By Charles Siyauya
– Renaming of Streets and Colonial Remnants. Who’s Heritage?
I am truly convinced that a country’s national heritage are those aspects of its past that people feel should be remembered. In Namibia we have a mixed bag; one is a heritage that hurts (colonial remnants); two is a heritage that comforts (nationalism).
These are two opposing factors but are all-important in Namibia, which is the land of contrast. It is further argued that there is heritage that hurts and heritage that is good, but an individual’s view of the significance of a historical event or personality depends upon their perspective.
The Heroes’ Acre, the envisaged independence memorial museum which I fully support and treasure, or street names, can all be classified as public monuments, and as such public history.
Public monuments erected to honour individuals or political concepts are an all too familiar component of the urban landscape, but the notions underlying them are not so clear.
In Namibia, we have German and British-South African monuments and after independence more statues were erected, more streets were renamed and together with the existing ones were accorded monumental status. These statues and street names continue to flourish elsewhere in the world and this is evident when one visits major cities.
In a nutshell, public monuments and street names recognize the presence of the absent. In the sense that a person is dead and no longer exists but you find this statue which symbolizes/picture that specific person depicting his/her looks when s/he was still alive or full names. This is important. Why? Because it serves a clear purpose of education and legitimization and this is true.
As a public monument, Heroes Acre or street names or “the statue of a man on a horse – Reiterdenkmal” holds enormous promise for celebrating not only the names and heroic or cowardly deeds of those who have shaped our history, but more importantly, the virtues which have made our heroes and their heroes great.
Heroes Acre or monuments or our national heritage should be a celebration of courage, compassion, generosity, faith, fidelity, tolerance and love. The main aim is to maintain a picture of the past to bring a better understanding of today and the future.
For example, the 1912 Reiterdenkmal (rider monument) commemorates the victory of the German Schutztruppe during the Nama and Herero wars of resistance against colonial rule.
A German-Namibian will perceive the Reiterdenkmal as good heritage, whereas a Nama or Herero will perceive the Reiterdenkmal as a heritage that hurts. But our common denominator is Namibia, where each claims to belong by virtue of the Namibian constitution’s principle of equality.
It is against this background that I beg to differ with those men and women who are busy spending taxpayers’ money on bulldozing, dismantling, relocating and renaming streets at this point in time.
I strongly feel we have reached an equilibrium point in terms of replacing the colonial leftovers with the post-independence monuments or street renaming. The way forward must be to “name” as opposite to “re-naming” streets and “identify and locate” new space for historically educative new monuments as opposite to “re-locate” colonial monuments.
My rebuttal centres on the fact that in Namibia, we have enough empty accessible space and more gravel roads which deserve to be tarred and named after the identified heroes and heroines of our time. Therefore, the Independence Memorial Museum which I fully support can be located at some empty place of historical significance without forced removal.
I personally view street renaming or relocating as defeating the purpose of history. Renaming paints instead of maintaining, conserving, preserving and restoring the picture of the past. The truth is when you paint, you distort.
This, to me, is historical suicide and a serious mission to destroy ourselves further, as it would remove a significant layer of Namibian History to benefit the subjective view of one group of people and would lead to distortion of history, destroying evidence of the presence of colonialism and leads to tremendous deficit of factual information. In a way, mislead the Namibian children who were born after 21 March 1990 and who never experienced or tasted apartheid and colonialism. It is the same children who are highly regarded as future leaders!
The question is how will they lead if they don’t know where they are coming from and are deprived of the truth? The universal truth is, we cannot and we will not in any way remake history because history is just history and it is past, recorded and gone.
To qualify the intensity of my argument, I would like to reason that: (a)let the remnants of colonialism remain and flourish because colonial statues or “the man on the horse” was at one point in time celebrated as a “hero” by those in power in the colonial period and so, such memorials continue to provide an insight into the views of those in power in the past; and (b) another positive fact is colonial statues serve as a major tourist attraction, which is one of the major income-generation activities for the people of Namibia; (c) relocating a statue or street renaming is too costly both for the government and some businesses which will be forced to change their business letterhead addresses.
