Kalahari turns deadly

After persistent forewarning that using the military against civilians in crime-prevention operations would lead to tragedy, a taxi driver has been shot dead by a soldier.

14 June 2019 | Crime

Namibia's police chief has strongly condemned the killing of an unarmed taxi driver by a soldier attached to Operation Kalahari Desert and vowed this will not happen again on his watch.

“This is a really regrettable and unfortunate incident that resulted in the loss of a life of one of our citizens. I can assure you we will make sure this is not repeated,” police inspector-general Sebastian Ndeitunga told Namibian Sun yesterday.

Ndeitunga said his and the Namibian police's condolences go out to the family of the taxi driver, who is believed to be a Zimbabwean national.

“We will make sure the person who did this will be held accountable for what happened. It is unacceptable to use excessive force against an unarmed civilian. We are dealing with the situation.”

Ndeitunga was speaking in the wake of the arrest of a soldier (38) who fired his AK-47 at a fleeing taxi after the driver had made a sudden U-turn to avoid a roadblock set up by members of Operation Kalahari Desert on Thursday morning at around 01:00. The suspect is expected to make his first appearance before the Katutura Magistrate's Court today.

The soldier, whose name was not released, was charged with a count of murder and negligent discharge of a firearm, Ndeitunga said.

Ndeitunga stressed yesterday that all members of crime-prevention operations, including the soldiers brought on board to assist, were given induction training and ordered to “conduct themselves within the law and not to use excessive force when not necessary”.

He admitted that the alarm expressed by civilians following the incident and other reports of unlawful assaults and excessive force “is a reasonable fear”.

Nevertheless, the police chief said the crime prevention operation was established to address citizens' “serious fear of crime”.

Different mindsets

The Affirmative Repositioning (AR) movement yesterday pledged to ensure that soldiers, “whose training is to kill, are removed from our streets”.

In a statement issued by the AR's Job Amupanda, he said efforts were under way to tackle the matter at the High Court “to ensure that another life is not lost at the hands of soldiers”.

South African defence analyst Helmoed Heitman yesterday said several challenges arise when soldiers are deployed to assist police operations.

Soldiers are “not trained in the use of minimum force. If you want to survive on the battlefield, you shoot very quickly. You do not wonder what is going on.”

On the other hand, the police are trained to be patient, to provide assistance and to calm situations down.

“I would rather say, if you are going to use soldiers, then train them properly and issue them with pistols for ordinary crime-prevention or suppression operations.”

Heitman advised that if soldiers are needed to assist the police, a senior police officer should be present at all times to determine the rules of engagement.

In the longer term, he said soldiers must undergo basic police training.

“The real long-term solution is to expand the police so they have enough manpower.”

Be careful

Ombudsman John Walters said it was time for the authorities to rethink the strategies in place.

“Is there no other way that we can do this?” he asked.

Walters warned against turning “Namibia into a military or police state. We pride ourselves in that we are a peaceful nation and we cannot allow this peace to be disturbed.”

He underlined that a balance needs to be achieved between crime prevention and ensuring the safety of civilians.

“The life of a human being should weigh heavily and only in very exceptional circumstances should you use a lethal weapon to protect yourself or in defence.”

In an open letter addressed to President Hage Geingob yesterday and shared on social media, Abednego Ekandjo said Namibian soldiers should be deployed to fight terrorism, and not to kill Namibians.

“If the logic of deploying soldiers armed with lethal weapons in the midst of citizens is to create fear and subsequent discipline, then you must be informed that the plan has gone awfully, terribly wrong. A citizen, who probably made a U-turn out of fear, has been shot dead just like that. Is this the Namibia you and your comrades have sacrificed and fought for?”

Ekandjo called for the current crime-fighting strategy to be scrapped immediately.

“This is totally unacceptable,” he emphasised.


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