AS far back as 1963, Professor Ali Mazrui authored an article published in the ‘The American Political Science Review’ wherein he attempted to answer the question “Who are the Africans?” Mazrui started by explaining that the naming of Africa did not emanate from any of the peoples who were inhabiting the geographic land mass dubbed by the arbitrary map-makers as Africa. The continent was known only by its climatic conditions that ranged from arid deserts to tropical jungles; ethnically from the Khoisans to the Semites; and linguistically from Amharic to Kidigo. He concluded that the only thing these Africans had in common was the experience with the arbitrariness of the map-making European potentates who lumped them together, unlike other inhabitants of other continents who continue to be different in some form or other. Mazrui pointed out that the strongest common denominator of these Africans was that they were collectively different from other people outside of the continent.
Mazrui offered more insights into the phenomenon of an African as a construct of European adventurism when Europe scrambled for Africa and wished to recreate Afrika in Europe’s image. Drawing from Kwame Nkrumah’s grand yet existentialistic political cry that ‘Africa is not, and can never be an extension of Europe…’ the assertion was dismissive of the notion that parts of Afrika such as Algeria were part of France, Angola and Mozambique parts of Portugal, and for the purposes of our discussion, South West Africa part of Germany. If they were, then the people living there would automatically be extensions of the European countries and not countries on their own. As a matter of fact, there are remnants of this disease in some residents of Afrikan countries who consider themselves to be part of the European metropoles that colonized them. Angolans by and large are a case in point as they continue to believe that their worthiness and their superiority relative to other Afrikans has to do with the internalized falsehood that they are more Portuguese than Afrikan, as they take great pride in being a Joao, a De Jesus, a Do Santos and a Domingos. Most of us are just as confused and remain divided by the identities of the language of our colonizers: we are Anglophones, Francophones, Lussophones, and Italiphones and the rest are Cellphones – our true identity as Afrikans remains elusive.
Mazrui is instructive when he argues that the strongest fact that accounts for African Unity is the fact that Afrikans were victims of European imperialism and colonization. Otherwise Afrikans are as similar as they are dissimilar, and continue to group themselves in accord with who colonized them. The curious question, however, is what would make us a collective if we were not colonized, or if our identity did not flow first of all from the efforts of solidarity against colonialism that united us to fight for political independence. In other words, are we not admitting that the contiguities of geography are more significant or more helpful than continuities of history? That is to say, without the history of colonialism and imperialism, we could not be united and uniting as Afrikans. Interestingly, we forget that the period of colonialism is far shorter than the centuries of the existence of the peoples of Afrika as nations with cultures, languages, and deep histories.
Who is a Namibian? The Namibian identity, similar to the African identity proceeds from the narrative of colonialism with attendant falsehood that our identity commences with the struggle for national independence from colonial rule. The danger with this is that unless one is identified with the struggle, one‘s Namibianness is up for discussion or needs to be verified by someone else. The peril we face is that our identity as Namibians remains shaky outside of the idioms of the liberation struggle. More than two decades along the road of self-rule, the country ought to have developed a critical number of champions of democracy across the nation. What we have enough of are people reciting the narrative(s) of the liberation struggle, which, important though it is in our history, cannot take us very far along the road to true democratic governments based upon the will of the people, and equality of all citizens regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, class, gender and religion. The experiences of a short period cannot be allowed to outweigh the accumulated exigencies of centuries. This is dangerous. In other words the story of the Namibian people is older and bigger and more powerful than the short struggle for political independence.
Still: Who is a Namibian? Before independence the divisions were clear: there were three categories: South West Africans, South-West-Africa-Namibians and Namibians. Who were all these? South West Africans were mainly white people who considered themselves saviours in a no-man’s land and who saw themselves as extensions of South Africa or some European state to which they owed loyalty. To them the noises about independence were uninformed and Africanist irritations by natives who did not know what they were talking about. The South-West-Africa-Namibians were half uncomfortable whites and blacks who had their sights on political power but who were at the same time terrified of true black majority rule. The Namibians were those who in increasing numbers came to banish fear, unshackle their tribal and ethnic chains and chose to associate themselves, at great peril, with the spirit of the liberation struggle under the aegis of Swapo. The spoke English and donned heavy beards and were feared as dangerous by the majority of white people and homeland administrators. More and more church leaders, mine workers and students studying outside of Namibia swelled the ranks of these aspiring Namibians. At that time, there were no citizens in Namibia as all groups had various designations. The truth of the matter is that many people believed in these bogus semi-citizenship descriptions, even though today they would not admit to it as they claim to have been in the struggle!
We became citizens of this country only after midnight on 21 March 1990. Hence the idea of citizenship and Namibianness need further unraveling and more clarity. As the nation evolves and grows in many ways, there are grey areas about what/whom we are and what constitutes a Namibian today and hopefully in the future. It is unfortunate that we had not had a moment as a nation to define ourselves as yet and we continue to call one another names, and this takes away from our collective strength to build a strong and true nation. It is not too late to do this now. The fundamentals are in place and the foundations are strong, thanks to the men and women who governed this land of our ancestors since 1990 when we became a nation.
It would appear, following Mazrui’s proposition, that our identity as Namibians is by and large dependent upon our self-understanding, self-definition and self-repositioning relative to our roles, real or imagined, in the liberation struggle. It would appear that there are two parts to our identity as Namibians: the one part which is based upon self-righteousness and the other upon guilt or apologeticness.
