Courts for the masses will integrate justice systems
MEDIA REPORTS THIS WEEK on fines imposed by traditional courts (such as N$1,000 for insulting someone’s private parts or compensation of N$3,000 for statutory rape) are a reminder that there is still much to be done. to harmonize the Namibian judicial systems.
We wholeheartedly agree with Justice Minister Yvonne Dausab that some centuries-old tribal courts remain useful and relevant in independent Namibia.
The mistake the ruling elite has made since independence is to maintain the superiority of the colonial judicial system, while allowing the traditional courts in rural areas to function as a side show and make their own law.
No wonder President Hage Geingob, like two months ago, saw nothing wrong with declaring, “Our courts are essentially old white courts.”
Geingob chastised 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 over 32 years to right the wrongs of colonialism continue to wring their hands waiting for miracles to do what they were elected to do.
Lawmakers should wake up and integrate disparate justice systems so they work for all societies across the country. It is unacceptable for tribal courts to be left to their own devices to render judgments contrary to national laws, including the Constitution.
Namibians do not have to choose between what Geingob disdainfully calls “white courts” and the traditional court system that only works in rural Namibia.
The practice of compensation, restitution and restoration that underlies traditional courts is so noble that it should be extended to the inherited colonial system that we hold superior, which focuses more on punitive measures against perpetrators, to the exclusion of victims.
How can we expect ordinary people to trust and appreciate a justice system that seems to operate from ivory towers, rendering decisions that seem remote from those aggrieved?
Naturally, a poor family whose young daughter has been raped by a sugar daddy would prefer a tribal court where a fine (of 3,000 Namibian dollars, for example) is issued, money is paid to them and, in addition, a decision is made for future support. Such a family would see little advantage in the formal courts.
The same case in national courts would see the abuser either walk away unscathed on technicalities or go to jail to be fed with taxpayers’ money, while the victim and their family are left to fend for themselves. The state does not even provide basic psychological support.
Dausab should use his ministerial role to ensure that traditional justice systems are not simply a way to “wipe away tears” or restore social peace in rural communities.
The Department of Justice should incorporate progressive aspects of tribal courts at the national level: Make national courts free and easily accessible to the ordinary public to seek compensation, restitution and restoration from anyone, anywhere.
In fact, there is much to learn from traditional courts. Why not allow them to operate in urban areas as well, so that people who agree to be subject to these tribunals seek and obtain justice for free, more quickly and more efficiently?
To make Namibia one nation, we must be willing to take what works well in various communities and adapt it to the whole country.
Integrating the many and sometimes conflicting justice systems nationwide can only go a long way in strengthening our constitutional democracy by showing the masses how relevant the systems are to them.