Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Namibia "Struggle Kids" Demand Redress

Namibia's 'struggle kids' demand redress

JOHN GROBLER - Jun 25 2010 06:00
South Africa Mail & Guardian

Political entitlement has a sell-by date -- a harsh truth discovered by a group of Swapo "struggle children" after they walked 500km to Windhoek to demand jobs.

Since 2008, a group of about 700 people who claim to have been born in exile to parents involved in the Namibian independence struggle of 1963 to 1989 have been insisting that they be given privileged access to jobs because they are "special cases".

How they came to be abandoned in 1989, when Swapo repatriated about 15 000 exiles, is not clear. Many appear to have been born of brief liaisons in the movement's refugee camps across the northern border; others lost track of their parents in the turmoil of war. But others appear to be political opportunists, say senior government officials.

Last year, a large number of them blocked the traffic between Oshakati and Ondangwa in Namibia's densely populated Ovambo region by occupying a bridge and stopping a presidential motorcade.

They were eventually dispersed by police using teargas, but the media attention seemingly emboldened them into pressing on with their demands in Windhoek itself.

After they had camped outside the ministry for veteran affairs in the capital for several months in unhygienic conditions, the government tried to contain the problem by sending about 400 of them to a National Youth Brigade camp at Berg Aukas, 500km to the north-east.

The plan was apparently that they would wait to be recruited into jobs by various ministries.

How many of the 400 remain at Berg Aukas is unclear, but the delegation complained of "fraud" in the way jobs were dished out. They also allege that there is a constant shortage of food, because those administering the camp look after themselves rather than the inmates.

They are demanding first option on all government jobs, but appear to show little enthusiasm for the training they are supposedly receiving at the youth camp. Namibia has a 55% unemployment rate.

Last week, the country's youth and sport minister, Kazenambo Kazenambo, gave a delegation of struggle children, who had been sent to complain about a lack of food and favouritism in the allocation of jobs, a public dressing-down in front of the media.

Berating them for lacking discipline, he accused them of wrongly assuming they deserved special treatment.

"Who gave you money to come here?" he demanded.

Last Friday, at a parade of 1000 new recruits to the National Defence Force, Defence Minister Charles Namholo interrupted his speech to order the immediate removal of young people protesting at the gates of the Ondangwa Military Base.

His stern warning appears to have gone unheeded. On Sunday, outside Windhoek, the police intercepted a group of 129 struggle children, who said they had walked the 500km from Berg Aukas to Windhoek to state their case for jobs.

They were swiftly moved to a local soccer stadium, where they vowed to stay until their plight was addressed.

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