Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Week 11: Home Sweet Home

Post by Veronica Herren

After 3 exciting but exhausting weeks of traveling, we finally arrived back in Windhoek last Friday night. On the last leg of our journey, approaching the comforting sight of the city lights at sunset, I realized that Windhoek has become home. We took the weekend to relax, get resituated into the house and reconnect with our friends here and in the U.S. On Monday we jumped back into our schedule with internships and classes.

The unofficial theme of this week seemed to focus on SWAPO, the ruling political party in Namibia. At the beginning of the semester, SWAPO seemed to be the hero of the independence movement. The past few weeks have painted a different picture of the ruling party. In religion class, we discussed the injustices SWAPO committed against many Namibians who were accused of being spies during the independence movement. There were many disappearances, torture and imprisonment that were connected with SWAPO in the seventies. 

Phil Ya Nangologh, founder of the organization NAMRIGHTS, spoke to us about his personal experiences with SWAPO and his opinion on the church’s role in Namibia. He used to be a soldier for SWAPO, and his brother, along with many other Namibians, disappeared during the fight for independence and has still not been found. He was presumed to be killed by members of the SWAPO party. Namibian society is still deeply affected by these disappearances and deaths that were never publicly acknowledged, and though around 90% of Namibians are Christians, the church has been largely silent on the issue. There are organizations like Breaking the Wall of Silence that are pushing for public reconciliation for those thousands of Namibians who still don’t know what happened to their family members. Because of the large Christian community here, there is a widely held belief that the church has a responsibility to stand up for these people whose rights have been violated, just as they did during apartheid. This is understandable; the church is supposed to be independent of the government, and I do believe it has a responsibility to protect the rights of the people. However, the church and SWAPO have been closely linked since independence, and it has been suggested that the church is neglecting its duty to stand up for human rights.

In politics, we were lucky enough to observe a session of the National Assembly. The overwhelming majority of the National Assembly is members of the SWAPO party, with only a few representatives from other parties. There has been a two-year long court case in which the opposition parties of the 2009 election accused SWAPO of manipulating the votes during the election process. On Thursday the court ruled in favor of SWAPO, which was not a shock, seeing as SWAPO has been the most powerful force in Namibia since independence. I think it is encouraging that the opposing parties can challenge SWAPO in a meaningful way, even if the decision was not in their favor. During the National Assembly’s meeting there was a lot of support shown for the outcome and for SWAPO, but there were also members of the opposition parties present who were vocal about their disagreement with the court’s verdict, and who aren’t convinced that SWAPO is innocent.

It has been interesting to note how my opinion of SWAPO has changed over the last couple of months. When we arrived in Namibia, the ruling party was presented as one of the great forces during the fight for independence, one that was instrumental in ending the apartheid regime. After living here for 2 ½ months, I’ve become more convinced that although SWAPO did play an important part in Namibia’s independence, it has quite a few flaws. With the human rights violations during the independence movement, current corruption suspicions, and lack of public acknowledgement for the wrongs committed, the ruling party in Namibia is not what it seemed to be on the surface.

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