Wood and Glass

By Bianca Braganza

 

Wide eyed, eager eyed
Notes jotted; stomach knotted
I gaze in awe
At the Prime Minister.

Visceral, majestic, larger than life
A palace of wood and glass.
Creatures crafted carved carefully,
A home for the
Parents of Namibia.

Across the table, specs and curls
Carefully weighing
Definitions and revisions,
Indecisions,
It becomes heated as the
Past
And Present
Merge and suddenly-
“I am uncomfortable to be having internal policy discussions in front of the intern”.

My heart stops and I feel
The weight of my presence
“I’m sorry my sister, it’s confidential. You will have to excuse us” the Prime Minister says to me.

(…)

Jacob

I am still lost in the wood carvings that embrace the walls of parliament when a familiar face appears where I am seated. I first saw him past the glass encased doors, in the boardroom as we played musical chairs, rummaged through papers, and anxiously awaited the arrival of the Prime Minister. I remember thinking his eyes were kind.

“My sister! Why are you out here by yourself?” I’ve been warmly addressed countless times by this name of affection here in Namibia. As an only child, my heart fills and bursts upon hearing it.

“Ah, it’s a confidential part of the meeting so I had to step out, but I am happy to be here still!”. As if to say I’m immensely grateful and not complaining.

He looks at me curiously and smiles. He seems content to stay awhile, and I don’t mind the company. I am lost in my thoughts, processing the moments that just passed, running over each detail so it imprints in my mind forever.

“You are a lawyer too, ne?”

“Oh no, no just a student… I do study law though”

“Law ne, wow. So, you are coming from where then?” he asks. I have gotten this question often here, and I’ve come to re-arrange the order in which I respond, following quizzical looks and follow up questions (you are Canadian, yet brown skinned… or, you are Indian yet why do you sound American?). I have even been told that I look Namibian to many. This whimsical curiosity of my ethnicity has also been a process of self-affirmation within me; the history of my ancestors and the ancestors of this country are deeply enmeshed. Much of the continent is populated with Indian diaspora, originally coming as colonial slaves and workers. The lineage exploration has also unearthed a deep curiosity within me about who I am, where I come from, and what it means to be a part of ‘a people’.

“I am Indian. But from Canada. I am interning for the Chairperson but just for the summer”.

He smiles victoriously. “I knew you were Indian! I saw your face and thought as much. And I can tell by your hair! You know, our women, they like your hair, do all sorts of things, because our hair you see, it is so short. But Indian hair… yes.” He pauses for a moment, but adds shortly after:

“Ah but- we are all the same. Made in God’s image.” He motions to his wrist:

“you cut here, you know, we all bleed the same blood”.

I smile. I know this is the beginning of a special conversation.

“What is your name? My name is Bianca.” I extend my hand a bit mechanically but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“Jacob*. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Bianca, I won’t forget your face”. He extends the same hand he cut a moment ago, to shake mine.

“So why Canada? And where is it, is it far like Europe?”

I use my hands to juxtapose us and our infamous neighbor, the United States to show him somewhere in the world where it is.

“It is very far, and very cold. And I don’t know why, Jacob… My parents chose to immigrate. They wanted to seek a better life, better education than back home. So I have spent my life in Canada”.

“Will you go back?”

“I hope to”, I say almost without thinking. Which, I do. But I am unsure of how he meant. To live or to visit? I have felt more of a sense of belonging here than there, and quite frankly I will always remain a visitor in India, never quite transgressing the hybrid Indian and yet ‘Western’ Self I have come to embody.

“Yes I know this. Even our people here are moving, from here to there. There’s too much violence, and conflict in the world. So people must leave and move elsewhere, it’s sad ne”.

I think fondly of my parents, moving across the globe without the slightest idea of the world that awaited them.

“It was hard for my parents… I don’t think they anticipated that Canada would be such a different culture- such a different world entirely- than the one they came from”. I think to my teenage years, the constant clash of cultures at home, and my frustration at having to reconcile two worlds without giving much thought to the way in which my parents were struggling to do the very same.

