The Time Traveler: Of sheep and security

11 January 2019
Author   Hugh Ellis
I wrote this on New Year’s Eve when I was feeling kind of low.
Not the kind of low that comes from having nowhere to go party or your TV being broken, but the kind that involves opening a newspaper or an online newsfeed and seeing how many human beings continue to be trash, with far too few of us doing anything to stand up to the trashiness.
The rise of the boorish and the unaccountably powerful is a worldwide trend, and rather than challenging it, we in southern Africa seem happy to follow.
In Namibia, ‘Operation Hornkrantz’ has me worried. Around the world, the militarisation of police forces has not been a good thing for the common people, especially people of colour.
The police murders of US citizens Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice occurred against a backdrop of not just racism, but also US police over the last several decades being given more and more powerful weapons, more body armour and being authorised to use more and more dangerous tactics.
I pray to whatever gods may be out there that similar incidents do not occur with the NDF patrols now in some of our townships.
Our Namibian army could indeed be re-purposed into a national service corps that is involved in more than just in preparing for a war that may never come.
These other roles could include slum renovation and engineering public works. But this would require a wholesale reorganization of the NDF and re-imagination of their mandate. It can’t be done overnight.
It’s also strange that I’ve not yet seen the NDF in my middle-class suburb, only smartly dressed regular cops. Perhaps that speaks to whom Namibian law enforcement really serve, as opposed to who they merely control.
The media has also been abuzz about Clifton Beach in Cape Town. It’s hard to believe that, in 2018, some black people were evicted by private security from a public beach in the Rainbow Nation.
If you’ve ever been to Clifton, you’ll know it’s the most exclusive of places with bronzed bodies, designer bikinis, sports cars parked nearby, multi-million rand homes lining the hills above the beach.
This latest incident speaks as much to the classist desire to keep the ‘riff-raff’ out, as it does a racist desire not to see any melanin near your rock pools unless that melanin belongs to Beyoncé or Idris Elba.
However, those of us who have lived in southern Africa know that race and class are always closely related. It will come as no surprise to know the race of the majority of ‘concerned Clifton homeowners’ who organized the private security.
I wish us wealthier people, and especially us white people, would do more to reduce racism, but instead, more often than not, we seem to be amplifying it.
A case in point is the animal rights protesters, almost all of them white, who took issue with the racial justice protesters slaughtering a sheep on the beach (in a supposed ‘traditional ritual’ to ‘cleanse’ the land).
There’s nothing wrong with animal welfare activism. But this demonstration gave credence to the view that, for certain white people, animal welfare comes before human dignity when those humans are people of colour.
I think vegetarians and vegans are basically right. I eat little meat myself, at least by Namibian standards. But anyone who is concerned about animal welfare would be wise to focus his or her efforts on the big players: the cattle feedlot and battery chicken industries; the oil, plastics and petrochemical companies.
These industries globally have been no friends of land rights for indigenous people.
Anyway, the hapless sheep at Clifton made me think of how many public spaces in Namibia are fenced off and controlled, denied directly or indirectly to the pre-colonial inhabitants of this country.
How safe do black people feel at Henties Bay beaches, I wonder? At Afrikaans music festivals? Dealing with overzealous neighbourhood watch activists? During Wika parades? Why is there no African-style carnival march down Independence Avenue? How would white folks react to that?
I want us – Namibia, Africa, and the World – to at least try to be better in 2019, to advance equal rights and understanding, not more hate and pettiness. Can that happen? I hope so.
Dr. Hugh Ellis works at the Namibia University of Science and Technology, and likes to travel into the future on weekends. The views expressed here are personal. Follow him on Twitter @ellis_hugh


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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