Paying Tribute Where It Is Due
THE 30th August 2010 marks a quarter of a century of independent reporting by The Namibian newspaper. It was on that date in 1985 that the first edition of the newspaper hit the streets of Windhoek.
From the outset, the publication displayed a determination to project a distinct character of its own. It sought to identify itself with great causes affecting our society and humanity at large. Its reporting has been marked by a spirit of fearlessness. This was particularly so when it came to exposing the atrocities committed by apartheid South Africa in Namibia. It was, moreover, quite bold in its coverage of Swapo’s liberation activity. Therefore, it did not take long before the publication and its editor, Gwen Lister, faced the wrath of the apartheid regime. Lister was several times arrested and detained under a host of repressive laws, such as the Internal Security Act, the Publications Act, Proclamation AG9, and the Customs and Excise Act, for allegedly being in possession of banned documents.
At the time of its establishment in 1985, the publication was slammed by the apartheid regime with a very high registration fee of R20, 000 on the grounds that it may pose a threat to the security of the state because of its political reporting. But this was just an attempt to nip the newspaper in the bud. That attempt, however, did not succeed because it was challenged in court where it was found to be unconstitutional and the money had thus to be repaid to the newspaper. But such acts of harassment and intimidation, including death threats continued for much longer. For instance, in 1988 offices of the newspaper were burned down by a lunatic fringe which called itself ‘White Wolves’. Other intimadatory attacks included bullets being regularly fired at the windows of the newspaper’s building; teargas being placed in the air conditioning system; confiscation of many editions of the newspaper by soldiers of the apartheid army, especially in the northern parts of the country, and such harassment and intimidation were extended to the advertising boycott of the newspaper by the white business community on the insistence of the regime; denial of passports to the editor and other staff members; circulation of smear pamphlets against the paper and its editor.
The reactionary measures of advertising boycotts were well learned by the Swapo supreme leader who in 2001 instituted a similar ban by the Swapo government on all advertising in The Namibian and issued an order to all government departments not to purchase the newspaper. These reactionary and autocratic bans are still in force today as the Pohamba administration apparently is unable to lift them.
In 1988, Lister was, once more, arrested and detained for several days while she was four months pregnant. That time she was detained under the notorious conditions of Proclamation AG9, which provided for detention without trial for an indefinite period and denial of access to a lawyer. The regime wanted, in this instance, to know from her the source of a document she had published, which document provided for sweeping new powers for the police in Namibia and for a state of emergency. Lister was only released after international protests. The period between 1985 and 1989 was, for the newspaper, a time of dogged struggle as the paper strove to weather the storm of financial strangulation and judicial liquidation.
Having been launched and nurtured in the crucible of the country’s independence struggle, The Namibian is very much an integral part of that heroic chapter of this country’s history. Not only did the newspaper fight constantly to expose apartheid South Africa’s atrocities and human rights violations in the country, The Namibian was also the first of its kind to implement an affirmative action policy and training programme for journalists in Namibia.
Therefore, contrary to the often repeated but misleading claim by Swapo that it was that party’s former leader who alone stood firm “where others have wavered”, The Namibian is certainly among those who stood very firm in advancing that great cause of Namibia’s liberation and nation-building. The newspaper has, no doubt, earned for itself a place of honour in the annals of this nation’s history.
All honest persons in Namibia know that when this country achieved its independence in 1990, the newspaper did not relent or slacken in its commitment to play a watchdog role over the new government. It continued to strive to guard against undesirable practices by the new government. It is against this background that the paper fell out of favour with those who are supportive of the autocratic cult of personality that has come to manifest itself in this country.
The publication has not only been striving to contribute to the nation’s effort to overcome the legacies of apartheid misrule, but also to promote the democratisation process in the country. In adopting a watchdog stance, the newspaper did so fully aware that criticising any African government is a difficult and dangerous task which even the angels fear to try. But in doing this, The Namibian has been demonstrating its love for the country (patriotism) and love for democracy. It is in this respect that the paper has incurred the wrath of autocracy, as testified to by the 11 years Swapo government’s ban regarding advertising on or buying the newspaper.
As mentioned earlier, The Namibian was the first of its kind to adopt a training programme about the dissemination of media skills, knowledge and experience in the country. No doubt, therefore, a closer look at media establishment’s in the land will reveal that a good number of key players here have received their professional grounding at The Namibian. This is so, whether one is looking at publications like New Era, The Windhoek Observer, Insight magazine or the broadcasting or electronic side of the media like NBC or One Africa, one quickly realizes that most of their editors and key reporters have hailed from the ranks of The Namibian. The publication has thus been the trailblazer in promoting the media side of nation-building.
Much of what one reads in this country’s media today about democracy, good governance and human rights is from the pages of The Namibian. The publication is, therefore, staying the course as far as the efforts to deepen progressive ideas in our society, is concerned. It is steadfast in combating the reactionary tendencies, such as, autocracy, corruption, lack of accountability and transparency. It is, therefore, fitting, on this occasion of the 25th anniversary of The Namibian, to pay fitting tribute to the life and work of this great newspaper and its founders.
* Hidipo Hamutenya is the President of the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP).