17. June 2016

Youth have spoken

National Assembly Speaker Peter Katjavivi yesterday reluctantly obliged after earlier trying to renege on government's promise that he will accept a petition against the construction of a new N$2 billion parliament building.
Katjavivi had sent acting secretary to the National Assembly Findley Harker and director in the Speaker's office Gerson Tjihenuna to accept the petition on his behalf. The move angered those who marched from Katutura to Syman's Circle in Windhoek. If Katjavivi had stayed away, they would have marched to parliament, the group threatened.

In the petition they called for the halting of plans to build the new parliament. Instead, they want the money diverted to pressing issues such as servicing urban land for housing, education, improved healthcare for all and to address drought and water shortages. They say the money can service at least 25 000 plots countrywide for people who would, otherwise, wait 10 years before being able to buy a serviced erf. In the petition the marchers also claimed that students stay in “cell-like rooms the size of a toilet” while paying up to N$4 000 per month while the N$2,4 billion, which will only benefit 200 people, can improve the situation.

Affirmative Repositioning leader Dimbulukeni Nauyoma told the National Assembly officials and senior police officers at the protest venue that the crowd would only accept deputy speaker Loide Kasingo if Katjavivi was unable to collect the petition. The protestors agreed not to march to Parliament Gardens on condition that Katjavivi would meet them at Ausspannplatz.

People from all walks of life formed part of the march: from unemployed youth to the lawyer in a business suit to pupils in school uniforms, engineers in their safety boots and business people who took the day off to protest. Some, especially those employed by government and public enterprises, sacrificed their lunch hour to pitch up in solidarity with fellow youth.

Many of those carrying placards made their message clear: they want the N$2,4 billion earmarked for the construction of parliament to be pumped into education, healthcare, the provision of water, electricity and fighting poverty. Although the turn-up did not reach the 10 000 mark the organisers had hoped for, AR's Nauyoma said the petition had over 3 500 signatures.

Government asked the marchers to stay away from Parliament Gardens because Indian president Pranab Mukherjee is visiting Namibia and would be addressing the National Assembly on the same day.

President Hage Geingob also joined the fray when he sent the heads of his security detail to assess the situation, which some feared could implode if Katjavivi did not pitch. But information at the protest was that Geingob wanted to make an impromptu appearance. Press secretary Albertus Aochamub denied the claims that Geingob was planning to visit the site.

Shortly after Geingob's security chief left the scene, Katjavivi arrived, with the young people singing “Otwateela ashike Katjavivi” (Oshiwambo for “we are just waiting for Katjavivi”). Katjavivi increased tensions when he demanded to receive the petition and go without hearing it read. The crowd protested, and shouted that he should receive the petition on the podium. When he left, a section of the protestors booed the Speaker as police escorted him from the crowd to his car.

The security situation was a concern for the state, and the number of senior uniformed officers who attended the protest painted a picture of a worried police force. The uniformed security forces were supplemented by plain-clothed police officials as well as secret service agents. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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