by Nangula Shejavali
Various political parties last week set out their position on homosexuality - a subject often regarded as taboo.
The topic has enjoyed very little, if any, discussion in the National Assembly at all, though Jerry Ekandjo in 1998 reportedly stated that he would table anti-homosexual legislation in Parliament.
This never happened.
However, much anti-gay rhetoric has reared its head in the past, with former President Sam Nujoma in 2001 being quoted as saying that "the Republic of Namibia does not allow homosexuality [or] lesbianism here", and "the Police must arrest, imprison and deport homosexuals and lesbians found in Namibia".
At a forum with political parties as part of the Women Claiming Citizenship Campaign, respecting and ensuring the rights of gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and intersex Namibian citizens - who are often discriminated against for their gender or sexual orientation - was highlighted as a major issue for political parties to address.
When push came to shove in stating their positions, most of the eight parties present - the All People's Party (APP), the Congress of Democrats (CoD), the National Democratic Party (NDP), the Namibia Democratic Movement of Change (NDMC), Nudo, the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), Swanu, UDF - declared that human rights were for everyone, irrespective of their sexual orientation.
Only NDP and UDF remained silent on the issue.
The NDP's representative, Lukato Lukato, who stated that the party's policy on HIV-AIDS is that "the Lord will respond to this killer disease", made no comment on the homosexuality discussion.
The UDF's Werner Claasen was also silent on his party's position, instead launching into an unwelcome electioneering campaign before being brought to order by the audience, who had come to hear political parties' positions on various issues.
NDMC representative Joseph Kauandenge said: "If a person is lesbian or gay, whose issue is it? It's not a problem as long as it is done in their own private home and in their own private time."
Swanu representative Unaani Kauami expressed the same sentiment, and both came under fire for trying to make the issue of discrimination an insignificant one, with one audience member questioning, "If I am in a relationship, and I am being abused and having my rights violated, is that a private issue? Talking about privatising issues is making it okay. Let's talk about this, dialogue, publicise it," she said.
Swanu later clarified its position, stating that as far as the party was concerned, "it is a violation of human rights to discriminate against someone for their sexual orientation".
APP representative Lena Nakatana also cited human rights as the point of departure, saying that Namibian homosexuals were still Namibians, taxpayers and voters, entitled to the same rights as any other Namibian.
"Whether I support them or not is not the issue," she said.
When a member of the audience questioned the 'human rights' argument of the political parties by terming homosexuality as unethical and saying that gays and lesbians would not go to heaven, Nakatana countered that "whether or not we accept it, gays and lesbians were also made by God".
While Nudo described homosexuality as a "strange new" issue, party representative Utjiua Muinjangue also made it clear that Nudo's position was to respect human rights, irrespective of sexual orientation.
She emphasised that there was a need for openness in discussing homosexuality, adding that "the fact of the matter is that we have these people amongst us, and we need to look at the issue differently, accept them, and all live happily."
RDP representative Steve Bezuidenhout stated that "the supreme law of this land has given rights to all citizens of the country, to all people, irrespective of sex and creed. I don't want to make a special issue of gays and lesbians because they are Namibians, they are taxpayers, and they have rights just as with all Namibians".
He added that "the RDP Government will defend and protect the Constitution. With this protection, the rights of gays and lesbians will be respected."
Noting current national legislation, Congress of Democrats representative Ben Ulenga said that sodomy laws still exist and remain in force in Namibia, stating that this was in stark contrast to ensuring universal human rights, as enshrined in the Namibian Constitution.
He added that his party does not discriminate against anyone in society.
"Gays and lesbians are human beings just like any other person. They are all welcome in the party as anybody else, and are free to run for office in the party," he said.
He added that describing gays and lesbians as a "new or strange" phenomenon was incorrect, as they had been present since time immemorial, adding that there had been homosexuals in the army during his time as a PLAN soldier, and during his time in prison.
Ulenga also promised to introduce the subject in Parliament, noting that there hadn't been any debate on the issue.
Though invited and slated to speak on the programme, the DTA, Swapo, RP and DPN did not send representatives to participate in the discussion.