Is Namibia also suffering from ‘colonial amnesia’?

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Can one really hide the truth forever, or history for that matter?’ – I could not but muse when I found alongside the presidential inaugural speech of the Founding President, Dr Sam Nujoma, on the website of Global Black History, a historic and tell-all platform that showed visuals of starving Namibians way back in 1904.

Finding this visual close to the inaugural speech of the Founding President precisely spoke to the essence of my inquisitiveness. I wanted to refresh my memory on what the Founding President exactly said in his inaugural speech, especially regarding Namibian heroes and heroines.

I have been all along been aware that the Founding Father of the Nation has never failed at every opportune occasion to retrace the political history of Namibia, and the struggles thereof, and to deposit and posit such, especially its genesis, in its proper historical context.

“I would like to bow and pay homage to our fallen heroes and heroines, whose names Namibia’s present and future generations will sing in songs of praise and whose martyrdom they will intone. In conclusion, I move, in the name of our people, to declare that Namibia is forever free, sovereign and independent,”
reads a passage from his inaugural speech.

Yes, it may not have been mouthful and categorical who these heroes and heroines may have been. But wait: “Those who fell in battle on that fateful day [August 26, 1966], and their comrades who fell into the hands of the adversary, are true and worthy heirs to the proud tradition of resistance of our forefathers, the Ipumbus, the Mahareros, the Kahimemuas, the Witboois, the Morengas and Mandumes,” he continued.

About four months later the same year during his inaugural address on Human Rights Day, December 10, Dr Nujoma had this to say: “It is, therefore of special significance that we commemorate this day in a free and independent Namibia, having fulfilled the objectives for which many of our compatriots, including our heroes and heroines, who sacrificed their precious lives on December 10,1959.”

Fast forward to Heroes Day in 1996. “August 26 is a very special day in the annals of Namibia’s history. It is the day on which Namibia’s present generation renewed the armed resistance waged by our forefathers against waves of armed invasions by Imperial Germany, colonial Portugal and white-ruled South Africa.”

On Heroes Day in 1998 he said: “We are all mindful of the fact that Namibia’s resistance to colonial occupation was initiated by our forefathers. With bravery and with arms in hand they resisted the effort of Imperial Germany to occupy Namibia by force of arms and unscrupulous means. We are proud to say that Heroes Day belongs to those from whom we inherited the spirit of resistance and who inspired us to keep on fighting until the logical conclusion of our struggle, namely the independence of Namibia.”

Yes between 1990 and 1998 a lot may have transpired but as subsequent speech-bites may testify, this has been the Founding Father of the Nation’s favourite verses from his historical and political chapters regarding important national days such as Heroes Day and Human Rights Day.

Likewise, His Excellency Hifikepunye Pohamba, followed in his footsteps. “I wish to pay special tribute to the great and gallant Namibians who lost their lives in the cause of the struggle for liberty, democracy and freedom. They held the beacon of freedom and liberty high in the face of a long and bitter struggle. Their sacrifices have not been in vain,” said he in his inaugural address on March 21, 2005.

On Heroes Day in 2010, Pohamba said: “During the 1904 to 1908 war of resistance, German soldiers erected concentration camps in the desert, on Shark Island and other places where thousands of our people perished.”
Categorically, he said: “Our forebears such as Hendrik Witbooi, Samuel Maharero, Nicodemus Kahimemmua [actually Kahimemua Nguvauva and Nicodemus Kavkunua], Nehale lya Mpingana, Jacob Marengo[Marenga], Mandume ya Ndemufayo, Iipumbu ya Shilongo and others put up fierce resistance against colonial occupation of our Motherland.”

In his recently published book, Namibia and Germany: Negotiating The Past, Professor Reinhart Kössler refers to “colonial amnesia” which was and remains widespread in Germany. He is referring to the fact that little is known about the genocide committed by Imperial Germany in Namibia, among the general public as much as in any other sphere in Germany, including among German-speaking Namibians in Namibia. “Namibia does not register as the site of a genocide for which Germans were responsible, nor of struggles to overcome its consequences,” he writes.

Somehow this “colonial amnesia” in Namibia does not seem to be isolated to German-speaking Namibians but seems to have infected a section of Namibian officialdom, including top politicians. This is notwithstanding the tradition that their Excellencies Nujoma and Pohamba, have established since independence. Looks like soon, this may be something of the past and Professor Kössler’s “colonial amnesia” a distinct reality if not kept in check. But only time will tell, but all the signs are there.

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