Where is the middle-aged activism?

06 September 2019
Author   The Time Traveler
I’ll be 41 years old this month. I still don’t quite know how I got there. It seems like yesterday I was a fresh-faced 21-year-old studying journalism at Rhodes University, doing his internship at The Namibian.
Namibia is slowly but surely working its way out of its youth. Our country will be 30 years old next year. That’s so amazing to some of us who were at the alive to see the first Independence Celebration that I had to double-check the dates, but it’s true.
Experience suggests that 20 or 30 years after Independence is where a lot of countries get into trouble. Look at Zimbabwe or Kenya or Nigeria. Or us.
Independence euphoria has worn off. Economic hard times have set in. People are beginning to question which parts of the national project are worth keeping and which need to be thrown away. Some people have simply given up hope and are working solely to protect their own fortunes, increase their nest eggs through corruption, or get the heck out of the country.
A time like this, when the old is dying and the new is not yet born, is frequently ‘a time of monsters’, as the Italian social theorist and anti-fascist Antonio Gramsci said. Right-wing zealots and dictators can easily entice us with false promises of stability and security.
Many people, including myself, have said that Millennial activism is what, if anything, is going to save this country.
MeToo Namibia and the Slut Shame Walk have injected new life into Namibia’s feminist movement. Rapists and abusers have been exposed, and the question of ‘what can we do to protect women’s rights?’ is firmly back on the national agenda.
Although their racialism seems somewhat toned down from a few years back, the Affirmative Repositioning movement and its uncompromising demand for decent housing and land for all will still go down as a watershed in the political history of independent Namibia.
However, I am increasingly of the opinion that these and other movements might come to nothing if us middle-aged, middle-class people, us with jobs and houses and laptop computers and cars and things to lose, don’t support them.
Without our support, the support of the so-called mainstream, the activist movements will simply burn out through a lack of resources.
That’s going to be hard. Some of us tried to do our bit in our youth, albeit not as dramatically as young people today (and more’s the pity). We wrote for Sister Namibia, marched for gay rights in the 1990s, put pressure on SWAPO and other political parties to come up with Zebra-style party lists.
But now? We have gotten careful about what we say. We have families - biological or not - to feed. We’ve become accustomed to the good life.
It takes a certain kind of courage to march up a street in defiance of the President. It takes quite a different kind of courage to speak up against an injustice at work when your company is known to be about to downsize.
It also takes a certain kind of humility, which I’m not sure we all currently have. Certainly few white middle-class folks have it. Too many of us demand an invitation to the planning committee of the SlutWalk, when what’s really needed is to avail our VW Combi to transport people to the venue.
I also wonder how ready we are for the privations that come with a life of activism and the required setting of good examples.
The 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg was invited to address a UN meeting in New York. Rather than create more carbon pollution by flying from her native Sweden, she joined the crew of a sailing boat. Now, if I’m invited to a conference in New York, sorry, there’s no way I’m sailing there. Even organizing something like a car pool at home in Windhoek seems an immense drag.
And yet, sacrifices that will be required of us, in one way or another. Can we overworked, soft-in-the-middle, corporatized, privileged suburbanites make the required commitments? I hope so. Or will we leave it to our teenagers?
Hugh Ellis is a lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views he expresses here are personal views. Follow his blog at ellishugh.wordpress.com or take in his Instagram feed at ellis.hugh

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