Understanding Marginalised Communities

By Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

HOW do we interpret and understand the word marginalisation in a democratic setting like Namibia? Do we have laws meant to marginalise a certain community in Namibia after nearly 30 years of independence? What does marginalisation mean and how does it feature in this country?

It is an historic and undeniable political factor that all black Namibians, regardless of how light the colour of their skins, were marginalised. That was done based on segregation laws of apartheid, meaning all blacks in Namibia were categorised as inferior.

However, one of the fundamental principles of Namibia’s democracy, particularly Chapter 3 of our Constitution, is about Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms. It is my understanding that Chapter 3 of our Constitution did away with segregation laws and also brought to an end community marginalisation. Hence, all blacks in Namibia can now be classified and referred to as formerly marginalised and/or disadvantaged people.

Should that be the case, as I think it is, why after about 30 years can we still refer to some of our people as “marginalised communities”? Marginalisation in my interpretation and understanding would mean a political deliberate structural system delineating and preventing a certain community from enjoying their fundamental human rights and freedoms. It can further be understood as people who are structurally and deliberately put at the periphery to the advantage of other communities.

Marginalisation can further be construed as a process of pushing a certain community to the edge by according them lesser importance, in terms of which their social needs and desires are not attended to. Marginalisation thus has a connotation of systematic and deliberate exclusion.

Again, marginalisation is a kind of discrimination in another form by deliberately pushing a certain community to the edge to the extent that community will be classified as inferior. In this regard, I know well that there is no exclusive policy in independent Namibia that marginalises some communities. Should there be an exclusive policy in Namibia, then there is something amiss with our democratic system, for which our political leadership owes this nation an explanation.

There is what is known as social exclusion, a multi-dimensional process of progressive social rupture, detaching groups and individuals from social relations and institutions and preventing some people from full participation in the normal, normatively prescribed activities of the society in which they live. Is that what is happening in Namibia? Are there people in this country who are deliberately excluded from other activities of the community because of the colour of their skins or historical background? I do not think that there is something of that kind in independent Namibia.

I know well that there might be some social exclusion in Namibia based on race, geographic location, class structure, personal habits and appearance. But that must not be viewed and confused with a systematic and structural issue. There is self-exclusion of preferences that can be caused by circumstances. A brother walks with their brother or sister, black people hanging around with black people, or whites with whites cannot be classified as social exclusion aiming to marginalise any group. That is rather a law of nature, self-exclusion.   

In independent Namibia, we have affirmative action law. Affirmation action law is an instrument specifically enacted to address the plight of formerly disadvantaged and or marginalised people. Affirmative action law can, therefore, be understood as a social inclusion designed to change the circumstances of the past and habits that may have led to social exclusion.

Affirmative action law may, therefore, be defined as social inclusion aiming to improve the ability, opportunity and dignity of all formerly marginalised people.

Let us go an extra mile, as that will help us understand that there are no marginalised communities in this country. Education in this country is all-inclusive. Should there be some children who do not attend school, it is not by way marginalisation. That might be caused by some conditions only.

There are still some schools in this country that are predominantly black or white. That is not by design. It is something caused by circumstance and not because the government made it systematic and structural that some communities must not attend this or that school. The social grant in this country is across the board and without discrimination in terms of age, vulnerability and how much one gets. All these are clear testimony that there is no one who is marginalised in this country.

I know we have social disparity in this country between communities, of which Namibia is classified as one of the countries on earth with the greatest gap between rich and poor, the situation is caused by the past. In that case, even though very difficult or impossible, the government is trying to address that burning problem. But those who are poor cannot be categorised as marginalised. They can rather be referred to as vulnerable people because of their social status.

I am quite aware that all blacks were not marginalised or disadvantaged the same way. Some communities were hard hit by the apartheid segregation system, as they were regarded as inferior. What we call marginalised communities today were the most vulnerable communities, compared to others for reasons only known to the apartheid regime.

But important to note again is that Namibia was known with its eleven ethnic groups. Of all eleven groups, the Owambos – despite the fact that they made up more than half of the population – were at the tail-end of the list. If you like, one could even deduce that they were the most marginalised or disadvantaged. Some of our people with lighter skin colour – even though in the minority – were at the top of the list after white communities. That was done for political reasons.

I am in full support that the President has appointed a deputy minister to take charge of those people who are lagging behind and are now referred to as marginalised communities. The whole idea is to bring them closer to, or on par with those who are advancing. But referring to them as marginalised communities 30 years of independence will even send a wrong message to the outside world that in a democratic Namibia, there are still communities that are marginalised.

Based on my layman’s interpretation, a marginalised community is the result of a deliberate and structural system designed to side-line some people. It would be a paradox to refer to those people as marginalised, while Chapter 3 of our supreme law of the land guarantees fundamental human rights and freedoms for all.

Against that backdrop, it would be best that those communities are referred to as vulnerable communities, as opposed to marginalised communities. “Vulnerable” might be understood as living in conditions where people are helpless and exposed to many dangers, including food security. Vulnerable is therefore, best accepted as there is a likelihood that in every country there may be vulnerable people.

* Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah is a former Chief of Staff of the NDF. He is HOD and senior lecturer at IUM, and holder of a Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies. The views expressed here are his own.