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      Courts for the Masses Will Integrate Justice Systems

      by

      MEDIA REPORTS THIS week about fines issued by traditional courts (such as N$1 000 for insulting someone's private parts or N$3 000 compensation for statutory rape) are a reminder that a lot more should be done to harmonise Namibia's justice systems.

      We could not agree more with justice minister Yvonne Dausab that some centuries-old tribal courts remain useful and relevant in independent Namibia.

      The mistake the ruling elite have made since independence is to maintain the superiority of the colonial justice system, while allowing the traditional courts in rural areas to operate as a side show and law unto themselves.

      Small wonder president Hage Geingob, as recently two months ago, saw nothing wrong in stating: “Our courts are basically former white courts.”

      Geingob was chastising tribal leaders for using “white courts” to settle their disputes, ostensibly ignoring their own dispute resolution systems.

      It is shocking that leaders who have had the power for more than 32 years to fix the wrongs of colonialism continue wringing their hands while waiting for miracles to do what they were elected to do.

      Lawmakers should wake up and integrate the disparate court systems so that they work for all societies across the country. It is unacceptable that tribal courts have been left to their own devices, such that they make judgements that are in conflict with national laws, including the Constitution.

      Namibians need not have to choose between what Geingob disdainfully labelled the “white courts” and the traditional justice system that operates only in rural parts of Namibia.

      The practice of compensation, restitution and restoration that forms the basis of traditional courts is so noble it should be extended to the inherited colonial system that we hold as superior, which focuses more on punitive measures against perpetrators, to the exclusion of the victims.

      How can we expect ordinary people to trust and appreciate a justice system that seems to operate from ivory towers, dispensing rulings that seem removed from those wronged?

      Understandably a poor family whose young girl was raped by a sugar daddy would prefer a tribal court where a fine (of N$3 000, for example) is issued, money paid to them and, in addition, a ruling is made for future support. Such a family would see little benefit in the formal courts.

      The same case in the national courts would see the perpetrator either escape scot-free on technicalities or go to jail to be fed with taxpayer funds, while the victim and her family are left to fend for themselves. The state does not even provide basic psychological support.

      Dausab should use her ministerial role to ensure that traditional court systems are not merely an avenue for “wiping tears” or restoring social peace in rural communities.

      The ministry of justice should incorporate the progressive aspects of tribal courts at national level: Make national courts as free and easily accessible to the ordinary public to seek compensation, restitution and restoration from anyone, anywhere.

      In fact, there's a lot to be learnt from traditional courts. Why not allow them to operate in urban areas as well, so that people who are willing to be subjected to those courts seek and get justice dispensed free of charge, quicker and more effectively?

      To build Namibia into one nation, we should be willing to integrate what works well in various communities and adapt it across the county.

      Integrating the many and at times conflicting court systems nationwide can only go a long way towards strengthening our constitutional democracy by showing the masses how relevant the systems are to them.


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