Friday, April 29, 2016

Week Twelve: Equal Rights in an Independent Namibia

by: Katie Bosse, Gabbi Mpagi, Lia Wellen

Siri and Gabi being politicians!
The common theme for this week’s classes centered on the question of equal rights in post-independent Namibia. The politics class visited Parliament and discussed gender equality in government, Mr. Ya Nangoloh spoke about segregation and race relations in terms of equality in our history class, and gay rights activist Wendelinus Hamutenya talked about LGBTQI rights in Namibia.

Students enrolled in the politics course had the honor of listening to the brave and beautiful social activist Wendelinus Ndiwakalunga Hamutenya, otherwise known as Mr. Gay Namibia. Mr. Hamutenya shared his struggles and triumphs about finding his identity, promoting equality, and upholding the civil liberties of individuals who identify as LGBTQI in Namibia. Becoming Mr. Gay Namibia opened many doors for Mr. Hamutenya, including an opportunity to participate in San Francisco’s Gay Pride Parade, but unfortunately he experienced backlash from Namibians who weren’t tolerant of his sexuality. Namibia has been recognized as one of the more lenient countries within Africa when it comes to the topic of LGBTQI rights, yet the truth of the matter is that LGBTQI persons are still being denied basic equal rights based on their sexual orientations and or preferences. LGBTQI persons are being ostracized in rural communities, forced into marriages for the sake of reproduction, and are experiencing dangerous acts of violence based in hate by their fellow Namibians as well as government officials. Mr. Hamutenya’s dedication to defying the status quo has had dangerous consequences such as being denied access to public transportation and enduring unlawful arrests by Namibian police officers, but his perseverance has remained resilient. He continues to work towards equality for all Namibians. 

Lia pretending to make a
speech in the speaker’s seat.
This week the Politics & Social Change in Southern Africa class began our day by getting a tour of the Namibian Parliament. We spent some time in the National Assembly. We had fun sitting in the speaker’s seat, and looking at the elegant building. The gardens around and in the center of the Parliament building were also very nice. When speaking about civil rights, or equality amongst the Namibian people, we spoke about gender equality in Parliament and we were able to draw some lines between parliament and inequality in Namibia. In terms of gender equality, the government is attempting to equalize the number of seats that women take to that of men. SWAPO (South West African Political Organization) is the ruling party and takes up the majority of seats in Parliament. They have a system where a woman takes every other seat. There is still a majority of males in government, but the number has improved drastically since independence in 1990. In terms of post-apartheid segregation and inequality, in class our instructor, and a few speakers, has talked about how the SWAPO party, the party who liberated Namibia, is now becoming a sort of oppressor due to the fact that they are the overwhelming majority in Parliament. Mr. Ya Nangoloh, director of NamRights, stated that only the color of the people in charge of Namibia has changed, but many apartheid-like policies are still in place. The fact that opposition parties have very little say in government exacerbates the power that the SWAPO party has and the lack of power that opposition parties have. So, in general, Namibian Parliament is becoming more equal in terms of gender, but is arguably unequal in terms of fairly representing the Namibian people because of the overwhelming SWAPO majority party.

This is an example of the beautiful decorations and architecture
in Parliament. These are the lights in the National Assembly building.
In our history class on tuesday we had Mr. Phil ya Nangoloh visit our class for the second time this semester to speak about the similarities between liberation struggles in Southern Africa compared to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. As the founder of Namibia’s National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), also known as NamRights, Mr. Nangoloh is an expert in human rights politics and history on the liberation struggle for Namibia’s independence from South Africa. He finds that the situation of apartheid and racial inequalities under the South African government is not a unique case and one can draw several parallels between the regime’s policy of “separate and unequal” in South Africa and the United States Jim Crowism and subsequent New Jim Crowism. Nevertheless Mr. Nangoloh did locate where the two movements differed in nature and strategy, despite having the same overarching goal of separation. Mr. Nangoloh believed there are fundamental differences that distinguish the two movements beginning with the fact that the liberation struggle in Southern Africa was a “violent civil disobedience” against a white minority while the United States’ civil rights movement tended to more of a peaceful civil disobedience against a white majority. Moreover, Mr. Nangoloh made the tactical distinction that during the civil rights movement it was focused on gaining rights for all, while he believed the liberation was more of a fight against colonialism. Finally, he wanted to leave with the class that there is a difference between freedom and independence. For example, Namibia might be liberated from colonial forces legally, but in actuality as Mr. Nangoloh explained, Namibia is still dependent on outside markets that control their major industries such as the fishing and diamond industry. 

The courtyard near the National Assembly.
Mr. Nangoloh’s visit to the class was important for us to hear the gaps in history we missed in our education in the United States. It was beneficial for the class to ponder the dichotomy of freedom and liberation in the context of a globalization and neocolonialism reign. This week helped set the framework for examining how these racial processes occur in our own home and aid in setting the tone for intentional action when we return to the United States.

No comments: