Why we protested in Namibia
The recent #ShutItAllDown protests emerged in October 2020 as a response to the pervasive crisis on Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) and femicide in Namibia. This crisis is not new; in fact, it has been one of the biggest social ills in post-apartheid Namibia, one we have not successfully dealt with as a nation. Hence, many women and young people in urban areas around the country took to the streets from 8 October, starting in the capital city, Windhoek. This protest action was triggered by the daily reports of women and children going missing and being raped and murdered at the hands of patriarchal violence. A day before the protests began, the human remains of Shannon Wasserfall were discovered in a shallow grave in the Namib dunes of Walvis Bay. Shannon had been missing since April and a social media campaign, #BringShannonHome, had been articulating the determination to find her.
We decided to take our rage and frustrations to the streets, using disruptive and transgressive modes of protest to highlight the collective urgency needed to deal with this nation-wide crisis. This protest action included blocking traffic intersections in the city centre, occupying and disrupting the offices of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Gender, Parliament and the central police station.
On 10 October, as the protest action moved towards disrupting the Wernhill Mall, the protesters were met with teargas and rubber bullets fired by Namibian police forces. Some protesters were beaten. About 27 activists and journalists were arrested and, after more than 10 hours in detention, released. The charges were dropped two days later by the Prosecutor General, and the Minister of Safety and Security apologised to the protesters who had experienced this police brutality.
Our demands are mostly directed at the Namibian government, policing and justice systems, academia and the private sector. We demand they take more drastic action, such as creating shelters of safety, intensifying public education and developing gender-sensitive systems when it comes to dealing with SGBV cases. The protest action also enabled consultations and engagements with different stakeholders such as the Presidency, the Ministry of Gender, the Ministry of Safety and Security and the University of Namibia. We see all these engagements as stepping stones towards the work needed to address the crisis at hand. We have now moved from protesting to movement-building, and we are committed to holding all stakeholders — and ourselves — accountable in this fight against SGBV in Namibia.