Freedom of speech is absolute

State House Press Secretary Alfredo Hengari got it wrong when he decried legal plans for citizens to demonstrate against the killing of Namibians by the Botswana Defence Force (BDF). The best course of action for government officials regarding citizens expressing their constitutional right to demonstrate and express their opinions (following all regulations), was to say nothing.

During an election campaign and any other time, the president should not be exposed in such a way. The statements articulated on this issue make Hage Geingob look as if he wants people to be silent just because he says so. The statements came across patronizing and limiting. That is not a good look and it is not what the President intends.

The right to speak within the regulations and gather as people who live in a democracy is sacrosanct. It matters not one bit whether State House agrees with the demonstrators. That is irrelevant. The people have a right to speak and shout and sing about whatever their position is at any point.

It is wrong to cast aspersions on those wishing to speak out. The government should cheer these actions in a maturing democracy like Namibia. The statements made, however, are yet another sign that decision-makers are out of touch. They missed the point regarding the emotions, feelings and nationalistic sentiments of ordinary Namibians.

If the people want to express their disapproval at the killing of fellow Namibians by a foreign army what is wrong with that? The president is in diplomatic conversations with the President of Botswana. That’s a good thing. But, his actions never negate the constitutional right of the people to express themselves openly.

Steps are being taken with NamPol to work with the family, repatriate the remains and continue with an investigation. That is another good thing. But, it never wipes away the constitutional right of the people to express their opinions about the matter.

When statements are made from officials that run contrary to the rights of the people, eyebrows must be raised. In this case, perhaps the people wish to show their support to the family or to reiterate that the government must stand surety for sovereignty above all other things.

Things are tense in Namibia with the backwash from the pandemic. Add to that stress, the biting economic hardships, mounting unemployment, and the overcrowding in the tin shack townships. In addition, people are angry about poor medical services, and a list of social ills. Why add suppression of the right to assemble and speak freely to that long list? It is not a well-considered strategy.

Perhaps, comments made against the demonstration should be walked back. This could protect Hage Geingob against the accusation of being out of touch with the feelings of his voting constituents.

Why not use the demonstration as a platform for national prayers and fundraising for the family. To lose four members of one family, regardless of the unproven accusations against them is a tremendous loss. If the people want to organize themselves and chant slogans, wave signs or even bow their heads for a moment of silence about the loss – this should be encouraged.

Even if the crowd wants to berate government as 37 Namibians have been killed by the BDF since independence (is anyone in jail for that?) or that government always moves too slowly to give the people feedback, or that Namibians living near the border feel unsafe due to killer Botswana soldiers – that is also OK. That is their right to speak and be heard.

The Namibian people participating in this demonstration are not children to be told when they should or should not speak out. Their choices and decisions must be respected.

The best course of action was that the demonstrations should have received no comment by the government. None was needed and none was necessary. Instead, patronizing statements were injudiciously made; this inflamed the situation further and casts the Executive in a bad light. This situation was completely avoidable. Sometimes, silence is golden.

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