Ovaherero Pay Tribute in SA

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By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro MOTHLASEDI WHEREVER they find themselves, whether in Botswana, Republic of South Africa or Cameroon, Ovaherero descendants of the great warriors of the wars of resistance against German colonialism are like a seed. They don’t die but grow. With these words Pastor Tuamanovandu Papo duly set the scene, as director of ceremonies, for the beginning of the fourth edition of the annual tribute to the heroism of the ancestors of the Ovaherero descendants in South Africa. Tuamanovandu, meaning “our people are finished”, is a sad but inspiring memory of the tribulations of the Ovaherero ancestors, their heroism and near annihilation. That is why this year’s gathering took place in this village, one of few firsts to have hosted the Ovaherero when they fled German colonial war excesses. Today, the village hosts close to 200 Ovaherero descendants. Despite intermarriages with indigenous cultural groups, and employment migration, one still finds those who have remained behind culturally resilient as to be assimilated by the majority cultural groups. They have kept vestiges of their traditions and culture and seem to have stuck to their roots in a make-believe tale. One of the vestiges of the Ovaherero traditional practices alive among them is the water rinsing ritual, whereby kinspeople who have not met for a long time must first do this ritual before they start greeting one another. A hundred years or more after the wars that led to the flight of their ancestors, few of the first generation descendants of the Ovaherero great warriors of the wars of resistance against German imperial forces here are around today. However, their culture has been passed on from one generation to another, as their language, which is the strongest living testimony of their cultural origin, testifies. Delivering the keynote address, Member of the Executive Council for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation, Joe Maswanganyi, said the scattering of the Ovaherero in Namibia, South Africa and Botswana that one finds today was visited upon this people by colonialism dating back to the Berlin Conference when European powers divided African war spoils among themselves. He urged Africans to desist from referring to one another by nationalities, saying this reference is not traditional to Africa but came about through the scramble for Africa. The Ovaherero fought this scramble with the German colonial power and their being here was a result of their resistance against colonialism, which also resulted in atrocities against them as depicted by the pictures of colonial atrocities in the hall. Maswanganyi said the same time Samuel Maharero was resisting German colonialism in Namibia, King Moshoeshoe and others also resisted the invasion of their land by colonialists. He said after the wars of colonial resistance, governments based on racial discrimination were established in many parts of Africa. Even those governments were defeated and democratic governments have been established. However, these governments are threatened by the new menace of ethnicity that is poised to destroy Africa. He thus appealed to all Africans to come together and stand together as Africans and to forget their ethnicity. He pledged the Limpopo government’s full support for any cultural activities of the Ovaherero descendants and encouraged them to continue with their cultural activities and not to be discouraged by the fact that they are in the minority. Ovaherero Chief in the Diaspora, Kaumo Johannes Maharero, appealed to the Ovaherero in South Africa and Botswana not to be swept away by the stream but to find a tree in the stream against which they anchor themselves. Descendants of the Ovaherero wherever, whether in South Africa or Botswana should know they are first Ovaherero. Only then can they expect respect from fellow cultural groups. He said one cannot love her/his fellow’s language if he/she does not love his/her own language. This ambivalence towards one’s own language leaves one with an ambivalent identity. He reminded the descendants of the Ovaherero of the importance of their history given that it is cast in wars of resistance and the blood and death of their ancestors and that is why they are where they are today in the Diaspora. Therein also lies the value of a gathering such as this one to retrace history. Paramount Chief of the Ovaherero, Kuaima Riruako, in a message read on his behalf, commended the gathering, pointing out that only through such gathering could his people signify their determination to remember the past and learn from past experiences to ensure their development and survival. He said when he took on the gown of leadership he accepted the responsibility as custodian of his people’s tradition and culture and to serve their best interest and development. This, Chief Riruako vowed to continue to do for all his people at all times. “As we are gathered here let us take stock of our well-being as a traditional and cultural entity. We come here to remember our brave ancestors and to draw inspiration and strength from those whose blood has watered our survival,” he said. The commemoration, held on December 10 – 11 here in the Limpopo Province, the Afrikaner heartland of Apartheid South Africa’s north-western Transvaal province, was attended by among others, the local traditional leader Chief Amos Seleka, the First Secretary in the Namibian High Commission in South Africa Selma Nghinamun-dova, the Mayor of Lephalale MD Mabote as well as Ovahe-rero from Botswana and Namibia. The event started on Saturday with the three national anthems of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa as the three leading countries with a strong presence of Ovaherero. Music and historical narrations interposed with battle cries spiced up the event. Young Ovaherero descendants also proved their mettle with their dancing troupe, dancing to the song Kaondeka of Ohamakari fame. Kaon-deka, an oviritje genre, hit big times during the centenary commemoration of the Ova-herero Genocide at Ohamakari last August. Since it has become an intrinsic part of any event related to the Ovaherero and their history of colonial resistance. On Sunday morning as per Ovaherero tradition, the crowd visited the Ovaherero graves in the village. This visit proves an emotional experience for many, especially for a lady from Namibia re-united with her Katjimune clan here, and the spirit of her long departed relatives, 40 years later. In 1907 Chief Samuel Maharero and his followers settled in one of the most remote areas of the northwestern Transvaal on the farm Groen-fontein. The Native Land Act of 1913 barred blacks living outside the then Bantu reserves from buying land from a white. Thus the Ovaherero were forced to move southeastwards to places like Nylstroom (today’s Modimolle), in the area also incidentally known as Waterberg like the historical Waterberg in Namibia where the decisive battle of Ohamakari took place between German troops and the Ovaherero in 1904. Others went to live in Bantustan areas like Nikara (Mokurua-nyane), Kaffirkraal (Kauletsi), Boshdiesh (Motlhasedi) and Speculatie from where they spread out because in terms of the law no more than five black families were allowed to live together on one farm. Maharero settled himself on the farms Werkendam, Witbank (D’nyala) and Oranjefontein along the bank of Mokolo River, which they rented with hard labour. Eighty Ovaherero men, about 95 women and 22 children lived with Maharero on Werken–dam, Rietspruid, Waterkloof and Ellisras, now Lephalela. Close to 40 men were contracted to work at Witwa-tersrand mines in Johan-nesburg in exchange for their stay, livestock and rations. Their livestock consisted of 560 cattle, 12 horses, 130 sheep and goats. In 1922 Maharero returned to Botswana in the Mahakapye District where he died on March 14, 1923 in Serowe.