Why don’t you let me flow in my space?

My latest article has just been published in Matatu Journal of African Studies! The paper talks about spoken word poetry as a challenge to patriarchy and gender-based violence in Namibia. It is part of a special edition of the journal on ‘Deconstructing Heroic Narratives and Patriotic History in Southern Africa’, edited by Henning Melber and Mbongeni Zikhethele Malaba.

Please see page one below. The rest is behind a paywall, alas, but do please find the link to the full article here – if you’re based at a university, it should be on Ebscohost, J-Stor and so on… Also, feel free to email me, for a copy for personal use.

page one

 

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Conflict-Sensitive Journalism

The African Peace-Building Network (APN), together with the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) is pleased to publish a collection of papers entitled Conflict-Sensitive Journalism: A Practical Handbook for Journalists in Southern Africa. This peer-reviewed e-book is the result of a workshop, bringing together academics and professional journalists, held at NUST last year.

The book includes my chapter, Journalists’ safety in conflict zones: protecting the profession, protecting yourself.

Find the full e-book at this link: https://www.nust.na/sites/default/files/documents/Final%20Handbook%2015%20Oct%202019%20.pdf

conflict

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A cure for smugness?

A version of this article was first published in the Windhoek Observer column ‘The Time Traveler’, on Friday 9th August 2019.

It’s easy to be smug, as a Namibian, when you hear the international news these days.

Smug, adjective: having or showing an excessive pride in oneself or one’s achievements.

I’m pretty smug about Donald Trump not being my President, nor Trump-lite Boris Johnson my Prime Minister (narrowly dodged a bullet, with that last one!)

Last week, the US reported not one, but two mass shootings in 24 hours, almost 30 dead in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, by some accounts taking the number of mass shootings in America this year to 31.

I’m pretty happy that, even though I feel that Namibia’s gun laws are not tough enough, every Namibian who wants to buy a gun, without exception, has to go through a background check, and a civilian may not own an AK47.

I may be from a ‘Third World’, country, but I’m proud that my constitution grants me the right to join the Army Reserves (‘a well-regulated militia’) in a way that cannot be construed by corrupt legislators and judges to somehow also imply that I also have the God-given right to keep a Glock in my bedroom.

In a time when many leaders are fanning the fires of race hate – calling Muslim women in traditional Islamic dress ‘letterboxes’ or trying to send elected members of Congress ‘back home’ to their ancestral nations – I’m pleased that my President is an oasis of calm and reconciliation, stressing all races’ rights to live in his homeland.

At first glance it may appear that I have a lot to be smug about.

But that’s the thing about smugness – it’s fake. It gives you false hope. It leads you to not recognise and deal with the same, but less dramatic, faults in yourself that you see in others.

Namibia may not have a mass shooting problem per se, but it does have one of the world’s highest rates of rape and domestic violence.

One in four Namibian women are survivors of violence at the hands of their partners, according to the Namibia Demographic and Health Survey.  When you hear stories about the brutality that is the response to even minor threats to many a Namibian man’s ‘honour’, you question whether we really live in a peaceful country.

We have no Trump equivalent, and are even thankfully spared the likes of Steve Hofmeyr in South Africa, the failed rockstar who has said that apartheid wasn’t that bad, and thinks that violent robberies on farms are somehow ‘white genocide’ (white South Africans are less likely to be murdered than their black counterparts). But let’s not pretend all is good in Namibian race relations.

The fact that no less than a Minister of State was allegedly threatened and subjected to a tirade of insults by a white hotel owner at Opuwo last weekend, suggests that racial tension still bubbles under the surface of Namibian society, despite the Government’s attempts to keep a lid on the pot.

In my opinion, it’s likely to remain so, as long as the income and wealth inequality created by years of colonialism and apartheid is not addressed in a serious manner.

A visit to your local informal settlement can be a good way to cure national smugness. The smell will tell you that toilets are still a luxury in many of these ghettoes.

