Where will the buck stop?

17 June 2019 | Columns

Amid the outpouring of anger and grief linked to the senseless killing of taxi driver Talent Fambaune last week during Operation Kalahari Desert lies a deeper question: Who will take ultimate responsibility?

The soldier, Gerson Nakale, stood alone in the dock on Friday. And yet, this shooting did not happen in isolation. The killing forms part of a disturbing pattern of abuse associated with what must have initially been a welcome crime-prevention initiative, boldly announced by the commander-in-chief himself, President Hage Geingob. Kalahari Desert is the successor to Operation Hornkranz, which lasted well past the festive season.

Besides the criticism of the name, which stirs historical references to a bloody German attack on Hendrik Witbooi and his Nama freedom fighters, there have been consistent warnings against the military being unleashed on civilians.

As Operation Kalahari Desert got into full swing, these warnings were repeated, but no one cared to listen. And as stories of abuse and heavy-handedness mounted, especially perpetrated by soldiers linked to the operation, it was allowed to continue setting up roadblocks, while the harassment or ordinary Namibians in streets and bars continued.

When civilians spoke up, they were beaten and charged. When civil society warned that soldiers were not trained in restraint and community-based policing, citizens were told to cooperate, while the power of impunity coursed the veins of soldiers and cops who made people do push-ups and handed out slaps left, right and centre. Black neighbourhoods are now under siege by the very forces that were supposed to protect them and make them feel safe. It was almost inevitable that this ridiculousness would lead to tragedy.

This happened last week when a taxi driver, an unarmed Zimbabwean national who had allegedly overstayed in Namibia, made a U-turn at a roadblock and was shot like a fleeing dog at an Operation Kalahari Desert roadblock. Namibia is currently the SADC chair. And as the furore escalates, the question remains: Where will the buck stop?