The Time Traveler: Hugh Ellis

Since Thursday last week, women and men have been taking over the streets in the nation’s capital, demanding an end to gender-based violence.

The murder of Shannon Wasserfall, whose body seems to have been found near Walvis Bay, was the last straw for many young people, who are now demanding that government treat gender-based violence with the same seriousness they did the Coronavirus pandemic.

These young people, especially women, are not taking any prisoners. Shutting down traffic on Independence Avenue, facing off against armoured riot cops outside parliament, nothing seems too much for these energetic young people.

They have even killed a big ‘sacred cow’ in terms of Namibian anti-GBV protest culture by actually demanding the resignation of a Minister of Gender Equality.

To these young people, I have to say one word: sorry.

We older Namibians, including those who consider ourselves advocates for gender equality, have failed you. We were often too soft, we let things go, we were not radical enough in our message and how we articulated it.

We held protest marches during lunch time and then went back to work.

We rarely, if ever, considered the possibility of a sit-in, or even showing up for another march the next day. We avoided confrontations with Ministers and cops.

In fact, we gave our leaders the benefit of the doubt, organising ‘capacity building’ workshops and seminars for parliamentarians and senior civil servants.

(One thing you can take away from that, though: If any Member of Parliament or Minister claims to not understand issues relating to gender, know they are either lying, or they refused opportunities for learning that were made available to them).

We did not do nearly enough to educate the Namibian boy child, to demand resources be allocated for his education.

We were too focused on punitive ‘justice’ and getting the state to legislate heavy prison sentences. We succeeded to an extent. 10 years in a Namibian jail for rape is hard time.

But we ignored that prison doesn’t usually rehabilitate, and is little use at all when the police don’t arrest most violent men. What we should have focussed on was getting state resources into preventing men being violent in the first instance.

Many of us were not active enough in our homes and communities, enthusiastically joining protests in Independence Avenue but failing to confront the rapey uncles, councillors, policemen and pastors in our suburbs.

Hopefully you will do better than we did and be more successful than we were. I hope you can learn from our mistakes.

But there is something we in the middle-aged generation can still do.

We 40 and 50 year-olds might not be able to join every protest. We have families and bad knees and jobs where you can’t take leave without notice. But we have a measure of power in organisations, whether big or small, commercial or government or community or religious.

It’s up to us to make sure that corporate gender policies and anti-harassment guidelines do not die in committee rooms. It’s up to us to use our positions as church elders and band leaders and sub-editors and admins of neighbourhood watch WhatsApp groups.

It’s up to us to use our standing in communities to call out rapists and harassers, not just whisper to their potential victims, ’avoid being alone with that guy’.

I feel very sad to say this, but this is a long fight we are in for.

Shannon Wasserfall will not be the last. I say this as someone who once hoped Magdelena Stoffels, or even Ipula Akwenye, was the last. But we must all keep showing up, in all ways, until women and children are safe all over Namibia.

Hugh Ellis is a Namibian citizen and 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