The Basement Conversation held a talk under the topic ‘Racism: Namibia’s Undeniable Shame’, regarding racism in the country after 30 years of independence and the way forward, stating that it is an institutional issue that is demonstrated and is portioned through social power.
The talk was contributed by statistician Samuel Ndungula, lawyer Clinton Muinjo, media practitioner Esmie Erastus, and activist Vendjii Kandetu; it was moderated by Unam spokesperson John Haufiku.
Erastus lamented that Namibia’s independence is only on paper. “Some of these structures that existed during apartheid were never dismantled; discrimination still exists if you look at how Windhoek is structured. You still have Katutura, Khomasdal and predominantly white suburbs – and colonialism has repel effects,” she stated.
Erastus said having gone to a white school, it is something she regrets to date, as she was not taught black history. “We were never taught black history; we were taught Joan of Arc and skipped black history. Today, you find white students who see apartheid as segregation and they think what was painted to them is now over,” mentioned Erastus.
Joan of Arc is considered a heroine of France for her role during the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years of War and was canonised as a Catholic saint.
Panellists were caught between a rock and a hard place when questioned whether the government is doing enough to address racism.
“I would say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ but more ‘no’. There are laws in place and the government has set a platform or a foundation to advocate for formal equality. On the other hand, I would say formal equality is not enough. There needs to be an element of substantial equality that is added to our roles. South Africa has the BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) policy to ensure there is a specific number of black people in a company or who are in positions that didn’t exist in the past,” highlighted Muinjo.
Ndungula, on the other hand, said the question whether the government is doing enough or not is unfair. “Is racism a black government responsibility to deconstruct and does it have the ability to deconstruct racism? Racism is not only institutional, but it is also cultural; people ignore the fact that governments can come up with policies and laws and force integration,” opined Ndungula.
He said the example of DHPS is a practical case of what he is referring to that forced integration can somehow ignite racism. “We force black children to go to into those types of spaces and force integration with those people and they are subjugated and subjected to the very same racism,” mentioned Ndungula.
He said the question that must be tabled is how white people can deconstruct racism within white communities and not how a black government can do that because the government cannot do that since all it can do is come up with laws that criminalise racist behaviour.
Asked whether black people can be racist, Ndungula, Muinjo and Kandetu said that can not be the case here in Namibia. “I don’t think black people can be racists because racism stems from a system of parity – or in this case, disparity to say that you have one specific group in society that is in a position of power or position of influence; then you have the rest of us who aren’t necessarily closer to being the white man,” explained Muinjo.
He said: “It is difficult to deduce a black person being racist. Is it me insulting someone from a different race? Is it me deciding that I own a shop and I don’t want to employ someone from a different race? Society is still unequal; we still see that black people are part of the lower batches of people in our communities”.
Muinjo said more of these discussions should be held to unpack and find ways to address racism.
“Laws always conform to the ethos of its people; it’s not like a fixed thing. It’s always conforming according to the time, specific dispensation,” stated Muinjo.
He said: “How we can all form part of the eradication of racism if you going out, hearing someone saying something out place, making racist jokes and so forth, you need to stand up, speak against and continue with the conversations. It doesn’t end here.”
Kandetu agreed with Muinjo that the conversation needs to continue happening because racism is an abstract topic in itself.
Ndungula said he has no time, intensions nor the emotional maturity to constantly express his humanity and personal view to those who don’t care about it.
“What I do personally and what I think we should collectively do is to engage racism as it presents itself; we are not in the business of educating white people that we deserve humanity but when they do not show us humanity, we must use whatever means necessary to address racism,” pressed Ndungula.