As a white Namibian – though I would prefer to be known simply as a Namibian – I am not in the least bothered by President Geingob’s recent remarks on white Namibians allegedly voting en masse against SWAPO.
In October Geingob said he had noted with concern a supposed trend in which white Namibians have been registering themselves ‘in big numbers’ to vote in the regional and local elections. Geingob charged these people ‘declared war’ against the ruling party and want to vote for ‘anything else but SWAPO’. This was despite SWAPO making sure that white people ‘enjoy peace, unity and comfort for all this time’.
I agree with political commentator Nico Horn, who said, ‘The whites are just too divided and small to have an impact on the election. Wherever the whites make their cross in this election, will make little if any difference to the political balance of power.’
To be clear, Geingob’s statement was inaccurate, prejudiced, disingenuous, and a crude attempt to manipulate the genuine struggles of black Namibians in order to claw back the ruling party’s slipping-away electoral advantage.
What his statement was not, is racist.
According to the majority of sociologists and political scholars, to qualify as racism, as opposed to mere prejudice, hurtful and ignorant language must be backed up by economic and institutional power.
It’s worth remembering that we whites in Namibia are not some poor, marginalized, genocided, beat-down upon group. It would be entirely different had the President said this about some San community.
We white Namibians control the majority of commercial agricultural and industrial land. We are shareholders in businesses to a far greater extent than our numbers would suggest. We tend to be highly educated, even as education has become more expensive. We are disproportionately represented among householders in the suburbs, and can hardly be seen in the townships, much less the informal settlements. European languages like English and German still dominate political and business discourse.
One would be mad to read the history of Namibia and not realize that most of these advantages are the ill-gotten gains of the apartheid system. President Geingob is right when he says the ruling party has facilitated us hanging on to most of these gains throughout the 30-odd years of Independence.
Some in my community are making a big hoo-ha about Geingob’s remarks, as though it means we’re all about to be shot or something.
I hardly think so. Personally, I’m still living in my nice house, behind sturdy walls, protected by an armed response company that is better armed and trained than some military forces. I can give lectures and conduct meetings in my first language, and have never once been asked to switch to Oshikwanyama ‘to fit in better’ or be addressed by my Silozi nickname because my English-Welsh real name is ‘just too hard to pronounce’.
What I wish is that senior politicians would call us whites out for what we’re really guilty of, rather than imaginary electoral pacts: holding on to our ill-gotten wealth, not being willing enough to share, seldom considering partnerships and joint ventures with indigenous Namibians, often ill-treating our black employees, not engaging with the black Namibian cultures, languages, music and traditions around us.
What I don’t want this column to imply is that I’m somehow happy with my privilege. Far from it. I’m aware of it, and trying to challenge it at every chance I get. My aim is to get my fellow white Namibians to do the same.
We should respond to remarks like Geingob’s, as ignorant and prejudiced as they may be, by reducing our isolation: by sharing more, by caring, by doing better. Not by getting self-righteous and hosting pity parties so we too can participate in some kind of Oppression Olympics.
Hugh ‘Liswaniso’ 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