When you take an unvarnished look at your country, you realise how much hard work is required to change it.

The US will have to completely disavow the racism and violence on which it was built, and compensate Native and African American communities accordingly.

The UK will have to make peace with the fact that it’s no Great Empire any more, it’s a small island in the Atlantic Ocean. Like all small islands, cooperation with neighbours and welcoming immigrants are requirements for national survival.

As for Namibia, we could do worse than to stop dressing the grazes on the surface of our national body – and start dealing with the deep wounds instead. A ten-year-old might tell us that this starts with ‘being humble’ and ‘sharing’.

 

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Another Life

A version of this article was first published in the column ‘The Time Traveler’ in the Windhoek Observer, Friday 3 July 2020.

Do you ever wonder how it would have been if you’d lived another life?

Like, if you had pursued another childhood ambition perhaps? For me, as a kid, I was interested in all things environmental. As it happened, my math marks weren’t good enough to get into environmental science, and I did also have interests in photography and writing, so I went to journalism school.

Maybe by now I would be one of those ‘Save the Rhinos’ guys, or a Greta Thunberg-type, imploring the world’s people to listen to science more, and their wallets less.

In the same vein, Hugh Ellis the journalist was very nearly Hugh Ellis the computer programmer. Considering how artificial intelligence is involved in so many news industries these days, though (starting with the ‘bots’ that determine your Twitter feed), the professions may yet become one and the same.

Then again, maybe if I were better at fighting, I would have said, ‘to hell with this’ at age 21 and embraced a life of crime. Come on, we’ve all had the thought at one time or another. If this corrupt society can’t be saved, can’t I at least hustle some money? After all, my ancestors came from cultures where outlaws and rebels – like Robin Hood and Wat Tyler and William Tell – are more celebrated than kings and sheriffs.

I think many people around the world these days are thinking, ‘what if I were born white or male, or to a rich instead of a poor family? And therefore, just a little bit safer from the casual violence that society enacts upon the less privileged?’ It’s disgusting that conditions exist where people would have these thoughts, in a world that produces enough to feed, house and clothe everyone several times over.

I wonder if people in the upper chambers of the Namibian government, those who have been there a while – the Sam Nujomas and Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhilas and Nangolo Mbumbas and Hifikepunye Pohambas and Hage Geingobs – think, ‘what if we had done things differently?’

What if we had kept the informal markets going, with due precautions, during the Covid-19 lockdown, and closed Shoprite-Checkers instead?

Would we be so afraid of imported infectious diseases if Namibia had one National Health Service, rather than our current hodgepodge of sometime-profit-scrounging private doctoring and under-resourced state hospitals?

How would Namibia look now if we had redistributed land and shares in businesses on a massive scale at Independence?

How would racial dynamics be different if we had placed a significant inheritance tax on all property acquired before March 21, 1990?

How would gender dynamics be different if we had legalised abortion in the early stages of pregnancy, when this was first proposed in Namibia in the 1990s?

Look, I know there are no right answers. Not in one person’s life, much less in these bigger questions. We humans have to make split-second decisions more often than we like to acknowledge, and these decisions have longer-term consequences than we usually admit.

Still, it might be instructive to ponder the ‘what if’ imponderables because of the truths they hold for what can be done, right now.

Land and inheritance taxes could still be used to transfer ill-gotten apartheid-era wealth without having to rewrite the Constitution.

If we could still introduce comprehensive, non-shaming sexuality education, easy access to contraception, and yes, free choice of abortion as a last resort, large-scale so-called ‘baby dumping’ would become a thing of the past.

The Covid-19 crisis gives us a chance to look again, right now, at whether we want to be a nation defined by the ‘prosperity’ of a few, or by justice for the many. Now may be a good time for Namibian society to think through the ‘what ifs’.

As for me as an individual, the options grow fewer. At 41 years old, the possibility of becoming either Greta Thunberg or Robin Hood is not very high.

