Geingob’s comments on white Namibians and the issue of aversive racism

Dear Editor

IT has been said that ‘adversity does not build character, it reveals it’. Strong willed people thrive during times of difficulty, revealing exemplary character and a will to overcome the challenge before them. Others falter under adversity, their minds break, their mentally melts away and the façade of confidence is stripped from them, as they wilt under immense stresses.

Similarly, nations are tested by adversity. Those with national character and a cohesive citizenry are able to overcome great adversity but those who have disunity amongst the citizenry, collapse and fall into the morass of conflict.

The onset of the Coronavirus has tested every nation in this world. It has revealed the endearing qualities of humanity such as selflessness, charity, love, compassion, unity, heroism etc. Unfortunately, the stresses brought on by the virus have also revealed the dark side of the human spirit such as selfishness, hate, opportunism, theft and racism to name a few.

Namibia has witnessed both the good and the bad. It is pleasing to note that due to the effective governance architecture put in place by our government since independence, we have witnessed more positive things than negative ones during this battle with the Coronavirus.

However, if there is one thing that this difficult period has exposed, it is the menace that has continued to linger since the dark and gloomy days of colonial and Apartheid oppression – Racism. This has always been the elephant in the room and now, under the strain of resultant pressures as a consequence of the Coronavirus, the glaring beam of the spotlight is focused directly on that elephant. I recall a conversation I had with a friend a while back when I said that racism did not disappear with the advent of our independence, it simply transformed from overt to covert, or better yet, aversive racism.

Democratic institutions

Upon achieving independence, the immediate goal for the SWAPO Party was to establish democratic institutions and set conditions for peace, as a means to pave the way for nation building through the policy of national reconciliation. Therefore, those who were fighting on opposite sides adopted the spirit of reconciliation in order to pursue a common developmental agenda.

The current President of Namibia, Dr. Hage Geingob, then elected to be the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly, was at the centre stage during this critical process. It took great foresight and understanding for him to perceive that the first stumbling block the new Government would have to overcome was the fear of the unknown, which was creating a misunderstanding amongst white Namibians. As a means to erase any unfounded fears, Geingob met with Janie De Wet and during this historic interaction, De Wet was able to comprehend that SWAPO was in pursuit of the same objectives as those of white Namibians.

Thus, the SWAPO led Government adopted a policy of National Reconciliation to heal the wounds of the past by encouraging Namibians to embrace each other and work hand in hand for a prosperous future for all.

Despite the many successes achieved under this period of reconciliation and nation building, it seems that we find ourselves on the slippery slope of reversal.

Pivotal role

President Geingob, who has played a pivotal role to unite Namibians across racial and ethnic lines, stating during his inaugural speech of March 21 2015, “All of us must play our part in the success of this beautiful house we call Namibia” now finds himself under attack, from white Namibians and political opportunists, who have been irked by comments the Head of State made in his capacity as President of the SWAPO Party during the party’s campaign launch on October 17 2020.

However, if one looks at Geingob’s comments objectively, one begins to understand where he was coming from. Only the most self-deceiving and ignorant person would deny the fact that for years, the majority of white Namibians have practiced aversive racism. Researcher Audrey Murrell, in her paper titled Aversive Racism: Foundations, Impact, and Future Directions, posits that “score facet of the aversive framework paradigm is that because of human biases that are deeply rooted within a historical context and reinforced by ongoing societal ideologies, unintentional and subtle forms of discrimination emerge and persist”.

Driven by biases, deeply rooted in our history of colonialism, racial hatred and mistrust, white Namibians continue to practice forms of discrimination which continue to persist even 30 years after independence. These biases and beliefs are reinforced in households, social settings and worsened by the fact that white Namibians have established themselves in small enclaves, with no or very limited interaction with their fellow Namibians, driven by unfounded suspicions and insulated from the realities of the everyday struggles of their fellow Namibians.

For many years, white Namibians have shied away from participating in national events in large numbers, they have often sought to undertake leisure activities in isolation and they have displayed apathy for politics or political events, amongst these, regional and local authority elections.

President Geingob therefore cannot be faulted for expressing surprise at the sudden surge of political fervor amongst white Namibians. Many have noticed this and of course, the curiosity would compel one to try and determine why many white Namibians decided to register en masse for the upcoming regional and local authority elections. Therefore the President was simply stating the obvious. This is in no way saying that white Namibians should not participate in politics but if I have been a vegan for decades and then suddenly, one day, family and friends saw me devouring a 600 gram rack of ribs, would they not become inquisitive? 

Coronavirus

It is not a secret that due to the pressures brought about by the coronavirus and the subsequent measures, the economy has taken a serious knock. It is also not a secret that those who have benefitted all these years from economic access and thus become the sole guardians of economic wealth in this country, have suffered losses as a consequence.

Forget the disingenuous assertions about job losses and reductions in Government revenue. The wealthy don’t care. The only problem here is that those who fall on the better end of Namibia’s highly skewed income distribution graph are irked. They feel hard done by and to them the Government and SWAPO is to blame. A few deaths from coronavirus are inconsequential to them. Namibian lives don’t matter. Only money and the economy matters. Combine that with the lingering historic racism and you have a situation where certain sectors of society will assert, anything but SWAPO!

Elephant in the room

The President said nothing wrong. He did not violate anyone’s Constitutional rights. He only pointed to the huge elephant in the room. In fact, one must be glad he alluded to the particular issue of white Namibians. This is the year of introspection. SWAPO has undergone introspection. This is an ongoing process and that’s why part of this process is SWAPO telling the nation, we have heard you.

Many Namibians have embraced the introspective process. The question is, after 30 years of independence, are white Namibians ready to introspect? Because unless there is an urgent, open and honest discourse about the persistent aversive racism practiced by a large segment of white Namibians, we will continue to experience racially charged moments and actions driven by unfounded fears. Moments that Geingob had sought to erase three decades ago when he sat down for a discourse with Jannie De Wet over a cup of tea.

Petrus Mberushu