ON Monday, the 18 July 2016 at 16h30, I met my fourth year students for the Comparative Politics class in lecture hall X146 at the University of Namibia. This class averages between 75 to 85 students drawn from two degrees; Bachelor of Public Management (Honours) and Bachelor of Arts (Honours) with political science paired with another major. In the middle of the class, students at the back of class, having heard of the sounds of the keys, quickly realised that someone outside the venue was busy locking us in. One of the students ran to the door to inform the person locking that there were people inside.
By the time he got to the door, the person had already locked. This state of affairs disturbed the class such that it had to come to a standstill. Agitated by this situation that led to the disturbance of my class, I walked to the door and shouted with a view to have the person outside open the door. Few seconds later, the door opened; it was a female security guard who had locked the door. “Kakwali ndishishi ngeenge omuna ovanhu kaaa” so explained that the guard that she didn’t realise that there were people inside. I had many questions to ask her by then, I was only finding the correct words. “Omwa handukilange nee, ombili” she continued, asking me if we were angry with her and that she was sorry, as we walked with her from the top of class. I could not ask her any of my questions that were brewing in my mind given her explanation and subsequent apology. My students continued mumbling as a way of expressing their dissatisfaction with her actions much to the notice of the guard. “Shouldn’t you check first before you lock?” One of the students asked. “Amenaame omunhu ashike ngaashi nyee” (I am also a human being just like you) she responded. These were her last words when she left class.
Her words got me thinking and asking what had we done. It is not to say that we had done anything wrong. As a security guard, she was supposed to have known that there are lessons that take place between 07h30 and 21h30. But what really concerned me was the impact of her words: “ame naame omunhu ashike ngaashi nyee”. My mind told me how low we think and how fast we get agitated by people who are lower than us.
At times, as columnists and public intellectuals, we tend to only write and speak so profound about finer ideas and not the wrongs we do and the moments of serious challenges that we face personally. That Professor Naom Chomsky gave us, as intellectuals, the responsibility to speak the truth and expose lies, whether it affects us sometimes escapes us. We hardly engage society on things with prospects of casting us in bad light. As a case in point, few columnists would venture in placing on record that they shouted at the security guard as what this columnist did. It is made to appear like we do not make mistakes. It is true that the guard ought to check properly before locking a lecture hall during class time.
It is also understandable, though debatable, that we should not have perhaps shouted at her – that we should have found an alternative way. This is if we are to forget this reality: had it not been for the shouting, would the guard have realised that there were people inside the building – and what and how long was the alternative going to take given that the building was already locked? This debate is neither here nor there. What concerns this column today is the impact this statement had on our psyche: ame naame omunhu ashike ngaashi nyee . Without a doubt, the guard is proclaiming truth that although she would probably never sit in a class of comparative politics; she remains a human being like us. We could not continue discussing the course framework without delving on this matter. I started a discussion with my students asking and translating what the guard said and what is meant by ame naame omunhu ashike ngaashi nyee. Frantz Fanon visited my mind to remind me that what we experienced is a classical illustration of what he called the ‘zone of non-being’ that is to be understood and juxtaposed to the ‘zone of being’. In a state of being alive, particularly for black people, there are two realities of being as it relates to their humanity. The ‘zone of being’ is characterised by a situation where one’s humanity is fully recognised. People in this zone are recognised as full human beings and receive all privileges associated with the doctrine of human dignity. They are allowed to dream and realise their dreams and aspirations unhindered. People in the ‘zone of non-being’ on the other hand are in a direct opposite to the ‘zone of being’, started of human dignity. They are not recognised as full human beings. Indeed, their humanity is not fully recognised. Their dreams and aspirations are not regarded as legit for they are regarded as sub-humans. The zone of being and the zone of non-being are often understood in the context of the greater race question when it relates to colonialism, coloniality, decolonisation and more importantly, decoloniality.
While that is the case, we can relate, for illustrative purposes, what happened in my class on Monday to the concept of the zone of being and the zone of non-being. It could be said and understood that somehow for a moment we may not have recognised the humanity of the guard. If we did, according to us and considering this remains a matter of debate, she surely felt that her humanity is not recognised. It is for this reason that she reminded us: ame naame omunhu ashike ngaashi nyee.
If this illustration does not hold, let’s take it up further. In a typical workplace, how the systems treat the chief executive officer and the security guard is very clear. It is similar to how society treats politicians and the ordinary and often poor masses of our people. If a friend of chief executive passes on, an announcement is likely to be made to the entire company and human resources will even start making arrangements for the chief executive to leave for a few days. Corporate communications will go to the flower shop while the immediate office of the chief executive will start making bookings for accommodation. Chances are that on a day of a funeral, the chief executive is likely to be accompanied by other executives working under him/ her.
If a mother of the security guard dies no announcement will be made because no one will know although everyone passes by the same guard when they come to work. Even if they are to learn about this sad news, it will hardly make it into company official circulation. The guard is likely to be given only one or two days off. Even in normal day-to-day crucibles other than death, the humanity of a security guard is victimised. Consider what would happen if a security guard is to arrive late at work finding the chief executive and management parked outside for she has the keys. Who would listen to her explanation that she had to take her child to Katutura Hospital and the queue was long? There are many examples. Fanon remains relevant in our day to day life. It took that security guard to for us have a discussion on Fanon. She changed my class!
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015