But maybe I can – maybe we all can, this whole generation can – still make an impact, however slight, on the big themes of this time in history: the fight against climate change and the struggle against the injustices of radicalised capitalism. Maybe.

 

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Land of the free and home of the brave?

A different version of this article was first published in the column ‘The Time Traveler’ in the Windhoek Observer, Friday 12 June 2020.

I have very mixed feelings about the new US Embassy compound currently being built on huge plot of land in my neighbourhood.

On the one hand, the United States is a great nation. It’s the nation of Barack Obama and Martin Luther King. The nation of the Wright brothers, the humble bicycle mechanics who built the first airplane. The nation of Neil Armstrong and Katherine Johnson, and all the others who got men to the Moon.

My education would have been immensely poorer if it were not for the Americans who taught African history and geography at Windhoek International School. At least, it meant I left school knowing about the Herero and Nama Genocide and the Mutapa Empire, which it seems many Namibians did not.

On the other hand, you must be living under a rock if you think the US today is living up to the noble ideals it claims for itself. What about George Floyd, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and, and, and? What about systemic inequality that leaves black (and Hispanic, for that matter) Americans poor, poorly educated and in poor health compared to their white counterparts?

Any other country would have sanctions imposed upon it for this kind of behaviour.

The new compound in Windhoek, which will doubtless have ultra-tight security – high walls, electric fencing, guards at every corner, probably twice-as-regular Namibian police patrols on surrounding streets – seems to represent the worst of white America: the paranoid idea that ‘we must be under threat, so let’s knuckle down, stay all-together in isolation, arm ourselves, batten down the hatches.’

There’s an African Fish Eagle, not an American Bald Eagle, on the cover of my passport, and some would say all this is none of my business.

Certainly, there’s more than enough racism at home in Namibia to fight against, and I am committed to do that.

However, multiple things can be true at the same time. We all know the US Government doesn’t hesitate to pontificate about democracy and human rights when there’s, say, a disputed election in Zimbabwe, or violence in Somalia, or injustice in Hong Kong. So it’s only fair that we do likewise.

Also, it’s hard, as a Namibian citizen, as a citizen of an African country, not to take the mistreatment of black people personally, wherever in the world it happens.

Anyway, there’s little I can do except sign petitions. And should a Namibian Black Lives Matter protest ever need a base a stone’s throw away (er, guys, that’s a metaphor) from the US Compound, I guess I’m your man.

In the meantime, perhaps the Trumpian monstrosity will serve as a necessary reminder to the often-apathetic middle class residents of my neighbourhood, including me, that our work right here is not yet done.

Namibia may not specialise in mass murder, but the enforcement of the Covid-19 restrictions and Operation Kalahari Desert before that have shown our police force, military, and private security industry need reform before black bodies are 100 per cent safe. We still have a few racist monuments that need to be torn down, an unjust wealth distribution problem to solve, and a business sector that pays only lip service to the noble concept of affirmative action.

There’s work for all us Namibians to do, if we’re not to end up like white America.

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Towards a freer media

First published in the column ‘The Time Traveler’ in the Windhoek Observer, Friday May 8th, 2020.

May 3rd is World Press Freedom Day.

It’s a day on which the sacrifices of journalists are honoured, and one on which we look forward to greater advances that enable everyone in society to have equal rights to communicate publicly.

What is great is that Namibian journalists are not being killed, imprisoned or having their lives threatened. Bribery of Namibian journalists is rare. But this does not necessarily mean all is well.

Looking back on the tone of many stakeholders’ statements leading up to WPFD 2020, as a career-long media practitioner and educator, I’m a bit disappointed.

Politicians and their spokespeople seem to have equated a ‘responsible’ news media with ‘one that does not harshly criticise us’. Politicians around the world do this, but it saddens me that Namibians often seem to lap this rhetoric up.

