Poverty and tragedy are twins

16 October 2015

The country has been rocked by the senseless murders of two sisters by an apparently mentally disturbed teacher who then attempted suicide.

 As the details of the case continue to unfold, one theme is inescapable:  poverty played a role in this tragedy.  Poor living conditions, poor choices, poor oversight of teacher behaviour, and poor monitoring of learners’ lifestyles while at school are all contributing factors to this tragedy. 

We are all horrified by this and other brutal murders, attacks, rapes, and other violent crimes that seem to be proliferating in Namibia.  Though we should be horrified, we must equally be moved to introspection about why these kinds of crimes happen. 

A photo carried in one of the local dailies shows an impoverished, ramshackle ‘home’ where the teacher lived on the grounds of the school. 

The information coming from witnesses and others involved in the situation indicates that the teacher and one of the victims, an 18-year-old 10th grade student, were living together in that hovel on the grounds of the school, while telling everyone that they were family members.  And yet, most who were interviewed about the matter were well aware that the two were not related, but involved in an inappropriate relationship. 

It is disturbing that a teacher with a history of illicit interactions with female learners and social media comments about suicide and violence, cohabitated with one of his students right on the grounds of the school.  How can this be?  This is an outrageous oversight.  Did adults around this situation turn a blind eye because they didn’t want to get involved?

Someone must be held accountable.  It stretches credibility to believe that students, who gossip, giggle and talk about everything, knew of the sexual relationship between the teacher and his student, and yet, the other teachers, school cleaners and kitchen staff, grounds keepers, and administrators claim that they did not have even the slightest suspicion about the improper relationship going on right under their noses.

Without any intention to blame the victim or hurt the mourning family any further, looking at the bigger picture and seeking solutions for the future, a concerned nation has to probe the situation.  How many of our young girls, living in poverty, desirous of ‘things’ like cell phones, clothes, make-up or small money ‘gifts’, make choices about relationships with men based on this?

How many irresponsible and criminal men take advantage of poverty and unfulfilled material desires of immature girls and women and prey upon them using the lure of trinkets and cash? 

There is something sick about any teacher becoming sexually involved with a student under their care and supervision, regardless of the learner’s legal age.  Teachers or school officials who have sex with their students should not only be fired and prevented from working in any school ever again, they need to be arrested, tried and jailed if found guilty. 

But, the school administrators and other teachers who allowed the climate of exploitation to exist in that learning institution must also feel the weight of their portion of the responsibility for the matter.  Keeping silent in the face of wrongdoing, particularly when a vulnerable young person is involved, is a form of agreement to what is going on.  Civil law suits should include the school officials who were on site as well as the criminal who exploited the learner.

More importantly, the longer term solution is to get serious about the poverty programs that are underway in communities to allow our young women to value themselves above having a cell phone or new finger nail polish or N$10 in their pockets.  Let’s commit to providing decent teacher accommodation, more consistent oversight of teacher behaviour, in-service training for teachers and outlets for counselling.  With consistent interaction with his supervisors and peers, disturbed and illicit tendencies may have presented themselves earlier and action could have been taken before it exploded into disaster. 

We must do better to protect our school children and attack the poverty that makes them vulnerable.



The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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