The Battle for Okahandja

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The traditional Herero commemoration known as ‘Okahandja Day’ has been thrown into turmoil with two opposing factions organizing conflicting programmes to be held at the same site. Late yesterday afternoon the two competing factions were still locked in a stalemate after talks aimed at resolving the problem appeared to have collapsed. The dispute is between supporters of Paramount Chief and Nudo President Kuaima Riruako and members of the Tjamuaha-Maharero Royal House, with Riruako’s faction claiming to be the only legitimate organizers for the event. The two opposing groups have drawn up different official programmes for Saturday’s commemoration at Okahandja. This is likely to cause untold confusion, as people will not know which programme to rely on. To make matters worse, some speakers’ names appear on both programmes, while many speakers were neither consulted nor even aware if they are on one or both programmes. Unless the disagreements are resolved at the last minute, the commemoration could be thrown into chaos if speakers from the two factions drown each other out in an unwelcome cacophony. Many in the Herero community are blaming the constant faction fights on the over-ambitious young advisers of some of the chiefs who are accused of creating conflicts to further their own political careers. There is widespread feeling that if the chiefs spoke directly to each other, instead of through so-called advisers, many of the problems could be avoided. ‘Okahandja Day’ marks August 26, 1923 as the day on which Chief Samuel Maharero was re-buried at Okahandja after his remains were disinterred in South Africa and returned to Namibia. This commemoration also serves to honour all the heroes and heroines where the Herero people pay their respects at the graves of late Chiefs Hosea Kutako, Clemens Kapuuo and other prominent Herero leaders. It furthermore coincides with the day in 1966 when the Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia launched the armed struggle for Namibia’s independence. It also commemorates the day on which the Reverend Michael Scott started a petition opposing South Africa’s annexation of Namibia, which he then presented to the United Nations in 1947. The day has therefore conveniently become ‘Heroes Day’ to all Namibians, although they all commemorate it in their own way. Secretary of the Traditional Council of Chief Riruako, Theophilus Uahongora, yesterday blamed what he described as ‘Tjamuaha-Maharero dissidents’ for the conflict over Sunday’s commemoration. Uahongora, however, appeared to leave the door open for a solution to the problem, saying he hoped a meeting later that afternoon would help iron out problems so Saturday’s programme could proceed smoothly. By the time the meeting took place the deadlock could not be broken, and another meeting is now planned for today, Friday. Cleophas Mutjavikua, speaking for the Tjamuaha-Maharero Royal House, said a meeting was traditionally held every year on the Tuesday before ‘Okahandja Day’ to discuss the programme for the event. This meeting normally included the commanders of all the commanders of the different Red Flag Commandos, as well as representatives of the various chiefs. He said that when they approached Chief Riruako’s people on Monday to arrange the Tuesday meeting, they were surprised when they were told that the programme had already been drawn up. The Nudo people allegedly told them they were the only legitimate body for drawing up the programme, and there was no need to consult the Tjamuaha-Maharero Royal Authority. Mutjavikua stated angrily that Okahandja is the traditional capital of the Maharero’s and the commemoration takes place at their burial ground. This means no event can take place there without consulting them.