One can certainly make the case for ‘constructive’ criticism, but all criticism can be constructive, if one approaches it in the right way – with the attitude of a servant-leader, rather than an arrogant master.

Media owners and managers, for their part, often mistake ‘press freedom’ for ‘editorial freedom’, the right of editors to publish what they wish. Of course, the former encompasses the latter, but it does not stop there.

Press freedom, in the broader sense, also includes structures that empower shop-floor journalists, photographers and other storytellers, often some of the most vulnerable workers with poor job security and without union representation.

It includes laws to ensure access to information that the public need to know – not only information held by governments, but also by the private corporations that hold ever-more indirect power over our lives.

We all often forget the 1991 Windhoek Declaration – the document that lead to the founding of WPFD among many other things, called for a pluralistic media – one that contains a multiplicity of voices. Nearly 30 years on, I fear that the Namibian media does not represent all Namibian voices – the opinions and attitudes of the urban petty-bourgeoisie still dominate.

And while the data is far from perfect, men’s voices tend to dominate women’s, often by as much as a ratio of five-to-one. Feel free to Google research like the Gender and Media Progress Study. It’s a complex, surprisingly intractable, and global problem.

To clear something up, it’s not Government’s role, directly, to sort this out. Media regulation by the State has not worked in any country that has tried it, even those that did so with the best of intentions.

Rather, we as media professionals must show we respect the profession, by regulating ourselves, by promoting training (in and out of the classroom), by resisting pressure from big-money advertisers. Readers and viewers should boycott those media who act unethically, think before they retweet or share a story online, and form associations to lobby for better coverage.

One thing Government can do is to pass a Freedom of Information Act. Another is to promote the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation as a genuine public broadcaster, independent of both central government pressure and the advertising dollar. To do this in these hard economic times will be difficult, but it must be tried. There are business models from around the world that can be examined and adapted.

Finally, journalism would do itself a great favour if it moved away from an ethic of objectivity, and towards an ethic of accuracy.

An objective journalist would feel obliged to report Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories about the origin of Coivd-19. Trump is the US President, after all. We must show both sides. A journalist who believes in accuracy, on the other hand, would simply ignore The Donald’s inane rants. Rather quote doctors and nurses and Covid-19 survivors, people who actually know what they are talking about.

One thing I was told by mentors as a young journalist is, treat your readers and viewers with respect. If you give your public the very best, and if you never get ‘on your dignity’ when asked to do better, they will reward you with the most precious commodity – their trust.

If journalists – and politicians and media owners – could remember that, we’d all be better off.

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One

First published in the column, ‘The Time Traveler’ in the ‘Windhoek Observer’, on 17 April 2020.

‘One’ is a 2006 song by Irish rock band U2 and African-American soloist Mary J. Blige.

You can’t un-hear it. With earworm electric guitar riffs, Mary J’s unique voice, and sarcastic lyrics like, ‘Did you come here to play Jesus/ to the lepers in your head,’ it’s not a tune to forget. You won’t see much of me on the dance floor, but play ‘One’ and I’m there, air guitar and all.

The song, an ode to frustration in relationships, has a chorus that goes like this:

‘We’re one, but we’re not the same

We get to carry each other

Carry each other.’

Talk of being ‘one’, of unity, gets a bad rap nowadays.

It’s often said in the blogosphere that you must love yourself before you can love another. However, that line has regular Joes like me, who certainly can’t muster the kind of self-admiration the Instagram pundits seem to possess, wondering if we’ll ever have enough ‘self-love’ to find a mate.

Talk of the country being ‘one nation’, common in the Nujoma, Mandela, and early Mugabe eras, is out of fashion. ‘Difference’ seems to be prized almost as a goal in itself.

Considering things I see around me, it’s hard to disagree.

Coronavirus lockdowns, for example, make the Namibian posh suburb a nice place to be. On sunny evenings, the streets are full of runners, skaters and cyclists. Harassment from law enforcement is non-existent, as it should be. This is certainly not always the case in Namibian townships, to say nothing of South Africa.

