Johanna Wilkie

Johanna Wilkie (Breaking the Wall of Silence in Windhoek): Johanna lived and worked in Rome, Italy for two years teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). After her return to hometown of Boston, she taught immigrants and college students ESL for two years before moving to Los Angeles to work as a program manager at a California non-profit. At the time of her fellowship, Johanna was studying for a Masters degree in international affairs and development at Georgetown University, and working toward a Certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies. She also interned at the International Rescue Committee as an Africa Advocacy Intern.

Breaking the Wall of Silence and National Reconciliation

14 Aug

Namibia never went through a formal process of national reconciliation after independence, as South Africa did with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  As part of its vision to be a consistent voice for the dignity of Namibian ex-detainees of the liberation movement and the development of a more open and tolerant society in Namibia, BWS considers formal national reconciliation to be one of its main goals.  Its approach is as follows:

National reconciliation is an imminent forerunner and prerequisite of unity, peace, stability and democracy.  BWS believes that the following steps are essential for conflict resolution leading to effective national reconciliation:

1.     Truth and honesty about events/causes leading to the conflict

2.     Admission of wrong-doing and showing of remorse by perpetrators

3.     Apology

4.     Acceptance of apology on the part of the victim

5.     Analysis and assessment of the impact these human rights abuses have on victims/survivors and families of the missing persons for effective intervention and remedy

BWS wants to see ruling party SWAPO begin these steps in regards to the ex-detainees from the liberation struggle.  (If you haven’t read my previous post on the historical background of BWS’s foundingyou might want to now).  As of this point, SWAPO leadership has never admitted wrong-doing in its abuse and torture of the detainees, let alone the fact that many of the victims were entirely innocent.  However, it is getting closer.  Just yesterday, this story appeared on the front page of the Namibian, announcing that the Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs will consider ex-detainees from SWAPO’s spy crisis to potentially be eligible for war veteran status.  The Minister, Ngarikutuke Tjiriange, made a garbled statement about the detainees, saying that SWAPO did have suspected spies, and “In the process, you may have arrested people who you suspected, but who may not have been as active (as initially thought).  So the answer is easy.  If someone was not convicted of any offence, but was caught in the crossfire, they will be associated with the struggle.  They will be treated as a veteran.”

To encourage SWAPO to begin the steps toward true reconciliation, BWS lobbies SWAPO party officials, Parliamentarians and other politicians; conducts a public relations campaign through the national media; and works to get the word out internationally through partnerships with international organizations.  BWS has also conducted a painstaking campaign to record the testimonies of all ex-detainees or their families, and to reach out to Namibians in all regions to ensure they know about the detentions.

A few weeks ago I interviewed Samson Ndeikwila, who was one of the founders of BWS and also its first chairperson.  I asked him what he thought were the most significant achievements of the organization, and also its importance to Namibia.  He spoke eloquently about the need for national reconciliation and BWS’s part in that:


Later I asked him whether he thought national reconciliation would actually happen, whether SWAPO would ever admit what it had done, and he said, “It will be resolved but I don’t know when.  I hope in my lifetime.”  I hope so too.

Posted By Johanna Wilkie

Posted Aug 14th, 2009

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