(First appeared in New Era 22 July 2015)
The past few weeks I have been traveling around the country for work and not spent as much time at home (or on writing this column) as I would like to. The cultural perception of the Namibian family is such that the “man of the house” is expected to earn the income even if it means traveling long distances from home, while the wife is expected to raise the children, earn an income and still be there to “spoil” her husband when he returns from his work far from home.
This week I was reminded of how much men in general take for granted the rights of privilege and put forward the argument of “it is my right as a man”. This happened when my baby, Captain Adorable, spoke his first words. Yes, you guessed it. His first word was “Mamma”. So much for forcing him to say “Dadda” to someone who is so often out!
In Namibia, we have quite a few “rights of privilege”: from the white person born before Independence who cannot understand why a black person does not stand up for themselves; to men who assert that they are the man of the house and get upset when the woman insists upon her rights too; to the shopkeepers who have the attitude of you should be glad I am here to provide you with products to purchase.
By the time you the reader have read this far, you must be questioning who I have not yet annoyed with my column this week. This is not my intention at all. Rather it is to have us question, and get the understanding between what is a right, and what is a privilege. Hopefully, by the end of this column you will also be able to distinguish between the two, and know when sometimes it is abused as a right of privilege.
Rights are defined as something belonging to you as an individual and these cannot be taken away from you. For example, in Namibia you have the right to freedom of speech and expression and this is guaranteed in the Constitution. A privilege on the other hand is something that is owned by another person or entity who then gives you the ability to do something. An example of a privilege is the owning of a drivers licence. The government is the entity which grants you the privilege of driving, but this can be taken away from you if you do not adhere to certain rules and regulations.
Taking this point further to discuss consumer protection we must continue to fight for our rights to be recognised. You have a) The right to basic goods and services that guarantee survival; b) The right to be protected against the marketing of goods or the provision of services that are hazardous to health and life; c) The right to be protected against dishonest or misleading advertising or labelling; c) The right to choose products and services at competitive prices with an assurance of satisfactory quality; d) The right to express consumer interests in the making and execution of government policy; e) The right to be compensated for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory services; f) The right to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be an informed consumer and g) The right to live and work in an environment which permits a life of dignity and well-being.
These are your consumer rights and must be recognised by the government through legislation which will enshrine your rights, and protect you from having them taken away from you.
As a well-known consumer activist I often find my personal consumer issues being sorted out very quickly because the store or service provider is scared of how I will portray this issue in the newspaper. This is unfair to the rest of the consumers because I am now reaping the reward of “rights of privilege” whereas this should be a right for all.