“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation are people who want crops without ploughing the ground. The struggle may be a moral or physical one, or it may be both. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
― Frederick Douglass
My celebration of the 29th year of independence includes cheering protestors and activists who are a sign of a healthy democracy. Public rallies agitating for change were a large part of my life in my radical younger years and I’d like to offer some advice to those who are now bringing their issues to the public.
Using the power of persuasion and demonstrations to win a constituency can make a difference.
Those who have something to say must step up and say it. One need not politely object to leaders or laws while bowing heads, bending knees, and with downcast eyes. Those days are gone. People must speak their truth while respecting the just laws of the land.
Being a protest organizer is not easy. Most who hear you will ignore you or miss your message. Others won’t take your points to heart or will outright oppose you, but real activists must be committed all the time, every single day. There is no such thing as a committed, effective and successful activist on weekends only. Personal sacrifice, networking and consistency are required.
Those who agitate for change must accept that the ‘status quo’ always pushes back. No one wakes up each morning and say, “Please Lord, let my day be filled with people who point out my flaws and errors; I just love being criticised”. And yet, in a democracy, those elected to power, must listen to complaints as well as applause.
Activists must be alert to tactics that will undercut their agitation. Those in power often say the words that the ‘moment’ requires, whether true or not. In this way, they buy themselves time. When the momentum has dissipated, the decision-makers go back and do whatever they were doing.
Within a month, no one will remember that a protest even happened. Astute protestors must blast this tactic with tenacity and well-researched, consistent demands.
As my opening quote states, power concedes nothing without a demand – any protestor who expects people in power to give up just because a placard is waved in their faces, is delusional.
Protesters must not make fantasy calls for this or that, but rather make well-thought-out demands. This means that activists must do their homework about their issue. As best as possible, they must know the pros and cons of the situation.
The Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement led a successful demonstration this week and made several demands. They said that in a specified period of time, if the houses at Otjomuise are not allocated, they will self-allocate those houses.
Aside from the fact that news reports claim that those houses are unfit for human occupation, such a flashy pronouncement makes a nice headline, but what are the logistics to make it work?
Is there a plan to fairly ‘allocate’ those houses? What stops a dangerous stampede of desperate people, physically fighting each other to grab the houses?
Assuming AR knows that it is illegal to ‘occupy’ property they do not own, where is the defence fund to pay a pre-arranged list of lawyers to be on call to help those who will certainly be arrested? Is there non-violent training to deal with over-zealous, armed police officers who get frightened by crowds?
Another issue shouted in those protest marches was, no foreigner should own Namibian land, but only a negligible percentage of Namibian land is sold to foreigners. So, I assume AR knows that the entire ‘foreigners buying up Namibia thing’ is pure hype; a total red herring by the decision-makers to distract attention from the main point.
Why not gear up for a real fight? The government owns massive amounts of land that is lying unused. It is un-serviced and ignored. Is there a survey or inventory of state land that is near to municipal service connections that can be temporarily occupied right now?
Do people realize how many rich Namibians generationally own multiple farms and prime real estate and are sitting there quietly, protected by the laws? If this is your beef, then take on this huge fight and agitate to change the law.
Furthermore, anything can easily be shown to be owned by a ‘Namibian’. That is a legal no-brainer. We all know about shadow ownership deals and scams.
Another point: reciprocity.
The hated ‘foreigners’ who are banned from owning or long-term leasing land in Namibia may ask their governments to do the same to Namibians living, working or schooling in those countries. They may also go further and block Namibian imports or stop giving visas to Namibians or cripple tourism by announcing that Namibia is hostile to foreigners. What goes around, often comes around.
Consider this: AR wants to limit foreigners to land leases of only 10 years. With Namibia in a crushing depression, carrying massive debt and in desperate need of capital to expand the economy, AR is demanding something that will murder foreign direct investment.
A business investment that can create serious jobs and bring in wealth can cost hundreds of millions. But, that outlay and the return on investment can almost never be realized in only 10 years. Result: No capital inflows for the broke Land of the Brave.
As we clean up after our Independence Day celebrations, let us reflect on the wonder of a working democracy and the need to constantly agitate for change. Viva free speech!