In between are the mindless opportunists who go with the wind! Many citizens of Namibia see their identity only in opposition to others. There are those who are more Namibian than others. At the same time, the country has a paucity of true democrats – those men and women who stand out and stand up in defence of and to champion the cardinal values that bind the nation together and offer it the compass to the future. The story of the struggle has limitations as it always has winners and losers – and losers are always portrayed in the light that they have to apologize for their existence in order to be relevant. The winners are high priests who can do no wrong and in the process they are denied the space to account for their wrongdoings. What is needed are values that beckon all of us to stand together, walk and work together to safeguard the freedoms that were the reasons for the struggle in the first place. Most of the leaders we have today, especially in the opposition parties, have no vision for a better Namibia. What they see as sacred is themselves in positions of power. In fact, most opposition leaders do not offer any alternative to the ruling party but try to out-compete the ruling party at its game by trying to be mini-Swapo. A true Namibian is not only the one in or interested in power, but an ordinary man and woman doing their bit to make the country the best it could be. Even the person whose name has never appeared in the newspaper is a Namibian.
The starting point in defining a Namibian is that of our common humanity, regardless of how we came here. A Namibian is that human being living in Namibia. In many ways we did not choose how we got here. We are here now. Let us assume that we all mean well and we want to take into the future the best that we can be. This is so because we have learned enough from our own experiences and the lessons from others that we owe one another a duty of care. What had divided us in the past cannot loom larger than our will to survive together in this uncertain world. What kept Namibians together thus far is the understanding and acceptance that each and every one of us matters. This common sense is not very common as yet. It means that we ought to accept that given an opportunity we can all make a contribution to the common good of our communities and the country at large.
The second stop is the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia, which is clear about the sacredness of the Namibian citizen compared to office holders who are entrusted with the responsibility to execute state and government functions in the name of citizens, not themselves. This is where the rubber hits the tar as most of us are not there yet. A great number of Namibian citizens define themselves in terms of their political party affiliation, which is a fleeting identity as political parties come and go but the nation stands. My brother Andre Du Pisani is right on when he describes the situation of our politics today as a partocrcay instead of a democracy. The state of affairs in this partocracy is that thinking citizens owe allegiance not to the country based upon values that can take this country forward, but to the narrow and parochial interests of their parties, without even internalizing the values of the party such as Swapo which campaigned for the existence of a nation – independent, free and sovereign buttressed by the values of Unity, Liberty and Justice which are in our state symbols. These values are in the national coat of arms, yet people, especially leaders of political parties have not begun to live up to these values. Instead they are parochial, divisive and are threats to the peace and stability that have earned our young and small nation an international reputation. This failing applies to all political parties in the land. All parties are guilty of being party-crazy, as they are too focused on the interests of their parties at the expense of the nation’s interests in the short, medium and long terms.
The third port of call is Vision 2030, which beckons all of us to think differently about ourselves in relation to our own roles and contributions. This country needs to get where we are peacefully, prosperously and harmoniously. We cannot move speedily towards this grand vision as long as we remain ignorant about and indifferent towards one another. White people must become interested in what happens in the lives of their African compatriots and vice versa. This country, unlike most of the Afrikan countries, is neither black nor white. It is a zebra nation needing both black and white colours to grow into ripeness. In the final analysis, to be a Namibian is a state of mind. To be born in Namibia does not necessarily make one the best Namibian as he/she may choose another country to make his/her living and/or contribution. So people born elsewhere who choose to live and raise their families here and qualify to go to war to defend Namibia cannot be lesser citizens than those whose only claim is birth. They are equal in all respects save to run for the office of President if they were not born here.
Namibia belongs to all who live in it. There are Namibians of the blood or by birth. There are Namibians by ancestry. There are Namibians by choice. Namibians today come in different colours and different shades of everything, yet they form one family who must make it work here for the sake of the generations to come – the generations that must never suffer the inhumanities of yesterday and yesteryear! White people have nothing to apologize for any longer and black Namibians have nothing to feel inferior about. What we need to feel is a duty of care for one another and the understanding that our rights end where others’ begin. We live in contractual and compact relationships with one another premised upon a Golden Rule that we do unto others that which we wish them to do unto us. This ought to become common sense in our Namibia today. We have so much to be grateful for in this country and duty is ours in God’s events to build upon the strong foundations as Namibians. The world owes us nothing. We owe everything to ourselves to create a society that Afrika has never seen before, a microcosm of the better world to come wherein all are equal and free to be and to become. The kaleidoscope of what appears to be differences of culture, race, religion, language, ethnicity, tribe and class are all strengths in our diversity as each of these add different value to what is our common strength and collective power.
Our identity is wrapped up in our common and collective undertaking that an injury to one of us is one too many. When a woman or a girl child is hurt, we are all hurt. We are one another’s keepers. As long as we play by the rules of our Republic – rules agreed upon by the greatest number of the citizens of the country and rules that depict and bespeak the will of the people, not just a few, we are building the new Namibia we wish to see. What is required of us to be true Namibians? First, not to dwell too much on the past because the past, important a prologue though it is, is of limited value. The past is the torch we carry on our backs and illuminates the road we already covered. We need new eyes to see where we are going. The litmus test of who a true Namibian is lies in (a) the consciousness and upholding of the values that fuelled the liberation struggle from its earliest days in 1904 onwards; (b) love for the country and its people regardless of race, ethnicity and tribe, language, class and religious backgrounds, including those who were not born here but who chose to make Namibia their home and are contributing to the wellbeing of the nation, as long as they play by the same laws and rules made by elected representatives for the protection of all; and (c) an internalized commitment to subscribing to and upholding the fundamental values of peace, security, stability, unity, liberty, justice and harmony which are the cornerstones of the nation’s way of life at all times. These values are to become self-evident and sacrosanct such that if one day a white or a coloured person or a woman is elected President, the country is still Namibia at peace with itself, at peace with its neighbours and at peace with the rest of the world.