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Galtung’s triangle of Violence Applied to Namibia by Shaun Whittaker

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    Namibia: Violence, Values and Parenting By Shaun Whittaker

    NAMIBIA was tormented with more than a century of colonialism, oppression and racism and has been one of the most militarised societies.

    The country is saddled with exceedingly high levels of various forms of violence such as gender-based aggression – including the so-called passion killings – but similarly other homicides, suicides, infanticides, and so forth. Currently, a strong sense of demoralisation about the ongoing bloodshed permeates Namibia.

    The ground-breaking research of the Norwegian peace scholar, Johan Galtung, provides an unsurpassed framework within which to comprehend the phenomenon of violence. Galtung refers to the triangle of violence, namely, the three-way relationship among structural, cultural and direct violence. Structural aggression includes social inequality and unemployment, while cultural hostility involves racial, militarist and religious beliefs. And although these are indirect types of aggression, they are the real causes of direct force.

    Sadly, these invisible modes of hostility have been unchanged – maybe even bolstered – since the end of colonialism. This is why, despite attempts at reconstruction after political independence and the dis-empowering myth about peace in present-day Namibia, the country continues to reproduce brutality.

    Only the resolution of the structural and cultural origins of this pugnacity would ultimately break the vicious cycle and bring about genuine harmony and stability.

    Of course, in the short term, Namibia could focus on visible hostility, which – according to Galtung – reinforces structural and cultural violence. Direct violence comprises corporal punishment, yelling, beating, rape, and so forth. That peace scholar describes such explicit cruelty as the “avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs”.

    For him, this type of pugnaciousness has a crucial consequence in that it “makes it impossible or difficult for people to meet their needs or achieve their full potential”. Moreover, Galtung insists that even the “threat to use force is also recognised as violence”.

    A public conversation started by The Namibian newspaper about punishment, discipline and self-discipline endures in the context of trying to fathom successful schools like St Boniface College. This discourse, needless to say, is by the same token pertinent to the topic of parenting.

    The old school of thought reasoned that the purpose of punishment, which usually meant beating, was to instil discipline. Besides colonial education, conservative Protestantism (which also significantly influenced local cultures) offered a powerful justification of implicit forms of violence, but also of spanking. Conservative religious thinking declared that the wilful defiance of parental authority is not permitted and that obedience is paramount.

    In addition, a thorough-going deliberation should likewise begin concerning the suppositions of so-called Western philosophies about a human nature that ought to be contained or socialised. This might be contrasted to that of a more progressive and critical theory which assumes that Homo sapiens strive for autonomy and that society ought to foster the expression of individuality and creativity.

    Stated differently, a dialogue about the kinds of values that might be transmitted to the next generation is warranted. Should the spotlight be on obedience and discipline or autonomy and creativity?

    The American developmental psychologist, Diana Baumrind, completed extensive research on parenting styles and identified authoritarian, authoritative and permissive parenting.

    Authoritarian parenting is the most common parenting style in Namibia and whacking is central to this model. These parents raise children according to ‘a set standard of conduct, usually an absolute standard, theologically motivated and formulated by a higher authority’.

    Children of these domineering parents tend to be obedient, immature, emotionally disconnected and lack social skills. Such youths also have the highest risk of heavy drinking later in life.

    The permissive parenting style was initially inspired by the psychoanalytic movement and is equally inclined to spawn children who are childish, irresponsible and have poor impulse control.

    Authoritative parenting furnishes a nurturing and emotionally-conducive environment, but sets boundaries to behaviour. This democratic parenting paradigm encourages ‘both autonomous self-will and disciplined conformity’. These parents expect mature behaviour, afford young people choices and share explanations of their actions. Persuasion is preferred to a punitive stance, while consequences – instead of punishment – are accentuated.

    Finally, corporal punishment has apparently been declared illegal in Namibia by the Supreme Court in 1991 already. The challenge now (although late in the day) is to initiate a nationwide awareness-raising campaign and to implement that opportune ruling by the court.

    The country’s network of social workers could be instrumental in running parenting courses – especially for first-time parents. Consideration ought to be given to mandating perpetrators in extreme cases of child abuse to attend such workshops. It might take many years to complete the transition from an autocratic to a democratic parenting mode, but a new dawn starts somewhere.

    The country cannot wait one more day to construct a non-violent and democratic culture in all Namibian households.

    – Shaun Whittaker is a clinical psychologist based in Windhoek.

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