Andrew Matjila and Traditional Festivals in the Caprivi:


The Other Side of the Coin By Bennett Kangumu Kangumu Allow me space in your newspaper to react to an article written by Mr Andrew Nikodemus Matjila, titled ‘Lusata Traditional Festival of the Mafwe People’ (New Era, Friday September 29, 2006). The subject of the article is the Lusata traditional festivity in Caprivi. The article opens with the ‘missing link’ adage borrowed from Charles Darwin who is recognized by the writer as a ‘hero’. Here begins my intervention. Within the African cultural context, I fail to recognize what makes Charles Darwin a hero. If anything, his theory of evolution sought to place African cultures on the lower rung of the ladder of civilization – ‘a little more developed than the apes’. This would unleash untold racism and destruction of African cultures as it fed and produced other schemes such as apartheid. Resultantly, commentators would conclude, as Mr Matjila does, that there should be a ‘missing link’ in Africa’s cultural development. While I recognize that probably African cultures would have been different or even more advanced were it not for colonialism, I am yet to be convinced that this could be branded as a ‘missing link’ implying a kind of stagnation. What was missing about it? Was it visual expression of such cultures? which I don’t think was the case! Or was it lack of European equivalent institutions of cultural expression? This could lead to the assertion often made that cultures should be tangible and expressive. On the contrary, most African cultures found expression in often-intangible ways, that they are mainly oral, transitory and mutable and able to survive precisely because of that mutability. We might not have exhibited our cultures in theatres and the likes, but they had always been there. The concept of ‘performative identities’ entered the field of cultural studies to negate the perception that identities or cultures find expression when they are performed or put on stage, say, in what has become defined as ‘cultural villages.’ This had not always characterized African cultures but seems to be responsive to the demands of globalization particularly of the tourism industry with its desire to package African cultures and identities for the consumption of tourists. In some cases, this immensely influenced cultural production and did greater harm than good to host cultures. The thin dividing line between cultural production and cultural consumption is often not well negotiated or mediated, let alone bridged. Secondly, the article seem to strive to place the origination of Lusata within liberation war history beginning with Chief Simasiku Mamili and the realization of ‘unity in diversity’ by the author of Lusata, the deposed Mamili V, Chief Richard Temuso Muhinda. It is an historical fact that old Chief Simasiku Mamili and his Masubiya counterpart, Munitenge Moraliswani Maiba, were among the first to buy CANU cards in Caprivi and they co-signed a petition which was sent to the United Nations by CANU. For this noble act, he deserves better than only being called a ‘Mafwe hero’. The same cannot, however, be said about those who inherited tribal leadership from the two respected chiefs. As much as one would credit traditional chiefs with showing direction to their subjects to fight for liberation, one should recognize that the same played crucial roles in South Africa’s subjugation of the Namibian people and led many to their deaths. The nature of colonial administration in the Caprivi was not actual and direct, but indirect and persuasive. What this meant was that chiefs and headmen were South Africa’s most important means of controlling mainly rural blacks. The establishment of the Bantustans and the second-tier ethnic ‘governments’ transited chiefs from being merely traditional leaders to be traditional elites (politicians). This gave them an even greater stake in the apartheid system. Since the majority of Africans lived in rural areas at this time, and though they understood the fact of their subjugation, they often lacked the education and awareness to fully understand South Africa’s subtle methods of control. Chiefs could therefore collaborate with South Africa’s colonialism but still managed to remain credible in the eyes of the people. This was catastrophic for the liberation cause. In the Caprivi itself, two good case studies are: the disappearance of Brendan Simbwaye. The Bantu Affairs Commissioner at the time, Kruger, was confident in his submission for the removal of Simbwaye from the Caprivi, that he wrote: “Both Simbwaye and Maswahu (Vernet), the first-named particularly, are fanatical types with whom it is almost impossible to reason. I have reason to think that the chiefs would favour their removal though they have not been directly asked.” For apartheid South Africa, therefore, chiefs were willing partners in subjugation. The second is the death of Benjamin Bebi, from the community on which Mr Matjila is writing. It is interesting to note that he does not include him on the list of ‘Mafwe Heroes’ in this article even though he is undoubtedly one of the best known of the time. There is even a residential area in Katima Mulilo named after him. Was this a wilful omission? Most importantly, Mr Matjila’s audience – the youth – might want to know the circumstances under which this son of royal blood died. What was the involvement of the chiefs in this particular case? Perhaps it would also be helpful when writing on such issues to be more specific for the benefit of the readers than generic references to ‘many arrested and thrown into prison in South Africa’. Who are they? Where are they now? Back to the Lusata Traditional Festival. It is noticeable that the origin of Lusata is put as the late 1970s and the launch on 26 September 1981. However, the history of modern traditional festivals in the Caprivi dates back to 1966. Barely eight months after the arrival of the Matjilas in Caprivi from South Africa, had the colonial government sponsored the forerunner of traditional festivals in Caprivi? The occasion was the 5th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of South Africa, which would commonly become known as Republic Day. Already at that time, two celebrations were envisioned – one for the Masubiya and the other for the Mafwe. Subsequently, the Masubiya one was held at Kabbe on the 11th May 1966, a bonus for their