It’s Not Too Late

As somebody born in the 90s, I can say I am extremely blessed to be in a post-apartheid Namibia where black and Coloured people are free to do and live as they please.

Before 1990, the colour of your skin greatly impacted the life you led, the dreams you were allowed to have, the jobs you could apply for, the schools you could attend and who you could associate with.

Things have changed drastically since then. Yes, racism, classism, tribalism and inequality still exist, but we are more free than we have ever been and I am hopeful that this is just the beginning.

There is an argument that seems to come up every time election season rolls around. When politicians restart the same lying campaigns that got them into parliament in the previous elections, everyone lets out a collective, frustrated sigh because they know they are about to be gaslit by Swapo or one of the Swapo-lites yet again.

This makes people question how mediocrity makes it to the top time and again, and it makes others start to think that life in Namibia is so absolutely terrible that they’d rather return to pre-1990 governance.

Yes, that’s right, in 2024 there are people who posit that life was possibly better under apartheid rule.

To me, at first glance, this is an ignorant and crass position to hold. To believe that being led by actual racists is a better scenario for you, is obviously a delusional and misguided belief.

Look at a place like the Democratic Alliance-led Western Cape in South Africa. Cape Town is a wonderful, internationally loved city. When you are there, it’s almost like you’re in Europe. It seems so advanced and modern.

Yet, the further away from Table Mountain you go, the more of the truth you see: the Western Cape is only nice for a certain few. It only ‘works’ for white people, wealthy people of colour and foreigners from rich nations.

That is the reality of a racist system. You will think things are better because of a few shiny trinkets you get every now and then, and because you inherently believe white people are better leaders, but the truth will smack you in the face when you find out you are not the one the apartheid government cares about.

Not only that but it’s time we dispel the myth that apartheid governance in Namibia was so amazing and only ended because their hearts softened.

That is a lie. Apartheid was a corrupt system that was doomed to fail. It ended because they ran out of money and international support.

Now, with all that being said, I’d like to talk about the true purpose of this column. We’ve discussed the fallacy of apartheid being better, and yet many are still willing to choose it over the current reality.

That is something that I think needs to be investigated. Though I believe every person who thinks this way is absolutely incorrect, I can’t help but ask myself why they would hold that position to begin with?

The answer to that lies in the memories of those who have seen more than I will ever see.

I think there are three groups of people who hold this belief that life is worse now. Racists, those who were adults before 1990 and who genuinely remember receiving better service delivery and there being order, and those too young to truly grasp how bad things were for our elders.

My interest is in the second group. As much as we would like to tell them how wrong they are, how can we when we were not there?

They are the only ones who can accurately compare both time periods and come to any sort of realistic conclusion.

This is what I’m thinking; how bad are things now that people who lived through PW Botha’s government would like to go back to that time?

Apartheid was definitely worse, but I blame the current regime for not making that absolutely clear to us all. I blame the current regime for the fact that many in their 60s can remember the little ‘good’ that the apartheid era did for them, and they would prefer racist rulers to the current ones who neglect their own people.

Interesting that there’s a word for when white people systemically treat us poorly: racism. But there is no such word for when a black-led country does the same to its own citizens.

It’s like if a dog was abused all its life and then it gets adopted by someone and it can’t tell which time period was worse.

I hope my question does not get misconstrued. I am extremely grateful to live in a society more equal for black and Coloured people, but my problem is that we swapped a racist and corrupt leadership for a non-racist corrupt leadership.

For many of our impoverished people, there is no difference. What does it help telling a resident of Kilimanjaro (one of the furthest and most destitute neighbourhoods in Windhoek) that life is better now without apartheid, when there weren’t any corrugated iron homes at all before 1990?

Sorry, but not being racist is not enough. Not being the apartheid government is not enough. The bar should be higher. We were meant to thrive and prosper and prove (to ourselves) that we could treat each other better than they could ever treat us, and not just have ‘peace’ as the only thing we can hold on to.

The peace we have is not even real because government-sanctioned poverty is in itself an act of violence. But it’s not too late to change that.

– Anne Hambuda is a writer, social commentator and poet. Follow her online or email her for more.

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