Jacob nods slowly, as if he understands without me having to explain. I then realize I had said this aloud as opposed to in my head.

In many ways, Namibia reminds me of home, the values, morals, small things like greetings and terms of respect, the centrality of food and hosting others, the ways in which Elders and parents are revered in society. I had prepared myself to keep my Western ideologies in check, to realize and mute my North American hegemonies as I engaged and contributed both professionally, and personally. I thought this would isolate me, make me feel apart from Namibians and this weight of the Western world would bar me from really connecting with others. Instead, much to my surprise, I have felt an overwhelming sense of warmth, community, and comfort here. Much of me wonders to what extent I can attribute this to the identities I hold, of being this hybrid of both East and Western worlds. What I had resented growing up, was suddenly becoming the way in which I connected to those who have been weaving into my life this summer.

 “Do you think I could go see the mural inside?”

When I had initially excused myself from the meeting, I wandered before I was quite quickly observed from afar. I decided it was better to sit quietly in one place than make my presence more pronounced.

“Oh inside there? Of course yes, come come”. Jacob leads me past mirrored halls and marbled walls, past wooden creatures carefully carved and through glass doors.

It is almost more stunning the second time seeing now. There are colors are flowing, flooding, moving from scene to scene depicting the complex history of the country; from colonizers, boats arriving, diamonds surrendered, hangings- so many scenes of hangings, beheaded bodies, a large pit filled with brown bodies- horrid and solemn. Jacob draws attention to this frame, explaining, colonizers, then Apartheid, brutal murder, massacre.

Then the people were mobilizing, fighting, the blue and white crest appears in many stills, the founding father and past presidents of the country. Pleading, preparing, presenting to the UN. Without asking, Jacob comes to my side, and patiently explains each frame.

“This was brutality. This was inhuman”

He shows the faces with scars, the people struggling for liberation. Scenes in the wild, in the desert I had just visited a few weeks ago. From German colonels to South African soldiers. More pleas to the UN and foreign countries- Cuba, Angola- coming to support, to help, an ongoing quest for liberation. Male politicians gathered, strategizing. Women mobilizing women. More death in the streets as children play, innocent to the turmoil the country faced. Fire and smoke in the compounds. Camouflaged men hiding, seeking, killing. The waters and the animals native to the land- Springbox, Oryx and Kudu run across the mural, as the sands of the desert blends into the Earth that is soaked in the blood of its people.

“They knew” Jacob says, “they knew our land and our seas were rich. So they came, and they took, they took. You see the white man. He makes the Black man fetch him diamonds from the ocean. The Black man does not know what it is worth. But see, he his smiling because he found the diamond and can give to the white man”. I nod solemnly. Grateful that Jacob is sharing these moments with me, but also the heaviness in my heart of him explaining the brutal history of his people.

“Should we walk to the other side?” he says.

We weave around the golden staircase, around the chandelier where small glass petals absorb and reflect colorful, painful histories.

This mural is more solemn, less vibrant colors than the previous. All is set to a background of Earth colored browns and beiges. Depicted are massive boats with crosses, parked on the coast. A white man stands holding a bible and speaks down to a group of Black Namibians, dressed in traditional clothes, sitting listening carefully on the ground. Close by, another white man holds a telescope, as a Black man runs excitedly towards him holding a beaming rock. I walk a bit more. The chapel which is currently steps away from our office is depicted, as a long line of Germans parade down, dressed in carnival wear. The Wind blows streaks of blue, green, white, gray. She watches the scenes, helpless from above.

“This is Swakop?” I point, recognizing Walvis Bay where the coast meets the sand dunes and you have to blink a few times before realizing- this is real. I remember our guide telling us about the complicated history of this powerful port, where Namibia struggled to reclaim it after Independence from South Africa.

“Yes” Jacob smiles proudly “You recognize? You’ve been?”

“I have, our friend lives there. It’s beautiful there by the coast. Peaceful…”

I stand there for a while, trying to understand and imprint on my mind what I see.

