Swapo Party spokesperson Hilma Nicanor blasted anyone who reported on the SWAPO Colours Rally in a way she did not like. Her ill-conceived outburst is quite telling.
It showed her lack of understanding of the meaning of “freedom of speech.” According to her, critical news reports about the colour rally held in the midst of destitute tin shack ghettos outside of Windhoek were an attempt to “destroy SWAPO.”
Worse, she commented that those living in the impoverished communities through which the SWAPO rally paraded, “chose to live there”. Such unwise comments could indicate that the ruling party is insensitive and disconnected to the realities faced by the masses of the poor.
The ruling party must not fall into ‘Donald Trump-mode’ that any unfavourable news not favourable is ‘fake.’ Namibia successfully fought for its independence. A part of that victory is free speech. The news media has a sacred obligation to report facts. If those facts don’t please Hilma Nicanor, so be it. It does not change the truth.
There were a motorcycle cavalcade and parade that included luxury vehicles parading through one of the poorest, most economically deprived neighbourhoods in the country. Nicanor wanted that fact omitted and the focus to be only on an upbeat SWAPO message that everything is fine in Namibia. She wanted ‘fake news’ in her favour.
Nicanor said, “We have very unprofessional reporters with unethical principles…in pursuit of an agenda to destroy SWAPO. Their dirty tactics…speak volumes on their lack of professionalism.” While we wanted to laugh at the ludicrousness of this outrageous rant, we must bristle at the accusation.
It is not our role in the media to be the mouthpiece for whatever the ruling party [or anyone else] does. We reflect what happened and interpret it based on the best information available. Unfortunately, Nicanor’s insulting comments are not unique. Many leaders are dismissive of the media, avoid interviews, renege on promises, fail to return calls, refuse to verify reports and hurl rude insults regularly. When information is gained by other means, then those who were asked to comment and refused, are incensed with the news media for not “reporting fairly.”
SWAPO Party President Hage Geingob regularly talks about the value of a free media – we cheer him for this reiteration of the constitution. However, many in the party and government ignore his sentiments. Nicanor’s comments are a part of that. This newspaper has called the SWAPO Party Secretary-General Sophia Shaningwa in the past and been verbally slapped when told, “I will never talk to any of you, stop calling me! I won’t tell you anything!” She said this because we dared to ask her a general question about her work.
The SWAPO Party Colours Rally in and of itself is a normal activity in a run-up to a national election. What caused the public negative backlash, was how and where it was presented. The rally was a stark contrast to the everyday lives of those watching the familiar red, blue and green flags. Those organizing the event did not perceive that contrast and adjust their rally planning.
Many in the public responded unfavourably to the visuals of a SWAPO motorcycle/luxury car, cheerful parade through misery and poverty. This response should have been anticipated. Times are seriously tough and if the ruling party, in power for nearly 30 years, does not know this, who should?
The rally organizers misread the situation and paraded wealth and ‘happy days’ during a harsh economic recession. Nicanor reportedly said, “…the event was organised to celebrate the country's wealth in honour of those who lost their lives in the struggle for Namibia's independence. She said the party had no regrets coming to the informal settlement because some of its members “chose to live there.” What wealth? What choice?
We argue that there are more sensitive ways to celebrate party colours and make a pitch for votes. A message of empathy and tangible concern could have been creatively and enticingly paraded before the people. Instead, the message received by those watching that parade was, “It is ok that you live like this.”
The people are already aware that the party in charge since independence has not fulfilled many of its promises. The media did not create that reality, but we will report on it.
It is a recorded fact that the government has not provided enough low cost or free houses and serviced plots. The land issue remains unsettled. The party promised jobs at the last election and has not delivered what was needed. Informal suburbs are hygienic disaster zones as Hep E rages. Hostels at rural state schools are dilapidated. Women die in waiting rooms at clinics unattended by overworked, underpaid staff. The City of Windhoek is seeking applause for providing 300 houses, against a national backlog of 110,000 houses. Many other needs of the people are still distant dreams on the eve of yet another election.
Nicanor stated that the party is aware of the income inequality in the country and is “addressing it.” This is a remarkable statement when made by a representative of the elites that are a part of that very disparity.
SWAPO is currently building a headquarters for N$750 million. The entire Grove Mall, which was one of the most expensive urban development projects in the country cost N$1 billion. One headquarters building vs an income-generating mall for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year; this is out of balance. The ‘upper classes’ in Namibia hold on to fishing quotas, tender deals, insider trading information, and other lucrative backdoors that often end up draining state coffers one way or another.
It is not the media reporting on events involving the ruling party that is ‘destroying SWAPO.’ Rather, the party must be more circumspect about its planned events and more politically adept in statements made on its behalf.