In a way, my job is better now than before, having a variety of devices to enable me to work from home. Can your average working class person say the same? More likely than not, he or she is about to be laid off.

I’m taking Silozi lessons during the lockdown. It’ll be my second African language. But it’s more a nice-to-have than an essential-for-survival. I got to write an entire doctoral thesis in English, my native tongue: how many native Silozi speakers, or Oshiwambo or Hai//Om speakers, can say that?

But, having said ‘we’re not the same’, what then?

I, for one, miss the 1990s talk of unity and brotherhood. It spurred many of us on to find creative solutions. ‘It’s too late, tonight / To drag the past out into the light,’ sing Mary J Blige and Bono, U2’s frontman. While the past’s impact on the present cannot be denied, a focus on the future often seems to lead to more building, and less breaking down.

What then, is the answer to this riddle?

For me, I will take to heart what I will, from now on, call The U2 Theory of Social Relations: We are one, but we’re not the same.

We are interconnected: A person in Wuhan who eats a chicken that was bitten by a bat, can put a Namibian out of pocket. Who’d have thunk it? Wherever I have travelled in Africa, our similarities have impressed me the most. Breaking bread with a family in Accra was not that different than having discussions around a braai fire on a Namibian farm.

But we’re not the same. The way Namibia has suddenly found money for social grants and housing the homeless in this Corona crisis gives me hope that, just maybe, we can take radical action against all those other stubborn inequalities, including ending the legacy of Apartheid town-planning and land theft.

We’ve got to carry each other. I really hope rich people learn from this virus that we’re only as safe as the most unhealthy, least-insured poor person. If we want this messy miracle called Namibia to work, we’ve got to live with each other; share not only land and resources, but Internet connections and business networks, too.

There are many reasons why The U2 Theory of Social Relations might not be implemented. Plain old greed probably being number one.

But still, given Namibia’s history of grabbing miraculous victory from the jaws of humiliating defeat, I’m keeping my air guitar at the ready.

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Happy Valentine’s!

First published in the column ‘The Time Traveler’ in the Windhoek Observer on Friday 21 February, 2020.

Saint Valentine was a pastor, and eventually a prisoner, in ancient Rome, at a time when Christianity was illegal and promoting the religion frequently earned you both a cruel and an imaginative death.

One of Valentine’s last acts was to pray for his jailer’s daughter, who was supposedly miraculously cured of her blindness. The story later developed that he penned a final letter to her before his execution, signed ‘from your Valentine’.

By the time Shakespeare wrote his masterpiece Hamlet in the year 1600, the feast day of Saint Valentine was already associated with romance, and if we take his character Ophelia’s speeches at face value, illicit sex.

For what it’s worth, I did not wear a red jacket on February 14th; neither was I to be found in a queue of worried people at Victoria Pharmacy first thing on February 15th.

I’ve got nothing much against ‘romantic’ love, and in this economy, I suppose I can’t fault retailers for using romance and sex to sell everything from roses to Savanna Dry cider.

But the whole Valentine’s performance did get me thinking about how changeable traditions are, and how the ‘love’ we celebrate between couples could transform us if it became a societal thing.

When the UK’s Prince Charles was about to start his disastrous marriage to Diana, he was asked in a media interview if he was in love. He said yes, then added – almost like a conspiratorial ‘aside’ in a theatre play – ‘whatever love means’.

We’re fond of seeing love only between couples, and only in sexual terms. But what if ‘love’ meant the good feelings that a person should have for all he meets, a desire to promote the well-being and betterment of all people? Or all beings, whether human or animal?

This is what we mean when we say ‘love thy neighbor’ in Church (most of us, I assume, mean it that way), but how many of us practice it?

