August 9, 2004

Traditional authorities act faces High Court challenge

Namibia's oldest political party, the small South West Africa National Union (Swanu), is to ask the High Court to declare the Traditional Authorities Act of 2000 unconstitutional. If successful, the party could throw the establishment of traditional authorities countrywide into disarray. "With this Act you are bringing back, through the back door some past apartheid proclamations, which have been repealed," charged Swanu President Dr Rihupisa Kandando.
Swanu argues, in its court application, that the Act's reliance on communal area as the only basis for establishing traditional community and therefore traditional authorities is in conflict and inconsistent with the Constitution's Article 21 sub-title 1(h) which gives every Namibian the right to reside and settle in any part of the country. "It is the opinion of the applicant that the area specificity of the Traditional Authorities Act is tantamount to discrimination against people who don't live in communal areas and therefore renders the Act unconstitutional," the application reads. "The Traditional Authorities Act is not sensitive to the fact that there are Namibian communities who are landless and therefore their status emanating from past discriminatory laws are being tried to be addressed through Article 23 [of the Constitution]."
Swanu further contends that the Traditional Authorities Act discriminates against Namibians who refused to be forcefully moved to "barren, unproductive" communal areas, hence remained in commercial areas which are now the basis from which they practice their cultures. According to Swanu, the Act also makes a serious omission by not recognising and reflecting the diversity and the multi-cultural nature of the Namibian society. "....not recognising that there are sections of our Namibian society who necessarily are not from communal areas and who also need to practice their culture, languages and traditions as provided for under the Constitution."

Dr Kandando said: "The above-mentioned points constitute a reasonable argument which I hope the honourable High Court can look at to arrive at a logical conclusion so that justice for all can be attained and so that National Assembly can recognise that it is bound to constitutional order whenever it is passing an Act of Parliament." Swanu's application will be brought before the High Court on 16 August. Meanwhile, Swanu has bemoaned persistent involvement of some traditional leaders in politics - a situation which it says makes such chiefs guilty of influencing their subjects' voting behaviours. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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