Fesmedia Africa, the Sub-Saharan media project of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, offered a discussion platform to media practitioners, and representatives of civil society organisations and the government to discuss this question at our Breakfast Meeting series in Windhoek.
With the input of panelists Hon. Maureen Hinda, Deputy Chairperson of Pan-African Centre of Namibia and Deputy Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration, Ombudsman John R. Walters and Yvonne Dausab, Chairperson of the Law Reform and Development Commission, as well as vital contributions from the audience, a discussion on Hate Speech was raised that - in the word of the Ombudsman - "needs to continue from this day onwards".
Ombudsman Walters was the first to give his input with a flaming discourse against Hate Speech in the form of racism and its impact on society. Apart from personal experiences he based his remarks on a report, the Ombudsmans office issued in 2016 dealing with discrimination and racism in Namibia. Despite his expertise on the topic he nevertheless admitted that he didn’t have the final answer to the question of how to deal with hatred but stated that “we need to change our society” and added that “this is something that legislation cannot do for us”.
The question of how to legally deal with Hate Speech was also raised by Yvonne Dausab, Chairperson of the Law Reform and Development Commission. Asking the audience: “where do we draw the line as Namibians?” she urged to find a balanced way of dealing with Freedom of Expression and Prohibition of Harmful Speech. She agreed with the Ombudsman on the responsibility of society and the individual to change the tone of the conversation but added that courts could be used as safeguards to protect individuals from Hate Speech if necessary.
Hon. Maureen Hinda, Deputy Chairperson of Pan-African Centre of Namibia and Deputy Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration raised the important question “what do we want to define as Hate Speech?” and encouraged Namibians to engage in a discussion on the question and on the way that the problem should be addressed in society. She saw the responsibility for an education of mutual respect with the schools as well as the families to teach upcoming generations a way of not “feeling superior or inferior to one another”.
The presentation of the panelists was followed by a lively discussion of the audience. Participants agreed that hateful discourse was deeply rooted in Namibian society with multiple causes and targets. It became clear that not only racial division but also the discrimination of people on grounds of their gender, sexual orientation or disability was a problem, making many people a possible target of hateful discourse.
Proposed ways to combat the underlying causes included proactive engagement with the rich diversity of people Namibia has to offer, personal conscious effort and commitment, evoking community values in both the family and educational system, and importantly, holding people and the law to account. In order to achieve this several participants mentioned that it was necessary for everyone to leave their comfort zone and get in touch with people that belong to a different societal group.
It became clear that Hate Speech in Namibia is not an abstract problem but an issue that affects every member of society, be it as a victim, a perpetrator or maybe even both. At the end of the Meeting it was on the moderator Patrick Sam to ask the vital question: “how can we turn Hate Speech into Love Speech?” – a question that the three panelists, the audience and eventually everyone in Namibia has to answer.
>> View also report of the Ombudsman on Racism and discrimination