Namibia
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Ekandjo’s legacy of ‘hate’ and ‘division’

Commentators have condemned former Cabinet minister Jerry Ekandjo’s repeated and long-standing pattern of making hateful statements, taking undemocratic decisions and refusing to comply with court orders.

Ekandjo, who has aspired to become Namibia’s president since 2007, has been accused of being homophobic and xenophobic, and of changing laws that have weakened Namibian democratic institutions. For instance, Ekandjo pushed through a law that gave the president the power to appoint regional governors, in contrast to the past when they were accountable to voters.

He also tabled a law that punished stock thieves with up to 30 years in prison, despite criticism from some lawmakers that the law was draconian.

The 76-year-old Ekandjo, who is known as Maudjuu, has once again grabbed the spotlight by tabling a private member’s bill in parliament that aims to provide a precise definition of the term “spouse” within the framework of the Immigration Control Act.

His bill follows a statement by home affairs ministry executive secretary Etienne Maritz affirming the ministry’s commitment to uphold a landmark Supreme Court ruling which recognises same-sex marriages concluded ouside Namibia.

Human rights activist Linda Baumann, who has campaigned for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex and other (LGBTQI+) community for over three decades, said Ekandjo’s anti-gay stance dates back to 1996, during a televised public panel discussion.

“He clearly positioned himself that he would never ever condone such. If we look at the current status of his positioning, it has nothing to do with who we are as people because it’s evident his issues are about our bedroom issues,” Baumann said.

She said Ekandjo’s stance is out of order, but other members of parliament should also take responsibility.

“Whether they believe in equality and equity for all and social justice thereof, because for me, one individual does not define the system of this country,” she said.

“The Constitution needs to be protected by all persons because these very same churches that are attacking us, years back there was a discussion around controlling churches that are emerging,” she said.

HOMOPHOBIC PAST

Namrights executive director Phil ya Nangoloh said Ekandjo has a history of being homophobic.

“You remember several years ago, when he called for the imprisonment or even expulsion of sexual minorities from the country. So, now he does the same again,” he said.

Ya Nangoloh said Ekandjo tabling a private bill to redefine the word spouse is a “useless” effort, which if it ever makes it to the National Assembly will be thrown out by the courts.

“It will still be thrown out in the courts through civil actions by whoever’s rights have been violated. It is really a work in equity,” he said.

Legal Assistance Centre director Toni Hancox said Ekandjo is entitled to freedom of speech, but she warned that “it should be remembered that any law passed which would ostensibly be used to override the Supreme Court’s decision is still subject to the Constitution”.

She also said that since it is the Supreme Court’s duty to interpret legislation using the principles of the Constitution, the exercise to draft new laws will not achieve anything.

“Resources should be used on more pressing issues, such as meeting the basic needs of all Namibians,” she said.

Hate speech that incites violence is a criminal offence and the public should refrain from such, said Hancox.

She maintained that she still does not understand how people’s personal lives are the subject of such overwhelming attention.

“It would be better to focus on whether all Namibian children are fed today,” Hancox said.

Meanwhile, Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) executive director Graham Hopwood said Ekandjo has had a track record of uttering hateful statements and not following the courts since the 1990s.

“It’s not surprising that he’s acting in this way, but it is surprising that so many politicians who have sworn to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law appear to back him,” he said.

BIGGER PICTURE

“He’s been very consistent with his utterances since independence at least, but one needs to look at it holistically, especially from a political approach.

“What are the chances that a good number of his comrades or colleagues agree with his sentiments but are not willing to come out?”

Tyitende questioned whether there are members of the LGBTQI+ community within the ruling party that are not speaking out freely.
“Why are they leaving this fight to be championed by civic rights organisations or human rights organisations?

“Because they are close to the corridors of power, I think their voice would be louder in terms of leading to a possible outcome,” he said.

Lawyer Norman Tjombe said the Supreme Court interpreted Namibia’s Constitution and the rights and freedoms of people, and no amount of laws be passed by parliament, can provide lesser rights and freedoms than what the Constitution provides.

“The motion of Ekandjo seems to do just that – taking rights and freedoms away,” Tjombe said.

He added that while the country is facing many socio-economic challenges, such as poverty, brutal murders and physical violence, politicians are more concerned about what loving adults do in their privacy.

“That is a demonstration that while the majority of politicians are ignorant of the fundamental workings of a constitutional democracy, they are obvious and blatant in deliberately ignoring the most pressing issues in this country,” he said.

SUPPORTER

The executive chairperson of the Christian Coalition of Churches, Shirley Magazi, said in Namibia, when people like Ekandjo publicly denounce LGBTQI+ practices, it is referred to as homophobia.

“For obvious reasons, to raise funding and get more international support. Ekandjo is simply exercising his constitutional freedom of speech, to freely express not only his views, but as a member of parliament he is expressing the views of the majority of the Namibian people and, therefore, in the interest of the public,” she said.

She said as a member of the Constituent Assembly, Ekandjo was part of the elected representatives who drafted Namibia’s Constitution.

“It is important to understand that politicians like Ekandjo are seasoned politicians with years of experience, who understand democracy and the values and principles upon which our Constitution was founded,” she said.

A CHEQUERED PAST

Ekandjo is known for his lack of political tolerance. In 1999, he attacked a then new opposition party, the Congress of Democrats (CoD), labelling the party a group of “traitors” and “spies” attempting to create disunity among Namibians.

Ekandjo said people in northern Namibia should shun CoD because they were “traitors who wanted to bring back the government of white people”.

Former CoD leader Ben Ulenga yesterday said he cannot comment on Ekandjo as a democrat, as he has been out of parliament for close to 10 years.

“At the time that I worked with him, that was when we were together in prison on Robben Island, he was a very exemplary freedom fighter,” Ulenga said.