#ShutItAllDown: Namibians stand up against gender-based violence

"We expect more than condemnation!"

In April earlier this year, a 22-year-old mother, Shannon Wasserfall went missing, a disappearance believed to be related to sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) – which is worryingly prolific in Namibia. Only last week, thanks to a tip to the Namibian police Wasserfall’s body was finally found, a whole six months after her disappearance.

For years, the Namibian police have been accused of negligence and nonchalance when it comes to the in investigation of  violent crime committed against women. News of Wasserfall’s death broke the camel’s back and on October 8, throughout the weekend so far, Namibians have gathered in the capital, Windhoek to protest femicide and other forms of SGBV, crying for the police to pay closer attention, more thorough investigation and prioritise these kinds of crimes.

Investigating Wasserfall’s death are top detectives in Namibia, and they have already detained a woman they believe to be a suspect in the murder. However, despite the quick response once she’d been found, it is still disappointing that it took so long for the police to act – if there was a more thorough investigation at the time Wasserfall went missing, could she still be alive today? That’s the question Namibians are grievously pondering as they protest through Windhoek police station, Zoo Park and the Ministry of Justice and parliament premises.

Because Wasserfall isn’t the only victim of police negligence when it comes to crime against women, her case is on in 176 cases of rape, domestic and gender-based violence crimes that have been reported to the Namibian police between March and September this year. Between January 2019 and June 2020 1,604 rape cases were reported, averaging at three rape cases being reported a day, in the year and a half. In any context this is troubling, but considering that the Namibian population is only just about 2.5 million people (under 1/3 of the population of London alone) this statistic is particularly harrowing.

The Namibian people have been calling for reform when it comes to attitudes towards SGBV in the country. Last week, prior to the discovery of Wassrfall’s body, the Namibian Minister of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, Doreen Sioka came under fire for her graphic and insensitive description of an incident of child abuse. Disappointed that the Minister would be so callous in her language, Namibians continued to demand that more than just condemning sexual and gender based crimes, the minister should bring forth practical solutions that genuinely effect change, with Namibia’s Rally for Democracy and Progress leader, Mike Kavekotora saying,

“I am weary of the responsible person simply condemning the situation that he or she is responsible for. Who’s going to take the action to rectify that situation?”

At yesterday’s protest, young activist, Bertha Tobias, also resonated the same message, saying to the Minister and the government at large, “you are in a space where you occupy and office that directly mandates you to provide that substantive action going forward, we expect more than condemnation.

Earlier this year it was reported that the Association of Medical Students of Namibia (AMSNA), led by Tuwilika Nafuka, a fourth-year medical student, were petitioning to set up a digital sext offenders registry, called I Am Not Next Namibia or ‘Ianna’, to bring safety and security to Namibian communities.

“In 2015 there was an amendment to the Rape Act that allowed for the implementation of a sex offenders registry, the only question is when are they going to implement it?” Nafuka questioned. Successful in instating an SOR (can be found on the Ianna website here), Ianna are now petitioning that police clearance certificates include sexual-based crimes, as their omission means people convicted of rape, assault or other sexual-based crimes do not have to disclose their criminal record when applying for new jobs, not at schools, not at hospitals, not anywhere. The dangers of this are obvious.

Other activist groups fighting against SGBV in Namibia include the Slut Shame Movement, Me Too Namibia, and OutRight Namibia, and LGBTQIA+ advocacy group who partnered with Ianna to clearly define sexual-based crimes for same-sex partners, as the legal parameters tend to be heteronormative.

As people all over the world begin to stand up against the systems of oppression that purport to be for us, the establishments whose duty it is to protect us, yet fail to do so at every turn – even putting us in danger in some instances – it is important that we support every voice in every region in the revolution against the capitalist system that robs the 99% of their freedom and peace.

#EndSARS and #ShutItAllDown! 

Featured Image Credits: Feminist Rogue/Twitter