By Sam Kauapirura
Is National Unity Equal to Assimilation?
It’s always good to be afforded the privilege to express yourself on matters of national importance or of public interest, as a direct subsidiary of our growing (though struggling) democracy.
Last Saturday a friend of mine invited me to watch a soccer tournament sponsored by Namibia Breweries in Rehoboth. As I haven’t been in the south for a number of years, I accepted the invitation and proceeded to the southern town.
As we entered Rehoboth, my attention was drawn to the sharp contrasts in the living standards of its inhabitants and I peppered my friend about it. He reminded me of the dynamics of today’s living and though I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the explanation I dropped the subject.
As we were driving through the town looking for the stadium, we passed a high school which was hosting a sport event as well, and again I was troubled by the partisan attendance of the crowd being substantially from the Baster community.
I asked my friend if there were no children from other communities enrolled at the school, and again lady luck was not on my side in yielding a proper answer for me.
We finally arrived at the stadium, and as is customary in our country, the sitting and social orientation at the stadium was of course highly partisan, tribal and racial. A few visiting teams were playing, after which the much anticipated derby of the afternoon between two local rival clubs commenced.
Next to our vehicle was another vehicle packed by locals and they started hurling racial insults against one of the teams, after which another group of spectators joined in returning heated racial insults against the former. The picture soon became clear that these were two local teams comprised of Damara/Nama speaking Namibians and Baster Namibians, respectively.
The tension on the ground was not substantially emanating from the match on the pitch, but rather from deep-seated hatred and disdain for each other.
Spectators of different ages and levels from both sides of the divide found themselves entangled in this heavy verbal artillery at the slightest provocation.
Sporadic fights broke out throughout the match, which I was made to understand is perfectly normal for the town. In fact, my friend pointed out that he would regard it highly unusual if there were no fights.
During the half-time break, a war of words erupted between a relatively senior local police officer (who was off duty) and spectators from the rival racial group. The officer lost himself completely and there were repeated accusations that he uses his position to vent his anger and hatred against the local Baster community. There were many other ugly and explosive incidents during the currency of the match.
As we were on our way back to Windhoek after the match, I was deeply touched by what I saw and it was mind boggling. I was awakened and reminded to the sober reality that in this small town of just over 21 000 inhabitants, things are not well between its inhabitants.
For the past almost 18 years since independence, practically all high profile government leaders have been telling the nation that we have become one, striving for the same goals and ideals. My experience in Rehoboth taught me another lesson, that this is not the case.
I heard so many tales of racial and tribal dominance and oppression in that town and across the country, and this clearly reached a near boiling point at the stadium.
Fellow Namibians, might is not always right! It was disappointing to hear vulnerable young Namibians pronouncing their willingness to die in protest against what they called systematic oppression and being pushed to the periphery.
The cozy unity speeches over all these years have not brought the nation quite together. A population of just over 2 million citizens is failing to find each other in mutual respect and dignity. This is an alarm call to those in and outside government to pause and do soul searching. Our nation is terminally ill, and unless we all take responsibility and do restitution, it’s a ticking bomb. People don’t just wake up one morning and butcher each other after enjoying a good breakfast.
It’s perceived and real systematic and institutionalized oppression and its offshoots that drive people to reach a deadlock in their minds. It’s dangerous when young people see no difference between death and life any more due to what they perceive is happening in the country of their birth.
At independence, we all had the golden opportunity of reconstructing our nation and consciously crafting a path of unity, nation building and development for the land of the brave. Efforts were made in this regard, but they seemingly leave a lot be desired.
It’s perfectly understood that as a developing nation, everything cannot happen overnight, but what does happen must inherently instill hope in the future of this country, and it must be visible to all citizens, irrespective of their racial, tribal, religious, political, social or sexual orientation and affiliation.
And this is what the Rehoboth residents, whom I met at the local stadium on Saturday, do not see. It makes me worry extremely. Why do fellow citizens not see the prospect of a future for their children in their motherland? Have we and are we (government and everybody) perhaps doing something terribly wrong?
Those who live in much more hegemoneous areas might not feel and see what I am saying. Perhaps they could be well advised to open their eyes around them and see if there are no traces of racial and tribal oppression and suppression. We all know that hatred breeds hatred.
There are countless numbers of Namibians feeling excluded from the gains of independence on account of their racial and tribal origins. Government would be well advised to recognize this feeling and set the tone on a different course. As the old African saying goes, the axe may not remember, but the stump never forgets.
There is a feeling that calls for national unity are meant or confused with assimilation. National unity should be a state that drives all Namibians to be proud of their history and confident of their future in the global village.
Our tribal and racial diversity is our strength and not our adversary, and should be carefully and jealously guarded en route on our march to national unity and development.
Whether what I saw in Rehoboth over the weekend will perpetuate itself and explode in our faces (or sadly, in the faces of our children), one day, degenerating our beloved promising country into a quagmire of chaos and strife, is entirely in our hands, and both the incumbent government and future governments, as well as all patriotic citizens of the motherland, who regard Namibia as an integral part of their destiny.
I pray to God that this country for which tens of thousands shed their blood, for which tens of thousands fled and fought for, for which hundreds of thousands remained and fought for, because of the prospect of a better Namibia for all, will not become our worst nightmare, of our own making!
Arise fellow Namibians and save our country, it promises so much for posterity. Let’s all bequeath this great country in one piece to our children, they are entitled to it.
God Bless Namibia.