I motion to leave, and soon we are back to where I first found myself. We look outside onto the city, through finely meshed windows. Each time suited officials walk by, he introduces me warmly as his friend, who also happens to be the Intern from Canada.

“Does your tribe have customs too?”

I’m a bit thrown off, but in the most heart warmed way once again. “What do you mean?” I ask bashfully-

“you know, your tribe, your family” he says, “do you have customs, like what you can and can’t do?”

“Oh.. Yes, yes of course. There are many rules, and things women should do, and should not. I grew up Catholic, so yes, there were many rules there” I say a bit sarcastically.

“You know I once met a man who was Indian. But he was so dark, he was Black. I thought he was from Central Africa! You know- DRC or something. But he was Indian!”

“Yes we have all shades and colors there…” I say. I think to the violence, discrimination and self-hatred that occur in the country based on the darkness of one’s skin color, and the way in which fairness is revered.

“Ah but, we are all children playing with the color of our skin.”

It takes me a moment to return to him, but his words resound and resonate… this idea of children, curiosity, and how we grow somehow to understand the complexity and nuances of race. He again motions with his hands: “and what is fair, really? But you know” he adds “here, we say Black for everyone who isn’t white. Brown, Colored, Black- it is all Black here”. I remember reading this when looking up South African history, and how “Black” in economic empowerment legislation was legally defined as encompassing Indians. To hear him say this though takes me by surprise.

“Right…” I veer off to say “it’s interesting because I’ve come to notice Indian and Namibian culture is very similar”.

“Really?” He asks excitedly.

“Completely- the spirit of sharing everything, community, warm interactions, respect, greetings, the way we treat our Elders. It has been… incredible. After all, we are all brothers and sisters”

“Yes, yes this I know”.

We stand in silence for a while, as we watch over the city. Exclusively green license plates come in and out of the gates.

The chief legislator comes out to offer me Rooibos tea in white chinaware. I thank her for thinking of me, and I realize I don’t know how much time has passed. I have just been enraptured listening to Jacob.

“Can I give you some” I realize it’s a bit silly to offer tea like this from one cup, I did so without thinking but I suppose wanting somehow to remove any artificial societal barriers.

“No my sister, thank you. One day you never know, you will return and we will share a plate”

“Yes we must- kapana!”

“Oh you know what this is? You have been”

The smoke and smells of the fresh meat market fills my memory.

“Yes couple of times now. I have to go back soon. We don’t have this in Canada you know?”

“Ne?”

“No! Not fresh meat like this. It is filled with chemicals and hormones back home. It is not the same.”

“Ah yes, and they put the animals in metal cages and feed them through the bars. There is so much cancer. I heard, I heard. And you cannot eat the bones”

“So much cancer and disease yes… and no, definitely should not eat the bones”

“Even the water here, it goes from the toilet and you recycle the same water to drink, it is no good”

I want to add that South Africa imports much in the country, but I hold my tongue as I rather listen to Jacob than the sound of my voice regurgitating information. But he’s looking off into the distance, so for some reason I mumble to myself:

“It’s all for the money-”

“Yes… all for the money” he echoes.

 

The German church bells ring, bringing my attention back to here and now.

 

“Bianca.” He says slowly, as if to remember better. “I cannot forget. One day we will meet again, I have a feeling. You never know the future, my sister”.

I smile, sadly almost, at the uncertainty of the future, and the warmth of the friend I just made, not knowing where his path will take him.

 

“Bianca. I will not forget you.

I hope and pray that you will be well far, far that side.

One day you’ll come back, you never know”.

 

 

*While I have his consent for the sharing of this piece, I have used a pseudonym for my friend.

 

Where the sand dunes meet the ocean, Walvis Bay

Taken at the Independence Museum of Namibia

With the Honorable Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila

You can see the Office of the Prime Minister (second to right) and Parliament to the left.

