POLITICS-NAMIBIA: Born Frees Make their Mark

  • by Servaas van den Bosch (windhoek)
  • Inter Press Service

Grade 11 learner Horstancia Namises (19) stares at the purple stain on her left thumb, speechless. The mark is a symbol of her coming of age, a sure sign that she and other ‘born frees’ are now a political force to be reckoned with.

Several hours earlier Namises left two sisters and three sleepy dogs behind in the little iron corrugated dwelling she calls home, to join the queue at Sevende Laan clinic cum polling station in Otjimuise, a rapidly expanding township near Windhoek.

As girls and women wait their turn, young men wearing shades impatiently sneak forward, jumping the queue to exercise their democratic duty. Queue-jumping is a Namibian art form and very rarely will you see women taking a man to task in public. But at this polling station the wait was only about two and a half hours, compared to the almost eight-hour wait at some polling stations. While she waits Namises and her neighbours trade gossip and lament the latest political scandals.

Babies cry on mothers’ backs and those lucky enough to have umbrellas shade themselves against the merciless Namibian sun. At one point Namises is so exhausted she feels like giving up and going home. 'But I decided to be patient and now I am glad,' she says after exiting the polling station with a big smile.

The fourth polls since independence on March 21, 1990 are unique. For the first time everyone born after the first democratic elections on November 7 to 11, 1989 gets to vote. They call these children the ‘born frees’. Estimates peg the number of born frees around 300,000. It’s a sizeable part of the electorate of 1.13 million, though not all of them will actually make the trip to the polling station.

'I would have loved to vote, but I don’t have an ID, so I couldn’t register,' says Alu Negumbo (20) who is shopping for sneakers in downtown Windhoek on election day. Like many of his generation he was born in exile in Angola just before independence was officially declared. Negumbo, proudly wearing a t-shirt that reads born free, hopes to participate in the next elections in five years time.

Venesa Karises (18) sits down. She has just voted she says proudly. 'The people were very friendly, not intimidating at all. I felt completely free to cast my vote.' The young University of Namibia student, who dreams of becoming a clinical psychologist with her own practice, has ‘obviously’ voted for change.

Although she is shy to name the party, it’s ‘definitely’ not the South-West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO). 'Even though we all know that SWAPO will win, I am hoping that my party gets more seats in parliament and we will see some change.'

She thinks newcomer Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), a SWAPO breakaway movement under former foreign affairs minister Hidipo Hamutenya will rock the boat. 'I am keen to hear the election results. The RDP seems very powerful. Their presence on the political scene will change a lot of things and SWAPO certainly will not get the same percentage of votes that they are used to.'

In the Tobias Hainyeko constituency in Katutura township the voting queues are long. Vendors have set up small stalls selling meat and beverages. Some voters brought their own cooler boxes in anticipation of a long wait. To prevent trouble the ample shebeens that dot the area and that are normally packed to the rafters on Friday afternoon, are closed by order of the municipality.

Eighteen-year old Sandra Joackim and her group of born free girlfriends are five metres away from the doors of the polling station. They have been waiting since just after 4am, but as noon approaches she is still upbeat.

'Around six o’clock groups of people started to push towards the front, so we wound up at the back of the queue,' Joackim says. She just finished writing her grade 12 exams and plans to continue with a bio-medical degree.

'It’s a bit weird to vote for the first time,' she admits. 'The born frees are finally standing up for their rights. The country needs change because there is a lot of suffering here. Some parties only care about the people during election time'

Even though she is very confident that as a girl she will fight her way into the male bastion at the local university’s science faculty, she will not necessarily vote for a woman. 'It’s not that I don’t believe in women’s rights, we are all equal. Still I rather go for a man, I think they are stronger.'

A short distance away Maria Martin (20) from the suburb Freedomland makes her way to the exit, finally having cast her vote after waiting for many hours. 'I thought I would be nervous but everything went well.'

When it comes to politics she holds a traditional view. 'I am happy with the way things are, with the same stuff, the old stuff,' she says. 'President (Hifikepunye) Pohamba is a nice leader, I voted for him.'

Back in Otjimuise, Horstancia Namises — who has certainly not voted for the ruling party - finds the door of her house locked. Her sisters have gone to a neighbour down the gravel road of the township and her mum is still cleaning a rich person’s house.

'I felt I had the power to make a change,' she looks back. 'Like my vote will really make a difference.'

She is especially worried about the violence in the country. 'I think it will increase people seem to have a funny mentality nowadays. I don’t think SWAPO supporters will accept it if they lose.'

Otjimuise is quiet in the early afternoon. In this township life is lived at night. After dark booze and prostitution replace the destitution of endless poverty and crime thrives in the unlit streets.

Namises doesn’t want anything to do with it. 'As a teenager you get sucked into that nonsense and for some it’s hard to escape, but I don’t believe in peer pressure. You either take responsibility or you don’t.'

After a rocky teenhood she experienced her share hardship, went back to school and scores straight A’s, although life is far from rosy. 'Trouble will always find you,' she knows. 'The question is how you deal with it.'

Namises is already looking for a bursary so she can study after high school to become a lawyer or an engineer and take care of her family.

'My mother bought this plot (of land near where her house is) with her hard work. Now I want us to build a nice house on it, much bigger than this one. I hope these elections will bring happiness.'

'I just pray the people I voted for make me proud.'

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service