Anna Fredrick – Namibia

Anna Fredrick – Namibia

Date: June 26, 2012
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With a women only council-of-five, woman chair and vice chair, the village of Bethanie in the southern Hardap region of Namibia is the only one in this study to have such a predominance of women. Despite the complex politics of the region, there is no pull-her-down syndrome here, nor hint of in-fighting in the Council.

A sway area for Swapo Party and the opposition, the council has three opposition members and two Swapo Party members. Anna Fredrick, the chair who smiles when she circles the “over 60” tick box in the questionnaire and is proud to be introduced as a home maker, belongs to the opposition Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA).

Her deputy, Regina Ikela is a much younger Swapo Party stalwart who went into exile, studied agriculture in the east bloc and has struggled to get recognition for her qualifications since she came back. She has a relatively junior administrative post in the ministry of agriculture. But as she speaks English and is more educated than Fredrick, it is Ikela who represents the Council in many formal meetings.

Despite the age and political gap, the two get along well. Fredrick refers to Ikela as her “right hand woman.” They have great plans for the sleepy village on the fringes of the Namib Desert. Ikela’s agricultural training tells her that there is water beneath the ground of a piece of land owned by the church and complex negotiations have begun to get the church to give up the land so that the council can start a fish farm as an income generating project in the area where unemployment runs at over eighty percent and alcoholism is high.

But the council is in such debt and daily turmoil that all that is in the distant future. Like many local councils in Namibia (see Chapter eight) Bethanie owes NAMWATER, the water parastatal, over N$300 000 (or about $43 000) and there seems little hope of getting out of the debt trap. Fund raising efforts by the council are a drop in the bucket of the big water bill; “the bottom line is that people here are too poor, and we are not allowed (by central government) to set our own tariff,” Ikela sighs.

She adds that with her as the most highly educated member of the council, and no financial background among the councillors, they are struggling to make sense of the council finances. Training offered by the Ministry of Local Government after the elections “came too late” and has apparently not assisted the councillors in understanding or unravelling the books.

The upshot is that despite their best efforts, the councillors are viewed by the community as being ineffective. Women interviewed in a focus groups expressed their support for the 50/50 campaign, but stressed that “this council is in crisis.”

Men in the community were far harsher in their criticism. “These women are not literate or qualified; they have no skills,” one man said. “Instead of asking us for help they try to do things themselves when they are not capable.”

Referring to the chair another added: “She is a senior citizen, steeped in the old way of thinking. There are no new approaches.”

Discounting the efforts that the council is making to start a fish farm, the men accused the council of lacking strategic vision: “They do not think proactively. There is no innovative or independent thinking.”

The men maintained that given its location as the shortest route to the sea from South Africa, Bethanie should be able to set itself up as a major cross roads and commercial centre. They believe that underpinning the lack of business skills in the council is the lack of gender balance: “50/50 should not mean everything or nothing.”

Both Fredrick and Ikela said they would have preferred some men in the council, but added they had no control over the list system that had led to this state of affairs. They believe that they are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances.


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