Namibia is a poor country faced with many challenges, so we must prioritise our scare resources wisely because if everything becomes a priority then there is no priority. Just imagine my birthplace is today called Schuckmannsburg (colonial name) but in the past it was called Luhonono (indigenous name).
Renaming will demand a substantial amount of money to change the school, clinic, police letter-heads, paint has to be bought and rewrite the walls, maps will have to be revised and the list is long.
My argument here is, instead of spending money on renaming my birthplace, the money could be wisely used to build the much needed school hostel to replace the current deplorable community hostel or to find an everlasting solution to the flood disaster.
Dear compatriots and friends, if we are serious and passionate about street renaming or relocating colonial statues from left to right and centre, then I will appreciate it very much if someone can educate me as to why are we still using Christian names parallel to African names today? Why can’t we erase our Christian names such as Charles or Willem completely?
Why are we using English which is a colonial language in Parliament when we debate serious national issues? Why are Namibian languages not made compulsory in our public schools? Why do we still have German and Afrikaans languages on our National Radio?
Why is our capital city still called Windhoek or why do we have a region Caprivi? Why are we still having places like Wanaheda in the city of Windhoek?
Why then did we opt to call our currency “Dollars” and is Dollar, Namibian?
I will be happy if someone will answer me now, and I mean like now.
Countrymen, let us reason here. The truth is “black” or “white colour” – we need each other now more than ever before in all our shapes and sizes and this is true.
I strongly feel, although colonial monuments are deeply and strongly tied to an oppressive past that offended Africans, that it seems true that there is sometimes a need for “heritage that hurt”.
The most famous example must be the transformation of Robben Island Prison in South Africa into a museum. A lot of Namibians served their prison sentences on Robben Island Prison. Critics might argue that this high-security prison of the former apartheid regime should have been demolished.
But we are fortunate to have these multi-cultural types of heritage sites to help us remember the ways in which the past was different and to remind us of our achievements and great efforts by our fallen heroes during the National liberation struggle.
Yet the meaning of these sites is not fixed, as the way in which people view a site such as Robben Island can change over time.
Our National Heritage must be a symbol of memory and reconciliation that Namibia has a multi-cultural, multi-racial society and issues like renaming of streets and relocating of colonial statues must be treated with caution, and recklessness must be avoided at all costs.
National reconciliation must be the order of the day. The Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary defines reconciliation as the process of making two or more ideas, situations, etc. agree with each other when actually they seem to be in opposition.
Therefore colonial remains must be viewed as a point of reconciliation between whites (the former oppressor) and blacks (the formerly oppressed) Namibian. It is an occasion for the proper marriage of our history and our dedication to the new social order. The remnants of apartheid must arouse national consciousness and forge national unity and identity.
I recommend and it is the duty of heritage managers to strike a balance in managing and conserving colonialist and nationalist public monuments. Most black Namibians might argue that, “Reconciliation refers to reconciling Africans to their past (the death of colonialism), their present (the reality of independence) and their future (their national aspiration).”
For white Namibians, “Reconciliation meant that the present government should legitimise the colonial past and to let its monuments and statues stand.” The latter might be viewed as an insult to comrades who died during the national liberation struggle and might be an order for their removal – whereas most whites might view this process as a lack of rational reasoning because you cannot remove history by taking away these memorials.”
In Namibia, reconciliation implies acceptance of the white man and his past – with the aim of opening a new page in line with the Government of the Republic of Namibia’s most spoken policy of national reconciliation. It is true colonialism was brutal and cruel but biblically, we must not forget that in the eyes of god all men are equal and the coloniser must not be perceived as the worst offenders on earth because judgement day is yet to come.
In conclusion, I do not claim to have the correct answer nor a right formula to this debateable issue ,but let the reader decide for him or herself. As for now, I rest my case.
– In my capacity as an ordinary Namibian youth from Schuckmannsburg .