Herero Disunity Clouds Chief’s Burial

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By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro

OMUPANDA

Speaker after speaker spoke about the wisdom, resilience, bravery, dedication and firmness of the late Chief John Tjikuua, among many other attributes.

The late Tjikuua, a stalwart of the anti-Apartheid struggle, was laid to rest on Saturday at the village of Okatuuo north of Okakarara following a funeral ceremony at his homestead here northeast of Okakarara.

Hundreds and hundreds of people including Minister of Veterans Affairs, Dr Ngarikutuke Tjiriange, converged on this village to pay their last respects. The Okakarara mayor read a message of condolence from President Hifikepunye Pohamba, saying the late Tjikuua was not only committed to the development of Otjozondjupa but the whole of Namibia.

“He was a distinguished son of the Namibian soil,” the President referred to him in the message.

Among those who paid tribute were various traditional leaders in speeches in which the unity/disunity within the Ovaherero community struck a common if not predominant chord. Some of the traditional leaders also took note of the absence of the Ovaherero Paramount Chief Kuaima Riruako from the funeral, seeing it as a boycott of the funeral by him.

Chief Riruako is believed to have requested that the late Tjikuua be buried in Okahandja, the burial place of Ovaherero heroes and heroines but this was turned down by the Tjikuua clan thus prompting him to stay away.

Among those who took exception to Chief Riruako’s absence was Chief Paulus Tjavara who read his absence as a demonstration of Chief Riruako’s continued intransigence against unity.

This, he said, Chief Riruako has already shown in his boycott of unity meetings like a meeting in Okakarara at the beginning of January 2005 to give feedback on an international conference on the Ovaherero Genocide held in Bremen in the Federal Republic of Germany in November 2005.

This meeting, attended by Chief Christian Zeraeua of Omaruru, Chief Alfons Maharero of Otjinene and the late Chief David Kambazembi of Otjozondjupa, was meant to draw up an Ovaherero structure to engage the German government in a dialogue on the reparations issue.

However, because of the absence of Chief Riruako, the three traditional leaders present were mandated to approach Chief Riruako to iron out their differences with him before adopting a common Ovaherero approach on reparations.

Another meeting followed in October 2005 in the village of Orotjitombo in the Kunene Region, where the Ovaherero/Ovambanderu Council for Dialogue on the 1904 Genocide (OCD) was formed. However, Chief Riruako did not attend this meeting and has not been part of the OCD.

Chief Tjavara reconfirmed his commitment to the joint endeavour of the Ovaherero and the Ovambanderu on reparations. He said more so with the death of Chief Tjikuua this endeavour is an inheritance as much as it has been an inheritance from the departed traditional leaders like the Muharukuas, Nderuras and Japuhuas, all from Kunene Region. He said Chief Riruako’s absence from the Ovaherero community’s activities was not unprecedented, noting his absence last year from Omaruru during the visit of the von Trotha’s to Namibia.

Not only was Chief Riruako absent but he organised a commemoration at Ozombuzovindimba to mark 103rd issue of the Genocide Declaration against the Ovaherero by General Lothar von Trotha. He questioned whether such absence by Riruako from the community’s activities was individual or sanctioned by the community.

Instead of seeking unity and a common position on the reparations issue among his own people, Chief Riruako was not turning to the Namas, Tjavara pointed out.

He also pointed out that instead of championing the matter of all 46 unrecognised Ovaherero traditional leaders, Chief Riruako had selected a few for recognition. This, Tjavara said, indicated that Riruako is the one who has abandoned his people. He said there was no one who was not interested in unity but this interest should be genuine.

But Chief Riruako said he did not regret having stayed away from the funeral in view of the humiliation he endured even in his absence by speaker after speaker at the funeral whom he described as weak in diplomacy. He said this was obviously not conducive to unity and he did not see in what way his presence may have rendered a different atmosphere from the one that prevailed at the funeral ceremony in his absence.

Tributes dragged on for the whole day and the funeral that was meant to take place around eleven o’clock after a traditional ritual at the holy fire, only took place well after four o’clock. As per tradition this ritual, when an elderly of the homestead submits the departed to the ancestors, can take place either in the morning or late afternoon.

With tributes going on until after lunch, the ritual could only be effected late afternoon and thus the funeral hearse only left the homestead around four o’clock in the afternoon for the village of Okatuoo.

Chief Tjikuua was given a traditional burial with full Red Flag paratroop drills both on foot and horses, battle cries and the traditional female eulogy known as Ondoro.

Late Chief Tjikuua is credited in life as having been instrumental in having been a founding member of the Protestant Unity Church, otherwise know as Oruuano, a breakaway group from the Evangelical Lutheran Church. He was also a founder member of the South West African National Union (Swanu) in 1959.

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