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Geingob's response on Wal-Mart issue

By Dr. Hage G. Geingob
I have learned with great dismay of the unwarranted tirade by the Society of Advocates, describing my reaction at the judgement in the matter between Wal-Mart Stores Incorporated, and the Chairperson of the Competition Commission, the Namibia Competition Commission, the Minister of Trade and Industry and Massmart Holdings Limited, as “premature and irresponsible”.

In this regard, I reiterate that both as a Minister of Trade and Industry and in my capacity as a citizen of Namibia, I ascribe fully to the rule of law in Namibia as enshrined in the Namibian Constitution. At the same time, I also fully uphold the democratic principles of the Freedom of Speech as per Article 21 of the Constitution. I have expressed my views and critique of the judgment as a public official and a free citizen, at which stage have I never attacked, or attempted to attack the person or dignity of the judge or the office of the High Court, but strictly limited my discourse to a critical commentary of the judgment and its socioeconomic and political implications.

I therefore, still maintain that the judgement may have far reaching implications for the future economic development of Namibia, and in particular the empowerment of Namibians, whom the then apartheid South African administration have severely disadvantaged, and which scenario continues to persist due to the apartheid’s legacy summed up in the recurring themes of pervasive poverty and economic exclusion of the majority versus the centralisation of economic power and means of production by the minority.

That was the gist of my statement, in case, I have not made myself clear before, I hope that this will drive the point home, that the law needs to be contextualised for the greater public good other than a strict technical interpretation thereof. Furthermore, I have stated and cited examples of cases in the United States of America, the bastion of democracy and the rule of law, how a broader interpretation of the law has led to groundbreaking judgements which have seen the emancipation of African Americans and other minorities who until then were under the bondage of racial segregation.

The statement dealing with the retention of the apartheid legacy, refers to the possible ensuing consequences of the judgment (it is not a reflection on the credentials or motive of the presiding judge, but on the consequential impact of the judgement), which should not be narrowly understood as only being restricted to the Walmart commercial issue, but the continuation and preservation of the pre-independence socio-economic stratification in Namibia even after independence.

It is permitted as part of constitutional dialogue, for any citizen of Namibia to deliver a critical assessment or commentary of any functions of the judiciary, legislative and executive arms of the Namibian Government. I have noted with much interest, how the Society of Advocates and others position themselves to the exclusive preserve to critique both the legislative and executive branches at will, without any limitation. Yet, they are the first ones to shout the loudest at the slightest hint of a mere critique on any aspect of the judiciary by common citizens. This I call undue muzzling of the democratic freedom of speech and expression of the Namibian citizens by some who have anointed themselves the titles of sole defenders of democracy and the independence of the judiciary.

In my view, a critique should not be confused with contempt of court, as so many are doing at will in this country. Contempt of Court, I believe, can both be criminal or civil, and entails a wilful disobedience to, or disregard of a court order, or any misconduct in a court, or action that interferes with a judge’s ability to administer justice or that insults the dignity of the court. Taken to its logical conclusion, it is an attack on the presiding judge, and also presupposes a clear intervention with the agenda of the court, and a refusal to implement a court ruling.

Under no circumstances has my statement implied either directly or indirectly that I am holding the presiding judge in contempt, or that I intend to interfere with his ruling. To illustrate this point, I quote myself, “However, I am a strong believer in our justice system and fair play, for which we fought and sacrificed our lives for, so that the psychosis of apartheid cannot haunt us in this country after 21 years. We have never as Government disobeyed any ruling of the courts, and equally we expect that the courts will hear our concerns.

As laymen, we are therefore, questioning the court’s approval of the merger without the conditions. When citizens cannot question their Governments’ actions and decisions, it is said that dictatorship has become entrenched in such a country. So what do we say when a group of fellow citizens who feel themselves elevated above the rest of their compatriots due to their qualifications in law decide to gag their compatriots from questioning a court judgment with which they do not agree?

The judiciary is a branch of Government, though an independent branch, which is there to interpret the laws and issue verdicts thereon. It is no Holy Cow; for it functions just like the other two branches: to serve the wellbeing of all Namibian citizens. As a public institution, it is open to criticism, by the same public it is serving, just as the executive and legislature are open to criticism. The judiciary does not have the right to restrict a citizen, whether or not such a citizen is a worker, academic or a Minister, from delivering critique on the court’s interpretation of issues affecting the Namibian nation. According to my layman’s point of view, my freedom of speech can only be legitimately restricted if it poses a “clear and present danger”. In other words a risk or threat to safety or to other public interests that is serious and imminent. This clear and present danger or risk or threat I do not see occurring in my academic critique.

From the above stated, it is very clear that either, the learned lawyers, are deliberately misconstruing my statement to make it sound as if, an attack has been made on the person of and the dignity of the presiding judge and the Court. That is not the case. Most of us in the ruling party, devoted part of our youth and adult lives to fighting for freedom of Namibia to ensure democracy and civil political liberties such as the freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary, all enshrined in our constitution, where the dignity of black and white Namibians would be fully restored, and where their grandchildren can hold hands and build this beautiful country to become a strong nation. Now that the first phase of political independence has been achieved, the second phase of struggle has just begun, and I will continue the struggle for the economic liberation of all Namibians, so that five (5) percent of the citizens, be they white or black, cannot continue to keep the ownership of the resources of Namibia, at the expense of the 95 percent, as in the days of apartheid South African administration. The greater good of Namibia is more dear and important to all Namibians than imaginary outbursts of a group of lawyers, who now describes my statement as “premature and irresponsible”.

Therefore, I will not be cowed into silence, neither into an onlooker, while the future economic destiny of Namibians are being decided, on technical point scoring.


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