile against dissident members and those detained as spies during the 1980s, was blasphemied by Swapo for lack of respect for it as ‘liberator’. 
Reverend Groth was a German Lutheran pastor who in his book recorded stories collected during his pastoral work in Namibia and with Namibians in exile. These excesses are contextualised within the growing hurricane of violence that left a landscape of suffering, blood and death that went along with South Africa’s occupation, and within a general discourse of the historical role of the churches in the liberation struggle.

Then Namibian and Swapo president, Sam Nujoma, warned Namibians of Groth’s ‘false history’, and accused Christo Lombard, a theology professor, renowned anti-apartheid activist, and defender of Groth’s work, of being an ‘apostle of apartheid’. Similarly, then Swapo’s Secretary General, late Moses Garoeb, called the party to battle stations, declaring war on the ‘unpatriotic elements’ and ‘foreign remnants of fascism’ that had threatened national reconciliation by bringing the detainee issue into the open. Garoeb and other Swapo officials have argued that Groth’s book and the issues it raised could incite a civil war in Namibia. Worst still, Swapo firebrand and late MP Nathaniel Maxuilili called for the burning of Groth’s book in 1996.

Such unbridled behaviour from Swapo, analysts have warned, will continue to hold serious consequences for the future of the party and for the future of Namibia’s national reconciliation and democratisation process.
An association of survivors and victims’ relatives, the Breaking the Wall of Silence (BWS), has been trying to get the whole truth on this question in order to find closure. However, calls for closure have been impeded by the stubbornness and resistance of the Swapo elite to facilitate a process of reconciliation and healing after independence. 

There is equally no denying that a vast majority of political crimes inside Namibia happened during the era of South African rule of terror. This is another sad Namibian story which Swapo had failed to address when it was asked in 1997 by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission for hearings to be held in Namibia. In short, Swapo rejected the idea to pursue and prosecute war criminals on both sides of the armed conflict to achieve meaning justice and reconciliation, fondly citing the apartheid Amnesty Proclamation of 1989 which had nothing to do with national reconciliation as envisioned in Namibia’s Constitution.

True healing can only come through reconciliation which involves a sequence of steps. The first is an acknowledgment what Swapo has done. Such acknowledgement becomes, in a sense, truth, which contributes to victims’ healing. The next step is contrition, taking responsibility for past actions, to express regret, and to directly request forgiveness. Sincerity, as judged by the victims, is the key to the success of this step. The above two steps, if taken by Swapo, prepare the ground for the final psychological step, which is the victim’s voluntary forgiveness of past injuries. 

Swapo leaders recognise that the detainee issue is still fraught with dangerous potential to embarrass or damage high-ranking officials. A pattern of denial, cover-ups, and cronyism arose within the party throughout the post-conflict decades. 
The motion by the Swanu leader – even aiming at other simmering national issues this time – is proper and thus welcome, even 30 years into our democracy. Our National Assembly is the national debating chamber where different views, interests and concerns should find expression and be steered towards solutions for the common good, even on the broader issues of national reconciliation. While Namibia is praised as one of the most worthy democratic societies in sub-Saharan Africa, Swapo as the majority party displays strong tendencies of autocratic political rule and intolerance with regard to views dissenting from the official ‘patriotic story’ as spun by those who suffer from political narcissism.

It is now time to make the National Assembly a real platform for a free and open exchange of views as an important sign that reconciliation is underway, along with being an important element in consolidating national reconciliation and creating a nation that is at peace with itself.
For the ex-Swapo detainees without an honest dialogue to achieve a reconciled Namibia – by also identifying and honouring the Lubango victims, and reaching out to their families, seeking redress of grievances and finally putting a closure to the issue – the ideal will never be realised. 

The ex-Swapo detainees were not at war with their movement, unless Swapo wants to prove it otherwise and lay their claim for reconciliation, healing and forgiveness to rest for ever. Equally, it is never too late to fix a grievous and brutal error. Swapo can reverse their error, an ideal which can be competently secured by a morally clean leadership, for the common good of Namibia’s future. Let us hope it happens in a lifetime of a Lubango survivor.
No restorative justice for ex-Swapo detainees just adds to the pain.

Staff Reporter
2020-06-23 12:06:35 | 20 days ago

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