The recent murder of a Namibian citizen by a Chinese national working in Namibia is an outrage and tragedy. However, we believe that the ‘hang’em high’ fever pitch that is erupting, is unseemly.
Murder is murder. The uniting of civil society, unions and ordinary citizens must be an outcry against MURDER, not a xenophobic tirade that could quickly explode into something violent and ugly.
If this becomes an anti-Chinese lynch mob rather than an anti-murder protest, we cheapen the heinous act of murder and reduce the act of taking someone’s life to a populist political football. We must ask the murder victims’ families if they are ok with that.
We believe that anyone guilty of murder in Namibia, whether they are from Keetmanshoop, Katima, Beijing, Berlin, Baltimore or the moon, must feel the long arm of the law, be tried and if found guilty, punished accordingly.
Right now there are two Americans in prison accused of murdering a Namibian. Did Affirmative Repositioning (AR) write to the US Ambassador lambasting her for Americans who come to Namibia to kill? Did the NUNW declare for the cameras that, “the [USA] itself has a death penalty in their own country and they are coming here to come and kill.” And yet, such raving, rambling declarations were made to the Chinese Ambassador here as a result of this murder accusation in Kavango West.
Namibia suffers murders of countless women and vulnerable people which remain unsolved and yet, where is this level of outrage? Have people forgotten Avihe Cheryl Ujaha, Magdalena Stoffels, Hilya Loide Iiyambo from Uukwandongo village, and so many others? Is it because the suspected perpetrators are not likely Chinese that no one sustains their concern over these murders?
Is the message being sent that murder is ‘not so bad’ as long as a Namibian does it?
South Africa also faced turmoil after the arrest and convictions of white people for killing black men or forcing blacks into coffins to terrorize them or calling them baboons while throwing them off the back of a fast-moving truck. The apartheid history has left open wounds where, for the most part, whites are still suspected of supremacist beliefs at their core unless they prove otherwise by their actions.
But, does that mean the murder or torture is worse because of the race of the aggressor and the victim? We need to check ourselves on this.
Equally, we have no patience for the legal machinery working better when the victims are white than when they are black. A white female tourist who is robbed of her camera should get the same treatment as a local Meme robbed while withdrawing her social security money. Robbery of anyone is wrong and must be stopped and prosecuted coldly. When we act as if robbing the white woman is ‘more of a crime’ than robbing a black woman, we are participating in an institutionally racist ideology and that is detrimental to the promise of this nation as embodied in the constitution.
Nevertheless, we would be remiss if we did not recount the ethos about the Chinese in the minds of day-to-day Namibians. Perceptions make reality and generalizations. No matter how unreasonable or untrue, they tend to affect the impressions we have of one another. Unfortunately, we believe that Chinese are perceived not just to be foreign, but alien in language (many in Namibia still speak Afrikaans, but not mandarin), culture, religion and food preferences. For example, eating dogs and cats are taboo in many local communities in Namibia, but can be quite ordinary in China. This can create quite a gulf in acceptance of the Chinese in some cases.
Liberation struggle credentials notwithstanding, when the Chinese business communities enter a commerce arena where local people have operated for decades. They come into areas, open their shops, export their profits, under-price their products and unfairly compete (using poor quality, mass produced Chinese goods) with indigenous businesses that sell higher quality items, must pay decent wages and participate in the communities in which they and their families live.
Rightly or wrongly, there is a perception that Chinese racism is as ugly as that of the worse Namibian white supremacists. However, black Namibians are accustomed to managing the latter and are unused to the former. The racist whites smile, shake hands, (seemingly) accept their defeat of March 21, 1990 and at least pretend well when dealing with the majority population. Some Chinese operating in Namibia have not yet mastered this playacting talent and wear their disdain for blacks quite openly in some cases. Local people who have problems accepting the Chinese claim that they “look down on blacks.”
The reality that gets lost in all of these generalizations and race-based perceptions is that people are people with equal capacity to do good or do evil. The race or nationality of a person has nothing to do with their propensity to break the law or uphold it, to lie or tell the truth, to murder or not, to steal or to respect someone’s property.
We believe the issue that should stoke the ire of the public is ANY businessman who exploits a worker by not paying salary, ignores the labour laws, uses racist epithets, and treats employees with constant disdain. The law is clear about how workers must be treated, just as the law is clear in handling people who commit murder.
We know of Namibian farmers (from all backgrounds) who treat their employees as slaves. There is no regard for the working hours detailed in the law; salaries are routinely paid late, if at all. Food, beverages or small stock are routinely offered in lieu of money and other such labour law violations occur regularly. Where is the union outrage in these cases?
We also caution rabble rousers over this case of accused Chinese businessmen, to tread carefully in these tough economic times. Anger is bubbling just under the surface of calm. The public is frightened.
The xenophobic outbursts in other countries can infect us here. Those screaming loudly about the Chinese must not incite violence aimed at the Chinese. We already have had reports for years of Chinese businessmen being robbed of huge amounts of cash and people say, ‘so what?’ Will it be a large jump to have other crimes committed specifically against the Chinese that are pushed aside as well?
Those whipping up anti-Chinese fury must be leaders and stay on point about the violation of the law that applies to ALL, regardless of where they come from.