Hugh Ellis

Namibia is not an easy country in which to fight for change.

Oftentimes we Namibians are more adept at explaining why new ideas can’t work than envisioning how they might.

Namibia is also not an easy country for an individual to join the fight for change.

Oftentimes an individual in Namibian society is simply consumed with keeping his or her head above water, with survival.

Like almost everyone in the world, I guess, I’m hoping that 2021 will be a better year than 2020. Doubtless, Namibians who voted in November’s local elections, especially those who raised up the likes of the Honorable Dr Panduleni Itula and His Worship the Mayor Dr Job Amupanda, feel the same way.

Change, however, can be painfully slow in this country. We who want improvements may have to look through the lens of that old adage, ‘the more things change, the more they must stay the same.’

For example, I’ve been a feminist supporter my whole adult life, and have a visceral hate for anything patriarchal. But if we allow some curmudgeonly men a term such as ‘spiritual head of the family’ (which still makes me want to throw up) in which to park their egos while we get on with ensuring women have reproductive freedom and safety and guaranteed equal earnings to men, it may serve a purpose.

Likewise, the idea of white people occupying as much as 70 per cent of land in a supposedly postcolonial country disgusts me. But if creative solutions can keep public order and avoid the chaos of a massive set of population movements, why not try them? Why not have the ‘Boer’ or German industrialist pay annual taxes directly to the pre-colonial inhabitants of a parcel of land, as is demanded by some Native American tribes?

We need social movements that can accommodate many desires and personalities at the same time. This year I attended a protest against racism, homophobia, security industry brutality AND gender-based violence. In some other countries that would probably be four or five separate movements.

But in this country – with its spread-out population, grinding poverty, limited safety nets that would enable citizens to be full-time activists, and close-to-zero funding for social causes – we must form coalitions and alliances, even ‘fake’ and contradictory and transient alliances if these will do what is required.

We middle-aged folk need to follow the youth in re-invigorating our activism. This is tricky.

Many of us are in jobs we can’t afford to lose. We can’t take time off work to attend a week of protests. We have families who will be stranded if we sacrifice our lives or livelihoods to a good cause.

I don’t think I’m unique, as a man in my 40s, in being debt-free for the first time since college, as of literally three days ago. There is a severe temptation to run with that – to keep my head down, stay out of even good trouble, make as much money as possible, by fair means or foul, in the next two decades.

But our middle-aged years are also when we have the knowledge and wisdom to fight the system from within. The only danger being, like Samson, we bring the whole edifice crashing down upon our enemies and ourselves.

Eastern philosophers have spoken of fulfillment being found in the union of opposite ideas, or at least living with the duality of them. That is, essentially, what all the Instagram quotes about ‘yin and yang’ reference.

Can we find that in 2021?

Can we – as the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev and Joe Slovo have said – embrace socialism and the market? Can we find a way to make a living and love our families and support activism? Can we find a revolution that embraces the historically privileged and the marginalized? Can our minds deal with tradition and change?

Hugh Ellis is a Namibian citizen and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication of the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views he expresses here are personal views. Follow Hugh’s blog at http://ellishugh.wordpress.com