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.
A small-scale farmer in the far north of Namibia wanted to evict his cousin from the same piece of land where he was working the land because the cousin was ignoring conditions aimed at protecting the highly-sensitive veld. But Judge Shafimana Ueitele found that the land occupation right did not give exclusivity – or the right to evict anyone from the land. Instead, that right belongs to the local chief or traditional authority.
When part-time farmer, Matti Toivo Ndevahoma, allowed his counsin, Vilho Shimwooshili, to occupy customary land in the northern Namibia area of Eengolo-Ondjiina, he set what may seem to readers like perfectly reasonably conditions, particularly in such an ecologically sensitive area.
Two new decisions from the High Court in Namibia show judges on the warpath against drugs and drug dealing. The distinctly tougher line follows a watershed judgment late last year (2018). As I wrote at the time, through that strongly-worded landmark decision the Namibian courts gave notice that they were intent on a serious change to the way they handle cases involving drugs and drug dealing. Judge President Petrus Damaseb and Judge Christie Liebenberg said in that earlier decision that crimes involving drugs and dealing would no longer be tolerated and that sentences would now be ‘appropriately severe’. The fruits of that decision can now be seen in two new cases, the first full judgments reported on the subject in 2019. In one, a man’s 10-year sentence for drug-related offices has been confirmed on appeal. And in a second case, the High Court has upheld a magistrate’s decision refusing bail to two accused in a high-profile case involving suspected drug importation.