Landscapes of violence.
Subject: Violence (Economic aspects)
Violence (Social aspects)
Violence (Demographic aspects)
Social norms (Influence)
Parent and child (Analysis)
Pub Date: 06/01/2008
Publication: Name: Sister Namibia Publisher: Sister Namibia Audience: Academic; General Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences; Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 Sister Namibia ISSN: 1026-9126
Issue: Date: June, 2008 Source Volume: 20 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Namibia Geographic Code: 6NAMI Namibia
Accession Number: 184549995
Full Text: Part 2

In October 2007, Gudrun Kober of the PEACE Centre examined some of the root causes of violence in Namibia in a paper she presented at the University of Namibia. Helen Vale has summarised the main points of this paper for a two-part story for Sister Namibia. In the last issue, we looked at causes of violence at an individual, interpersonal, community and societal level. In this issue we will take a closer look at the role of parental power, gender, economics and history in the landscapes of violence.

Corporal punishment is a form of violence

In Namibia, common law provides for "parental power" which includes the right to exercise "reasonable and moderate chastisement" of children. However, as pointed out in the World Report on Health and Violence of the World Health Organisation (WHO), norms that give preference to parental rights over child welfare are among the broad societal factors at the root of violence.


Unpublished research reported in 1996 and involving focus group discussions in Windhoek. Mariental and the northern regions of Namibia found that corporal punishment was a daily occurrence in most families and was the most common method of discipline, with many participants admitting that they were unaware of any other disciplinary methods.

Currently Namibian children are legally protected from ill treatment in terms of the Children's Act No. 33 (1960) and article 95 of the Constitution. The Child Care and Protection Bill is expected to replace the Children's Act. The Combating of Domestic Violence Act (2003) also provides some protection.

The Namibian Educational Code of Conduct prohibits the use of corporal punishment in schools, yet many teachers still administer corporal punishment. Corporal punishment is unlawful as a sentence for crime and as a disciplinary measure in penal institutions. In other institutions and in places of childcare provided by the state, corporal punishment is also prohibited. However, it would seem that corporal punishment is regarded as a legitimate way of disciplining children by a wide cross section of the population.

Gender norms lead to violence

Among the social norms that may contribute to violence in Namibia are those pertaining to gender and sexuality. For example, young men are supposed to be knowledgeable, aggressive, and experienced regarding sexuality. As a result, the power balance in sexual and intimate relationships is heavily skewed in favour of young men. Data from the WHO Multi-Country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence (2005) revealed that whilst 6% of Namibian participants reported having experienced sexual violence by a non-partner, 55% had suffered sexual violence at the hands of boyfriends. A commonly accepted view amongst young men is that violence against women is socially sanctioned as a legitimate expression of male authority. Another widely held view, shared by some women and frequently used as a rationalisation for rape is that male sexual urges are uncontrollable.

Other gender-based expectations often victimise men and make them more susceptible to engaging in violence. The achievement of manhood in much of Africa depends to a very large extent on gaining a level of financial independence. This provides the basis for establishing an own family, which society considers to be an important part of being a man. Accordingly, men who are not able to find employment or earn a living lack social recognition, and their sense of manhood is negatively impacted. Men in this position may be more susceptible to getting drawn into violent and gang-related activity.

In addition, it could be argued that in the Namibian context, with its high rates of un- and underemployment, both male and female workers would be particularly vulnerable to exploitation by an employer. Furthermore, power relations at work are likely to be highly skewed due to the fact that so many employees lack marketable skills. Thus they can be easily replaced.


In such situations an important protective factor consists in social support systems. However, traditional social support systems may be overburdened due to factors such as the HIV pandemic, thus increasing the likelihood of violence.

Income disparity and violence

International research findings regarding the link between violence and income disparities are a matter of grave concern. Studies in both industrialised and developing countries have shown that this gap is linked to a significant rise in homicide.

Namibia has been affected by globalisation and high levels of inequality, and has the world's highest gap between the rich and the poor. According to the WHO World Report on Violence and Health these inequalities may spark an increase in interpersonal violence. More specifically, existing social controls over behaviour may be eroded rapidly without viable new forms taking their place.

In addition to the growing disparity in income, since independence in 1990 Namibia has been marked by rapid social transformation including the introduction of new laws which question the power balance between men and women, children and adults. There have been rapid demographic changes in the youth population, modernisation, migration, urbanisation and changing social policies, which have all been linked with an increase in youth violence.

A violent past

In many countries that have suffered violent conflict, the rates of interpersonal violence remain high even after the hostilities have ended - among other reasons because of the way violence has become more socially accepted as well as the availability of weapons. Yet a further element is structural violence. In Namibia, the apartheid system practised by the South African regime between 1948 and 1990 is an example of structural violence. It could be argued that since the quality of governance in a country is an important determinant of violence, both in terms of the legal framework and the policies offering social protection, a major factor in the seemingly high levels of all kinds of violence in Namibia today is also the legacy of colonial rule and apartheid.


Violence is multi-dimensional, involving individual, interpersonal, community and societal levels. The interaction between individual factors and the broader social, cultural and economic contexts suggests that addressing risk factors across the various levels may contribute to decreases in more than one type of violence.

For example, although ideas surrounding gender play a large role in the violence that we witness today, within the African context there are many non-violent constructions of masculinity. It would be vitally important to investigate and to promote such constructions of masculinity and aspects of traditional socialisation in Namibia. Education policies which entrench inequalities are another societal factor linked to violence. However, it has been found that the implementation of pre-school enrichment programmes is an appropriate violence prevention strategy for early childhood. Through these programmes young children learn the skills required for academic achievement at an early age, thus improving their chances for performing well academically and achieving economic success. Furthermore, these programmes have the potential to improve self esteem of children, which can also lead to a decrease in interpersonal violence.

From all of the above it is clear that violence is an integral part of the Namibian landscape. It remains a major challenge for Namibians to learn how to effectively address the issue of violence within themselves and within their relationships, communities and society. Overcoming violence will enhance the quality of life for us all.
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.