Imagine if, on Feb 14th, Woolworths, Coca-Cola, South African Breweries and Saint-Valentine’s-Jesus knows who else, urged us to love – not only our partner, but also the street kid at the traffic light, the taxi driver who cuts in front of us, the shack dweller in our peripheral vision as we head off up the highway, the annoying amateur policeman on the Neighborhood Watch WhatsApp group?

Not many theorists have proposed love as a radically transformative political force. bell hooks is one of the few who have. As she rightly points out, before love can be that force, we will have to separate it out from its associations with commercial kitsch, and with European late-medieval notions of ‘courtly romance’.

When you get rid of such, the love that is left is self-sacrificing – it’s the love of the Civil Rights marcher, the tree-hugger standing her ground when the bulldozers move in.

Jokes aside, I’d love to help organize a real Men’s Conference on 14th February, where we men unpack how patriarchal notions of ‘masculinity’ are leading to us harm the women and children we claim to love. I’d offer to draft a curriculum instructing men in transformative anti-GBV love, if anyone would ever accredit it for teaching.

‘That kind of love,’ as Namibian spoken-word poet Nesindano Namises memorably declares, is both rare and hard to organize. But we’ve got to try.

We often think of traditions as these sacred, unchangeable things, but (as Valentine’s transformation from rebel priest to Patron Saint of all things rosy and tasteless shows) that’s not so. Traditions change; they’re our servant, not our master. Oftentimes, as the historian Eric Hobsbawm has shown, they’re simply invented on the spot.

So, let’s embark on consciously re-inventing our traditions to make ourselves better people in love, and to make our country a better place. Saint Valentine’s Day would as good a place to start as any.

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Queer(y)ing the country

A version of this article was published in the Windhoek Observer on Friday 15th November 2019.

When it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, I sometimes feel Namibia (in common with Sub-Saharan Africa generally) has come a long way. At other times it seems we haven’t made any progress at all.

I read an article in a local newspaper recently, in which queer activists said that LGBT people are still oppressed in various ways. These claims were put to spokespeople of leading Namibian political parties, and the upshot is, few if any of them took the activists’ concerns even the slightest bit seriously.

A spokesman of the Congress of Democrats (COD) was quoted as saying that gay couples’ demands to have the same rights to civil marriage as heterosexuals were ‘unnatural’. The Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) reportedly expressed similar views. What happened to these supposedly social-democratic, progressive parties that Namibian patriots sacrificed so much to build in the late 1990s and early 2000s?

Meanwhile, none other than President Geingob was quoted in the article implying that LGBT people are not oppressed at all and have nothing to worry about. Despite actual queer people saying something entirely different.

As someone who has lived in Namibia and South Africa my whole adult life, this national conversation saddened me, but didn’t surprise me.

When I was an undergraduate at Rhodes University in the late 1990s, this kind of talk was all too common. Words like ‘perversion’ and ‘sickness’ were used very casually by many of my fellow students around the dining table at the hostel.

At least in my first year, I’m ashamed to say that I often kept quiet, or even felt they might have a point. It took my second, third and fourth years, and actually having bisexual and gay young men as neighbours and housemates, for me to question my homophobia – to read more, to listen more, to question cultural norms.

All this in a supposedly ‘liberal’ South African university, which at the time was claimed to be more ‘welcoming’ to LGBT people than the more conservative campuses such as Stellenbosch and Pretoria.

At first glance, President Geingob may seem to have a point. Namibia has had few of the horrific gang rapes and murders of lesbian women, which are a regular occurrence in South African townships. As a journalist in the early 2000s, I once reported on young men in central Windhoek literally being locked up for wearing earrings – something that, as far as I know, would be unheard of today.

But it’s not for Geingob, or me, cisgender people in heterosexual relationships, to make that call.

In truth, we have no idea what it is to grow up living in fear of your most intimate feelings being exposed. We’ve no idea what it’s like to be a devout Christian and go to a church where the pastor considers you an ‘abomination’. We’ve no idea what it might be like to be a homosexual survivor of domestic violence, and be unable to make a case because you know the cops will chase you out of the police station.

