Last edited: February 13, 2005

Namibian Rights Woes Continue

PlanetOut News, October 12, 2000

The ruling party kills a no confidence vote on the homophobic Home Affairs Minister, while a binational lesbian couple seeks a residency hearing.

Namibian Home Affairs Minister Jerry Ekandjo’s remarks to police academy graduates September 29 that gays should be "eliminated from the face of Namibia" seem to reflect the views of some others in his ruling SWAPO party. A leader of the party’s youth wing spoke similarly at a rally held in his support and in the Parliament SWAPO Members crushed an opposition call for a vote to expel him from the Cabinet. Meanwhile the Namibian Supreme Court is hearing the government’s appeal of court rulings ordering permanent residency for a long-time SWAPO supporter from Germany who is the lesbian partner of a Namibian. The Board that issues residency permits is part of Ekandjo’s ministry, and it just so happens that judges have been another of his targets. There has still been no official response to the gay and lesbian Rainbow Project’s call for the government to publicly reject Ekandjo’s homophobic remarks.

In the Parliament on October 11, as he’d promised a week before, Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) leader Katuutire Kaura moved for a vote of no confidence in Ekandjo that could have removed him from office. Although Kaura was joined by his own party and three others, the opposition group had only 13 MPs compared to more than 30 from SWAPO, all of whomincluding Ekandjo himselfrose to deny even discussion to a vote of no confidence.

The remarks Kaura would have made on the floor were nonetheless made public. He accused Ekandjo of three times in less than three months having been "scandalously contemptuous of the Constitution he promised to uphold, protect and defend," and alleged that Ekandjo had "absolutely no knowledge" of that Constitution. One of Ekandjo’s statements to the police academy graduates had been that gays and lesbians had no rights under the Constitution. In addition to his speech against gays, Ekandjo had instructed police to violate a court order and arrest the music group Osire Stars, and had threatened to withdraw the work permits of foreign judges (who, like himself, are appointed by President Sam Nujoma) who made rulings against government policy. He was forced to make a public apology for threatening the judges, or he would have been found in contempt of court. Kaura further declared Ekandjo incompetent in the running of his department, which has almost completely failed to issue identification papers intended to be given to all Namibians while allowing the crime rate to rise as a result of poor policing.

SWAPO supporters gathered in Oshakati on October 8 to demonstrate support for Ekandjo. Party leader for the Oshana region and Mayor of Ongwediva Erastus Uutoni denounced judges for their "colonial attitudes" and declared that, "Those people must know that they are under the SWAPO Government and not under the judiciary government." SWAPO Youth League regional secretary Fidelis Ndoroma echoed that theme and then moved on to denounce "cultural imperialism" for promoting "prostitution, gayism and lesbianism, alcohol and drugs, different religious cults, information services, cultural centers and white supremacy tendencies" under the guise of rights and liberal values. He said, "We must reject and resist them with all the powers, vigor and energies we have and confine them to their place of origin and moral decay -- that is Europe." He said that Namibians, confronted with "poverty, HIV/AIDS, woman and child abuse," could not be bothered by Europeans telling them that "being modern, internationalist and homosexual is the way to go. Please, Europeans, keep these perversions to yourselves because you have already destroyed our culture and undermined our moral values and norms."

The Supreme Court on October 9 and 10 heard arguments in the case of Liz Frank, whose support of SWAPO dates back to 1982, when it was still the party of revolutionaries seeking independence. The German national, a distinguished educator, has lived in Namibia since 1990 with her partner Elizabeth Khaxas and Khaxas’ child. When Frank applied for her residence permit, she had letters of support from three top government officials. Nonetheless, her applications were twice refused without explanation, and she went to court. On June 24, 1999 in the High Court, Acting Judge Harold Levy ordered that a permanent residence permit be issued to Frank within thirty days. One Home Affairs official did attempt to have a temporary permit issued while the government pursued its current appeal, but was blocked.

Unlike Ekandjo, Herman Oosthuizen, the attorney representing the Chair of the Immigration Selection Board, maintained that as individuals gays and lesbians do enjoy the same Constitutional rights and protections as other Namibians. He conceded that Frank should have been given reasons for her applications being rejected and a chance to rebut them, and asked the court to resolve her case by sending her application back to the Board for reconsideration in "a legal and procedurally fair manner." He repeated the Board’s assertion that the rejection of Frank’s application was not related to her sexual orientation, and said she was rejected because Namibia expects to have enough of its own citizens similarly qualified in her profession. He held, however, that gays and lesbians could not have a right to have a government body recognize their relationship. Frank’s and Khaxas’ attorney Lynita Conradie countered that no claim was made that Frank had a right to permanent residence, but that she had a right to a fair hearing she hadn’t received, one which took into account the longstanding family relationship.

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