When Botswana’s Court of Appeal delivered its recent decision on 709 people from Caprivi, living in the Dukwi refugee camp, deep in Botswana and close to the border with Zimbabwe, the judgment came as a serious blow to the hopes of the refugees. It has also raised questions by the refugees and their supporters, local and international, about whether the court was correct in its approach. Less theoretically, the refugees are deeply concerned about the dangers that they believe await them once they are returned to Caprivi – something that now seems inevitable – as well as the impact on their children’s education.
Despite the scourge of wildlife poaching across Africa, the courts seldom see either poachers or smugglers in the dock. A recent trial followed by an appeal, however, has given members of the judiciary in Namibia a chance to express their concern about these crimes and to consider the prison term that should be imposed.
The story begins just like a movie: a police sergeant working the x-ray conveyor belt machine at Namibia’s Hosea Kutako International Airport suddenly spots something suspicious about two suitcases as they pass through the scan. She offloads them, and then calls their owners from the departure hall.
Namibia’s top court has delivered a decision giving notice to the country’s intelligence services that they, too, fall under the aegis of a constitutional democracy. The case concerned material collected by an investigative journalist that appeared to show the Namibia Central Intelligence Service (NCIS) was involved in corruption. But when he asked for comment he was informed that publication of his proposed story was unlawful, and the NCIS then went to court to enforce that prohibition. This week’s judgment gave the Supreme Court an opportunity to explain that even the NCIS was bound by the values of an open and democratic society and could not count on the courts’ blindly agreeing to banning publication even where ‘not a scintilla of evidence’ was provided to show that prohibition was necessary. If genuine grounds to prevent publication existed, however, these could be raised with a court behind closed doors.
TWO regional magistrates felt they were being badly treated over promotion and recused themselves in protest. Now they have been ordered back to work by Namibia’s top court. The magistrates stood down from several part-heard cases to highlight what they considered unfair treatment. But the Supreme Court called their actions “sheer insubordination of great magnitude”. Setting aside the recusals, the judges ordered the magistrates to continue with the delayed cases immediately.
Recusal has become a political football in a number of African jurisdictions during the past months, but Namibia has produced a completely new scenario: magistrates who refused to continue a case because of a workplace grievance, and recused themselves in protest.
South Africa sets aside a national public holiday every year specially to mark human rights. It commemorates the tragedy of Sharpeville where, on 21 March 1960, police opened fire on peaceful protesters, leaving at least 69 people dead and 180 injured. The hated “pass laws” against which they were protesting forced every black person in SA to carry documents indicating the area where they were allowed to work or live. If you were found outside this area, you would be arrested and charged.