Many of us may be tempted to see transgender people as a kind of joke, a European Christmas pantomime where men play women’s roles for laughs. Yet again, we’ve no idea of the unchosen hell that is having a gender or sexual identity that doesn’t match the one you were assigned at birth.

If you read books like Ifi Amadiume’s Male Daughters, Female Husbands or Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s The Invention of Tradition, you start to wonder how many patriarchal ‘African traditions’ are actually more from Victorian England or Napoleonic France or the Kaiser’s Germany. Even if they are 100 per cent ours, tradition and culture are not static; they should move with the times.

Many straight Namibians seem to feel that the LGBT ‘agenda’ is about queering our whole society – by which they mean making us all gay. In fact, it is about querying our whole society – asking the questions most of us would rather not ask.

It’s only by asking difficult questions, after all, and dealing with the unpleasant answers, that we will grow as a people, and thereby become more generous, tolerant, prosperous, and understanding.

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The fault in our stars

A version of this article was published in the column ‘The Time Traveler’ in the Windhoek Observer on Friday 4 October 2019.

I’ve never been much of a believer in astrology.

The stars and planets do many things for us, not least provide us with gravity and sunlight, but determining our characters and our destinies based on their position in the sky when we were born – that has never been proved.

I had my birthday recently, on 26 September. I’m a Libra.

For someone who doesn’t believe, I have all the supposed Libra traits in abundance.

Libras, represented by the symbol of the scales, are supposedly fixated on ideas of balance and harmony. And here I am, eternal family diplomat and workplace negotiator.

Libras are passionate about art and captivated by all forms of beauty. It’s no accident, according to the astrologers, that I am a poet, that I collect wood carvings, that my first paying job was an arts journalist.

As an ‘air sign’, along with Aquarius and Gemini, Libras’ minds are up in the clouds, preoccupied with abstraction and theory more than dull real-world concerns. A Libra would make an excellent professor, but don’t expect her to have fresh bread in her kitchen.

Maybe belief hunts you down. I’m almost like a non-Muslim who just keeps running into mosques at every corner, only eats halal food, or wins a free ticket to Mecca in a lottery I didn’t even enter.

Namibia as a nation was born on 21 March. Namibia is an Aries.

For a secular state that shouldn’t bother itself with such things, Namibia has all the supposed Aries traits in abundance.

Namibians as a nation are courageous, determined, enthusiastic, passionate.

Look at the way our Rugby World Cup team courageously put their bodies on the line against more established, more professionalized, higher-spending opponents. The way marathon runner Helalia Johannes got a bronze medal in the World Athletics Championships at Doha last weekend at one of the hottest and most humid international marathons in recent times.

Namibians are also impatient, moody, short-tempered, and aggressive.

It’s no secret that we have one of the highest rates of gender-based violence and intimate partner murder in the world. We have some excellent roads, but our driving like Grand Theft Auto villains has led to a shockingly high accident death rate.

It seems to be in our nature to act, sometimes before we think about our actions very well. Witness a ruling party that seriously thought it a good idea to parade expensive sports cars and motorbikes through one of the most deprived and marginalised locations in the entire country. At election time.

Being a ‘typical Libra’ person in a ‘typical Aries’ country isn’t easy.

I want people to stop acting on impulse and, I dunno, think. Read a bit.

If my ruling party could read some Fanon and think through whether the black working class will truly remain behind them through their ostentatious displays of wealth… If men could read some Bell Hooks, or even Libertina Amathila’s autobiography, and start to understand what women go through all the damn time… As for the blooming whites – guys, don’t even get me started…

Can we all get some therapy while we’re at it? Can we tap into the power of the arts to make us believe in our better, most beautiful selves?

In case you’re wondering, I’m still not much of a believer in astrology. I’m mostly of a secular humanist understanding of the world, and would suggest that, to quote a Toni Braxton and Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds song lyric, ‘if we do not like our story, we can write it just the way we want’.

