Namibia: Racism and the Destruction of Value

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WHAT is to be done? It is worth evoking this seminal pamphlet written by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, in 1901/2 when dealing with racism and the destruction of value (life or property) in Namibia.

Namibians of different skin colours too easily switch to the racial divide as a default mode when, for instance, a white person shoots a black person ostensibly to keep “them” away from their property. Blacks, excuse the generalisation, believe a white person does not value their lives and whites are convinced blacks do not value their property. Each carries an element of truth, but skirts the real issues.

During colonialism and apartheid, blacks encouraged one another to steal from and generally cause the destruction of white-owned property. The introduction of colonialism itself was premised on the destruction of the colonised, in our case black people, and thus white people (again at the risk of generalising) have come to believe that black people and whatever property they owned were of lesser value than theirs.

We wish we could have said that was then. But the reality is that the past is still with us and it does not seem like this new nation called Namibia has even began to do something about exorcising the ghosts.

Theft of farmers’ livestock and poaching of wildlife should be seen for what they are – crime and not redistribution of wealth. The shooting by farmers at “trespassers”, ostensibly in the name of protecting property, should not be simply explained away as part of the age-old racial tensions. Several incidents took place this year across different parts of the country, pointing to deep-seated issues rather than merely the skin colour.

How does one explain theft from businesses with the goods sold “backdoor” and the availability of buyers soothing their hearts that they were taking “die boere se goed”?

Reports abound of people destroying public amenities such as street lights or names; and private property or attacking other human beings. Why should life or property be valuable only when it belongs to one’s tribe, race, friend or relative? In other countries, some poorer than Namibia, people would pay for goods or services even when there is no one to take the money.

We believe the problems with us lies with the fact that we have lost a sense of value and have not taken Lenin’s holistic approach in “What is to be done?” Criminals and other value destroyers are exploiting loopholes to exploit emotions and genuine challenges facing the country.

Lenin, for instance, was trying to avoid that the working class not only spontaneously and sporadically fight with employers.

We see no better way to address our specific problems, such as race, destruction of property and lack of value for lives, than to evoke the essence of Lenin’s pamphlet – What is to be done?

Namibians of all hues, for starters, need to understand that our problems can no longer so easily be discerned into black or white. Vandals and poachers should be seen as destroyers of national wealth.

Cruelty to other people and to animals [for whatever reason] is a worrying indication of the breakdown of humanity and that we could be very well mean Namibia is undergoing low-intensity civil wars.

Evoking Lenin’s “What is to be done” we should find a way to start looking past the emotionally absorbing race and ethnic divides and to address the core challenges. Sticking to old default modes is unlikely to take the country anywhere. And no individual should fool themselves thinking he or she can always continue to live well while around them the country is on fire.

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