Following this afternoon, I reflected a lot on the power of storytelling and personal narratives. I had the privilege of writing a piece on Post Colonial India, Namibia and Gender Based Violence, for “The Namibian” newspaper, which reflects on how the personal is political.

 

Black Economic Empowerment

By Bianca Braganza

Forging a future for Namibia, where ownership reflects the demographic of the country.

Like many days, I am the last to find out not only what I am to do for the day, but more pressingly, where I am to do it. It’s one of my favourite parts of the job- the excitement and unpredictability each day will bring.

We had barely arrived at the Commission’s office, when we received frantic calls that I was to go immediately to the State House, to accompany the Chairperson and the lawyers working on the National Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF). Scattered, I grabbed all the files I could, put on my nice spare shoes I keep at the office and ran out. As we raced through congested streets, I ran over the key points, strengths and weaknesses of the national economic strategy that I had amassed during my research and writing thus far.

Yet I couldn’t help but draw a blank when the massive golden gates of the President’s headquarters opened… the beauty and magnificence of the expansive white building, the golden Oryx, bright green foliage and marble encasing the main State House itself was simply breath taking.

But back to business (literally). I have spent much of my internship researching and writing reports and strategic plans on the core theoretical structure and implementation of financial instruments, for the equitable economic framework in Namibia. This required conducting cross-jurisdictional analyses predominantly with South Africa, but also with Malaysian and Canadian economic strategies that sought to incorporate and address racial disparities in accessibility and ownership within domestic markets.

The principle at the core of Namibia’s NEEEF policy is black economic empowerment. Inspiration was drawn from the Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), which is a form of affirmative action crafted by the South African government, to address and change the economic landscape of racial inequalities of Apartheid, and increase economic participation of Black people in the South African economy. Interestingly, “black” as legally defined by the South African legislation encompasses African, Coloured, and Indian persons who are citizens of the country. Turning to the Namibian context, the purpose of legislation, reports and strategies based on NEEEF is to forge a future for Namibia where ownership reflects the demographic of the country. Much of this includes learning from the South African implementation of BEE and why the country struggled in practice to achieve the outcome of racial economic transformation that they originally had envisioned.

Namibia is only 29 years old, gaining independence from South Africa in 1990. The constitution of Namibia was created not by an act of Parliament, but rather as a negotiated settlement- a peace treaty, essentially- to secure independence. In effect, it solidified the ways in which the country’s economic landscape would be shaped and the way it would remain present day. Importantly, property as it was during Apartheid remained unaltered. Furthermore, constitutional provisions (for example, property under Article 16(1)) were created during this peace negotiation that protected property owners as they stood under Apartheid.

“Writing the Constitution” – Picture taken during my visit to the Independence Museum of Namibia.

If you grocery shop, or buy commodities, you will see that the previously disadvantaged majority (hereafter PDM; as defined under NEEEF means “victims of Apartheid policies”) occupies the lower level positions: sales representatives, cleaners, and public facing staff. However, ownership and controllership of those very firms, the upper management levels, are mostly held by the previously advantaged minority (PAM) Namibian population. In Namibia, there are a few owners of larger enterprises that own a monopoly on the major chains in Namibia- Pick and Pay (groceries), Pupkewitz (cars) and Shoprite (merchandise) for example.

The main challenge now remains, 29 years after independence, how do we shift the economic landscape to be more reflective of the actual demographic composition of the people of Namibia? Perhaps more importantly, how do we have more PDMs owning and controlling the economy and do so legally, in accordance with the constitution as it currently stands, unamended since Independence.

The basis upon which NEEEF operates is within government procurement. Corporations that do business with the government that meet certain compliance standards and statistical thresholds within employment and ownership of previously disadvantaged majority persons, are favoured. There are five pillars under which enterprises will be evaluated for procurement with government: Ownership, Management Control and Employment Equity, Human Resources and Skills Development, Entrepreneurship Development and Community Investment. A scoring system is enacted whereby, for example under the Ownership Pillar, “a business will score a minimum of 10 points if it is 25% owned by previously disadvantaged Namibians. For every additional 7.5% owned by previously disadvantaged Namibians, a business will score 1 additional point up to a maximum of 100% giving a total of 20 points“. Long term, the goal is for PDMs to not only own shares in companies, but to own enterprises themselves.