newly-installed chief, Josiah Mutwa Muhongo, who would become Munitenge Mutwa Moraliswani. The Mafwe celebrations of Republic Day were held at Linyanti on the 13th May 1966. These celebrations were held, just as Mr Matjila describes the current ones: ‘with pomp and ceremony’. The exception is that, instead of being addressed by the chiefs, the main addresses at these events were given by the Native Commissioner but were fully sponsored by the colonial state with meat and beer. In commemoration of the day, each chief was given a medal. It is not known for what – probably for their continued support of the colonial state. Why two festivals? This brings me to my next point: the deliberate creation of hostility and hatred between the Masubiya and Mafwe by the colonial state. While what has become known over time as the Caprivi identity sought to show how different people of the Caprivi are from the rest of Namibia because of ‘history’, culture, and geography and therefore should be administered separately (read secession), within Caprivi or at the micro-level, this identity was sustained by showing how different Mafwe are from Masubiya. The two groups therefore competed for rewards, which translated into elite competition for public service jobs in independent Namibia. When Mr. Matjila talks about ‘unity in diversity’, at the regional level, this did not include any attempt to unify the two main groups of the time, either by themselves or through state enterprise or machinery. Was there a threat to the identities in the Caprivi at this time, one would ask, to warrant ‘unity in diversity’? Unity against whom? Obviously against themselves (this could be a subject for another paper). It was obviously not against the South African government, which continued to sponsor these events. Or was it for total liberation, as my reading of the paper goes? If anything, it was a kind of pseudo-nationalism. Schools were not spared in these endeavours either. As a former educationist in the Caprivi, and even on the national level during the colonial period, Mr Matjila would recall the issue of Father Eugene of the Holy Family Mission at Katima Mulilo whom the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN’s) mouthpiece, The Combatant (June 1986, p.31), accused of spending most of his time in Khaki uniform than in his ‘holy’ robe. The incidence in question was the establishment of the scout’s institution in July 1983 where boys between the ages of 8 and 17 would be put through some programmes and received badges upon completion. The contention was the nature of the training but more of the badges which the trainees were awarded, such as the Republic Day badges, SADF military badges and also Voortrekker awards – depicting trekker leaders like Retief, Potgieter, etc. Alas, the colonial state would soon realize that these festivals were not meeting the expectations of dissuading young people from joining SWAPO and being hostile to the regime. Even though the festivals continued, they would be relegated to celebrate the chief’s birthday (locally they would be known as ‘mukiti wo mulena’, the chiefs’ festival). The festival, albeit a pseudo one, lost the appeal of nationalism. The colonial state turned its attention to the WHAM (winning hearts and minds) project as an alternative to the festivals. Alongside sister organizations in northern and central Namibia such as Etango in former Owamboland, Ezuva in Kavango, Waaksaamheid en Belange Organisasie vir Namibia in central Namibia, there was established in Caprivi the Caprivi National Service or, more specifically, the Namwi Foundation. Through these organizations, South Africa waged its dangerous socio-psychological warfare in Namibia. The Namwi Foundation was a pseudo-cultural organization founded under the wing of the SADF, among others, to promote an exclusive geographical and ethnic loyalty and to distance Namibians from SWAPO. Through cultural, sports and religious activities, the Namwi Foundation promoted tribalism and allegiance to the ‘homeland’ as a further scheme in the divide-and-rule policy in the country. Those who were in school at this time would remember being taken to Nambweza near Lisikili basically for indoctrination with a passive and negative attitude towards the liberation struggle waged by SWAPO. More recently, the famous annual Easter Soccer Bonanza, sponsored by the SADF in Caprivi, added to the Namwi Foundation’s bag. Lastly, I would want to commend the writer for the explanation of the symbolism of the elephant as used by the Mafwe Traditional Authority, especially the distinction between a ‘traditional authority’ and a ‘traditional’ institution. Perhaps my reading of it might be different but, by stating that the symbolism is that of an institution and not an authority, it implies and recognizes current traditional settings or realities in the Caprivi. An institution in this case I define as a custom or system that has existed in a particular community for many years. In this case, there is no subtraction that can be made from the fact that the Mafwe identity since 1909 included Totela, Mbukushu, Yeyi, Mbalangwe and sections of the San-speaking Namibians. But the situation is very different in today’s Caprivi where one finds the Mayeyi and Mayuni traditional authorities. It does not need mention that, in present times, they are not included in this elephant. Indeed, when the symbolism of the elephant was first used in the Caprivi by the state, they were two elephants, firstly on identity cards (Luyemi Hamoho – literally, ‘together we stand’), and then on the so-called Caprivi coat of arms, to represent the Masubiya and Mafwe Traditional Authorities, the only two at the time. This apartheid symbolism is, unfortunately, seen as being appropriated even by the Katima Mulilo Town Council. Despite the changes, their elephants are still two: The one might still represent the Masubiya, but what happens to the elephant that represented the Mafwe during colonial times? With the breakaway of the Mayeyi and Mayuni from the Mafwe identity, how much of this elephant still remains? I just hope the Katima Mulilo Town Council really knows what they are doing and the implications this does have on current political trends in the region. Symbols are very powerful tools in identity assertion, and this should not be taken lightly. Bennett Kangumu Kangumu is an historian currently engaged in doctoral research.