It’s truly possible for us Namibian men to stop our gung-ho attitudes. It’s not determined by the gods or the fates that we must be aggressive.

It’s truly possible for people like me – the shy, retiring, peace-loving, up-in-the-clouds kind of people – to get our hands dirty, be proactive and make a scene beyond the media and the Internet. Indeed, that may be the only thing that saves our situation.

As Shakespeare wrote in the play Julius Caesar, ‘the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves’.

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Four wheels good, two wheels better!

A version of this article was published in the column ‘The Time Traveler’ in the Windhoek Observer on Friday 27 September 2019.

As I was driving to work the other day, I overtook a group of cyclists going up one of the hills between Eros/ Klein Windhoek and the centre of town. I was stuck in heavy traffic in the town centre a few minutes later, when they overtook me.

The four young men demonstrated sublime cycling skills as they weaved through traffic and shouted warnings and encouragements to each other. The sun silhouetted their dark skins and shone through the thin fabrics of their cycling jerseys. Their light racing bikes vibrated as they rolled over the potholed urban streets.

For me, sitting alone in a five-person-equipped vehicle smelling of stale pizza, caught in bumper to bumper traffic, it was a transcendent moment, taking me for a second out of my day-to-day world of deadlines, into something almost spiritual.

I’m not as big a cycling advocate as some in my community, nor indeed some in my family. The last time I rode to ‘work’ every day was as a high school learner. The last time I tried my current commute by bike, I was virtually run off the road by a taxi. If I hadn’t pulled over onto the sidewalk, I dread to think what may have happened, and the driver still had the cheek to flip the bird out of his window as he drove away.

There are many interesting things about political activist Job Amupanda and the AR Movement’s recently announced bid for the Windhoek Mayor’s office. One of them is his plan to open a municipal-owned business manufacturing cheap bicycles for mass urban transit.

Bicycles do indeed have the potential to get workers and students from A to B quicker, more efficiently, and in a less polluting way than cars. The success of the Qhubeka project, which supplies low cost bikes and cycling training to schoolchildren in South Africa, shows the sort of thing that can be done.

One of the problems preventing the mass uptake of cycling in Windhoek is indeed that most bikes are far too expensive, aimed at the sporting market, not at the average Joe or Joanna wanting a means of getting around.

I’m a car owner, but in truth, I’d do without if there were better alternatives available. Cars are symbols of power and status. They are frequently dangerous, hideously expensive to run, often unnecessary, and (because public transport is almost always more efficient) they represent the privatisation of what should be a public asset.

Here’s the thing though, the thing that potential mayors and municipal managers and others who favour non-motorised transportation need to get: distributing a few bicycles, or a few hundred bicycles, by itself, is not going to cut it.

Changes in infrastructure are needed: If I’m going to start using my bicycle for something other than sport, I’ll want cycle paths and lanes, physically separated by kerbs from the speed merchants in Corollas and BMWs. Also essential are secure places at central spots (Wernhil, Soweto Market, Katutura Hospital, Khomas Grove Mall, UNAM, NUST) where one can lock one’s bike and have it protected by a full-time security guard.

This cycling infrastructure needs to be linked to public transportation infrastructure for longer journeys. A commuter should be able to ride the 15 or so kilometres from Rehoboth town centre to Rehoboth Station, securely park her bike, and take a fast TransNamib train into Windhoek for a day’s work.

There needs to be much better traffic law enforcement, so that, when cyclists do take to the public road, they can feel reasonably safe.

I annoy my friends by giving names to my bikes and cars. I called my current bike Charlotte, after Charlotte Maxeke, who was a South African anti-apartheid activist and vigorous campaigner against the dreaded, evil ‘pass laws’.

It may be a ‘reach’ as they say on Twitter, but for me, bicycles and cycling can represent a small part of that holy struggle for freedom of movement.

But for that to work, we must invest in a few other things as well.

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