Much of a Nation’s independence is not simply political, but economic emancipation from external international access and controllership of the economy. In the Namibian context, if you drink water, eat chocolate or even moisturize with lotion, turn the product and you will invariably see “Product of South Africa”.  Despite Apartheid being over, South Africa dominates the Namibian economy through the reliance on their exports for goods in the country. In light of this, NEEEF also holds the potential to reduce import reliance and create a foundation for domestically producing commodities here in Namibia, and even long term to create an export economy for the country.

The NEEEF is a revolutionary attempt to achieve economic prosperity for the country by economically empowering and providing tools and financial instruments to those persons that were socially, educationally, and economically disadvantaged as a result of Apartheid. It provides the basis for a new vision of the country, based on social economic transformation to enhance equity, accessibility and ownership of the previously disadvantaged majority population.

After a most exciting day discussing economic empowerment in the country.

Day 2 of economic empowerment strategizing, back at the LRDC Office.

Proud Namibia

By Bianca Braganza

One of the most rewarding aspects of my time with the Law Reform and Development Commission (LRDC) has been the civic outreach and education we have conducted. The Chairperson, as part of the mandate of the Commission, provides legal education to the public and community organizations on various subjects upon request. This summer has been filled with presentations crafted specifically for the legal rights of the LGBTQIA+ community in Windhoek, with a strong vision for the future of a Proud Namibia.

Wings to Transcend Namibia

Pictured with the board of Wings to Transcend Namibia: Left is Jholerina, the founder of the NGO, myself, Princess, Programs Officer, and right, the Chairperson of the LRDC, Ms. Dausab. Not pictured is Teddy, who is the Advocacy and Communications Officer.

In late May, the Board from the NGO Wings to Transcend Namibia, came to visit the Commission to request civic education on the status of the legal rights of transgender persons in the country. Here, Princess tells her story of coming out to her family and the journey to acceptance she has struggled to achieve within her family, community and country at large. What I have appreciated the most about our civic education and legal engagements is the way in which the Chairperson pushes for narratives, and for engaging our personal stories with the legal activism and endeavours we pursue. Ms. Dausab began the meeting not with agenda-setting and running through legal provisions and the report we prepared, but rather by inviting the Board to tell us about themselves, their journey, and the current experiences on the ground of persons who identify as transgender in Namibia.

Community Civic Education: Trans Rights

This led to the presentation we conducted earlier this month to the community at large on the legal rights of persons who identify as transgender in the country. Upon request from the community themselves, we addressed human and constitutional rights of transgender persons with regards to: interactions with the police (and the levels of brutality and discrimination this community faces), health care workers and discrimination in employment. We also presented legal steps that could be taken to change one’s name and pictures on official legal documents. This necessitated a thorough analysis of various birth, immigration and identification acts and informing the community of strong cases that could be made to advance legal recognition of their gender.

As we presented on the Pan African landscape for transgender rights, we were thrilled to discuss the exciting news from two weeks earlier that Botswana has decriminalized sodomy. This has had incredible repercussions for the perception, acceptance and legitimization of the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community at large. Botswana has also led the way for the rights of transgender persons, where in September of 2017, the High Court ruled for the right of a person to change their gender marker on their identity documents as refusing to do so was unreasonable, and violated their right to: dignity, privacy, freedom of expression, equal protection of the law, freedom from discrimination, and freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment.

The LRDC routinely conducts civic education on the history and application of Human Rights in the country. Ms. Dausab’s personal style uses interactive tools such as group discussions and activities to elicit key themes and takeaways from her presentation. For this presentation, she broke the approximately 30 community members into 3 groups, and had them complete an activity about the aftermath of a shipwreck, where we all were tasked with assigning roles (to the male and females in the fact pattern) for fetching wood, cooking, hunting, building, and engineering with the aim of outlining how cultural norms (and even domestically, how different tribes) conceptualize the traditional gender binary and male and female roles in society.

