'... till next time, in another space'

2018-12-21

Executive Chairperson of the NMT Gwen Lister bids farewell to readers of her lauded Political Perspective column that has been published in The Namibian newspaper for more than 30 years.

IT'S always hard to say goodbye to something or someone you love. Yet there's a certain inevitability about it happening in all aspects of life sooner or later. With this in mind, the time has come for me to put my final words to paper in this space I have occupied with my opinions and analyses since the inception of The Namibian in those dark days of apartheid in 1985.

I began writing a column not long after I started as a journalist in 1976. First for the Windhoek Advertiser, and then in 1978, when I joined the late editor Hannes Smith in getting the first edition of Windhoek Observer off the ground on that fateful day of the Cassinga massacre on 4 May.

We've come a long way since then, and – always spurred on by a personal spirit of idealism and a need to speak truth to power and fight all forms of injustice – my writings have covered historic and watershed moments in our country's history, from the untold hardships of our people under colonial rule, to the euphoria of independence and beyond.

Like a golden thread, my belief in the importance of the rights to freedom of speech and an independent press has woven through a life dedicated to serving people and the greater good of society through journalism.

It was in this spirit that I celebrated what was perhaps our most significant victory of all at the attainment of independence in 1990, which in turn spelt the demise of colonialism and the birth of a young democracy. Along with this, a Constitution which guaranteed fundamental human rights, so long denied.

It seemed then that we were on the right path to what founding president Sam Nujoma once expressed to me should become Africa's first success story. Without taking away from any of our achievements since then, it's with regret that I realise we've somewhat lost our way as a nation and that it will take massive effort, as well as people of great integrity and moral commitment, to stave off a culture of pervasive greed and entitlement and get us back on track to ensure that everyone enjoys the rights for which many sacrificed and fought so hard.

In my decades of writing, I've mirrored our country's journey through incredible highs and the lowest of lows, as well as critiqued the characters, the good and bad and in between, who've played their part in our rich and colourful history. There were times when I felt my words had resonance and even impact at various times in our history, and others when I realised that they were falling on deaf ears. But overall, this column has been a labour of love which was worth it all the same.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the way in which the media works, regular columnists (as distinct from opinion writers who do this only from time to time) can do what journalists cannot. Where reporters are tasked with gathering and reporting the news and refraining from exercising their opinions, column writers try to make sense of it all for their readers, interpreting the facts, giving perspective, and even setting the public agenda.

Analysis is a very necessary component of journalism. Perhaps more so than ever today, where confusion abounds as truth, becomes buried in the barrage of disinformation which has invaded the media space since the onset of the digital era.

My journalistic voyage started and ended in newspapers, in particular, The Namibian, which occupies a major space in my heart. In the media terrain in southern Africa, it's not often acknowledged that print has been foremost as an instrument of change and as a repository for the best of public service journalism. As traditional media moves forward into an uncertain future in an increasingly online world, I reiterate my belief in the power and necessity of good journalism and the wish that it will triumph wherever it finds expression.

I hope too that those who succeed me in this and other spaces will guard it well as a fundamental pillar of democracy and good governance and most importantly, as a voice and a compass for the people. I appeal to all Namibians to continue to give their support to the dedicated watchdogs of our democracy.

My heartfelt thanks go to the loyal readers and supporters of my column over the years. I hope I was able, at least in some measure, to do justice to your hopes and aspirations and the concept of justice and equality for all.

And finally, on a lighter note, those who hope I will disappear into the wastes of time, never to be seen or heard from again, will be disappointed. I still have 'opinions for Africa' which I will continue to express through my Twitter feed. For now, I am still actively involved at the Namibia Media Trust, publisher of The Namibian, which undertakes important advocacy work to do with freedom of speech and expression and the media, and related areas, including the promotion of excellence in journalism, both in Namibia and further afield.

I am not yet ready, to paraphrase the words of Dylan Thomas, to “go gentle into that good night” but will continue to “rage against the dying of the light”.

So, till next time, in another space.