…for work or sleep?
Hundreds of people yesterday took to the streets of Windhoek to demonstrate their disapproval of Government’s plans to spend over N$2 billion to construct a new parliament building. While President Hage Geingob was hosting his Indian counterpart at the taxpayer-funded State House, taxpayers were on the streets protesting what they term uncoordinated and wasteful spending. People from all walks of life joined hands to make their voices heard in a march, dubbed the ‘16 June movement’, with some accusing Government of forcing decisions onto the masses. Marchers want Government to spend the state money on schools, hospitals, houses and other basic amenities that will improve the lives of all Namibians.
The march was spearheaded by the controversial Affirmative Repositioning movement. Opposition parties in parliament have also critiqued the plan to build a new parliament, but Swapo’s two-thirds majority leaves the opposition in the wilderness. “How can there be a new Parliament building, if the parliamentarians cannot even act on their job. It is so unfair and the fact that they cannot even respond to us is worse,” said a young activist Johannes Shipanga. The youth suggested that the money budgeted for the parliament should be used to address the water issue, service enough land for the landless and build schools. Another activist David Shihepo said, “It is one thing if we have a good constitution where all our rights are stipulated but if the people, especially our leaders, do not know what they are supposed to do, and as a nation we do not hold them accountable, it is pointless.” The 16th of June was designated as a Day of the African Child in 1991 by the African Union and every year events are organised to promote children’s rights. This year’s theme is “Right to participate: let children be seen and heard”. Thirty million of the world’s 57 million children out of school are in sub-Saharan Africa. The biggest event this year is a youth takeover of the Africa Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by 500 young people from countries all over the continent.
Teachers’ jobs at stake, again
Some learners and teachers ignored a ministerial directive to commemorate the day at their respective schools, with some marching in their school uniform. Learners at the Highline Secondary School in Katutura came to school and only attended assembly after which they were told there was no school and had to go home by 10h00. At Ella Du Plessis Secondary School, only a few learners turned up with no teachers in sight. “According to my school calendar, today is a school holiday and that is why I came to march. It cannot be right that the minister wants to keep learners away from a platform that allows them to express their democratic rights by changing things without proper consultation. If they are going to fire us, then let it be,” said a teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity. Other schools such as the Havana Primary School were in confusion as they had to choose between following orders from the ministry or that of the usual school calendar. The school management had sent letters to parents with the two sides to the day and left the choice to the parents.
The youth marched from the Katutura Multipurpose Youth Centre along Independence Avenue to the Snyman Circle in Aussppannplatz where they handed over a petition to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Professor Peter Katjavivi. According to Nanso president Wilhelm Wilhelm: “It can never be morally justifiable to build a N$2.2-billion Parliament when over 700 000 Namibian learners only have 27 042 teachers, and 1 779 schools countrywide. It can never be morally justifiable to build a N$2.2-billion Parliament when our learners share textbooks, share desks and share teachers.” It is estimated that about 80 percent of students at institutions of higher learning are without adequate accommodation. The hostels at schools are insufficient and at most dilapidated, leaving students and learners with no choice but to sleep in tents and other informal structures.
“We are dropping out of school because we do not have money but still the state wants to use our money to build a new parliament, while there is already one. We cannot be quiet while the rich are getting richer and poor just remain poor,” said 10-year-old Hazel Kanime who joined her mother during the march. “Nobody should be left out. It does not mean that if we are young we do not have say. We know our rights and we are the future of the nation,” said young Hazel. Members of the current National Assembly have gone on record stating that there is a need to construct a new parliament building due to the fact that the current one is inherited from the apartheid government and they need a new building to debate new laws. Although there were some lone voices from the national assembly lamenting the wasteful nature of the project; the speaker refused to comment during the handover of the petition. Apart from the demonstration in disagreement of the Parliament the march also aimed to escalate concern amongst the African Child Day. It is still unclear whether teachers and learners who ignored the directive will face any disciplinary measures.
Prior to the march, Wilhelm called on all the teachers and school principals to tailor and arrange their affairs in such a manner that 16 June is a school holiday. “We are clear with the Namibian National Teachers Union (NANTU) and Teachers Union (TUN) that 16 June is a school holiday and neither learner nor teacher must go to school. We are saying enough is enough; we will not continue to witness and allow the poor students to be black mailed into the dungeons of poverty, squalor and destitution,” he stressed. Statistics in 2014 revealed that at least 923 children have been neglected or abandoned in Namibia. According to the Child Protection Act of 2015, child care can be organised into provision, prevention, protection and participation. The right can only be possible if all the categories are effectively recognised and implemented. The youth emphasised that the petition was therefore not only an act to debate and influence policy but further to remind the members of the National Assembly that in electing them to one of the highest offices of the land, the people of Namibia are not satisfied by the decision to build a new parliament building at exorbitant cost expected to be funded by tax payer money.
“Be considerate of electorates when up the ladder. They put you there, you need them to stay there and they can take you down. Wake up from your political slumbers,” read one of the posters displayed by one of the marchers. “The members of the youth wish to be involved in striving towards vision 2030 and the Harambee Prosperity Plan. The children and the youth are ready to participate in policy formulation, planning and execution to achieve our goals as a nation,” said deputy junior mayor of Windhoek Rachel Nghimulitete.
By Selma Shiwaya, Shareen van Wyk and Cecilia Iyambo