Completing the reflection activity.

One of the most pivotal parts of our presentation to the community included emphasizing not making the same mistakes as our neighbor South Africa, in the quest for equality. Here, legal progress preceded social progress. In the landmark case of Minister of Home Affairs vs Fourie, South Africa legalized same sex marriage in 2006, after a lesbian couple claimed their right to marry in a post-apartheid country. Although making South Africa a leader in the African context for marriage equality and legal protection against discrimination (the country has added protection provisions for discrimination based on sexual orientation in legislation), the case did not cause a nationwide consensus or shift in the social perception of LGBTQIA+ people. In effect, legal protection preceded public acceptance. There is currently more violence and brutality against the community in South Africa, despite the legal framework in place, than in Namibia, which does not have any legal provisions based on sexual orientation (or gender identification for that matter). It was therefore fundamental to provide a holistic account of social change during our presentation, and reinforce that the law is not always the sole answer. There needs to be incremental social change within the country based on: active citizenship (representation in government and the workforce of the community); education; media (using the arts as a powerful way to shift public perception and to foster empathy and compassion towards the community, as well as eradicate stigma related to HIV/AIDS and sex work); business indicators; and advocacy and action.*

#BeFree

The #BeFree Day that the Chairperson was invited to speak at was a very special and moving experience for me. It fused together the worlds I am passionate about of law, health, social justice, the arts and youth empowerment. The movement itself of #BeFree seeks to engage high school students with current topics that are culturally seen to be “taboo” and covers the topics specifically of LGBTQIA+, sex work and HIV/AIDS with the aim of educating youth and eradicating stigma and false information. The messages were beautifully presented, and incorporated a range of ways in which to explore these themes, including dance, comedy, theatre, the high school students themselves presenting a debate (the topic of religion versus culture), a panel discussion (with experts in legal, medical, and community activism), and of course, the open dialogue with the Chairperson, and the First Lady of Namibia (pictured to the right).

High School students from local Windhoek schools, awaiting the start of the programming.

At the #BeFree Day, alongside the Chairperson after her successful open dialogue on same sex marriage, disability rights and access to education with the First Lady of Namibia.

 

Namibia’s Diverse Women Association – UN SDGs and SOGIESC

Namibia’s Diverse Women’s Association (NDWA) requested a presentation from the LRDC to educate leaders in the community on the status of the rights of LGBTQIA+ persons in the country, with the aim of building a national linkage and intersectional human rights equality and inclusivity agenda. This was to be done by drawing upon UN systems and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to strategize on how exactly to advance the rights based on Sexual Orientation Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) in Namibia.

With the framework of the SDGs, we aimed to create a holistic presentation that highlighted the intersectionality of various sectors in the advancement of this community’s rights in Namibia (health protections, the police force, economic advancement, housing and education). We also presented on the language and provisions of the Constitution while drawing upon successful cases made in South Africa and Botswana. There are currently two cases currently going to the Supreme Court of Namibia for same sex marriage (we find ourselves in extremely exciting times!).

We concluded that potential law reform moving forward can take the shape of (foremost) the repeal of the criminalization of sodomy (Criminal Procedure Act of 1977), the amendment of the Combatting of Immoral Practices Act of 1980 (including the repeal of outdated and unconstitutional provisions) and the insertion of protection of the rights of persons from discrimination based on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identification into various acts- from Labour, to Immigration, to Health Services Acts. It can also include the amendment of the Identification Act to allow gender marker changes and pictures for identification to be accepted without proof of gender reassignment surgery (which, in addition to hormone therapy, is currently not covered by insurance nor provided in the country).

Pictured with leaders from various LGBTQIA+ community grassroots organizations in Windhoek.

* “South Africa still hasn’t won LGBTQ+ equality. Here are 5 reasons why”. Retrieved from: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/11/south-africa-road-to-lgbtq-equality/

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