March 21 is not for backyard barbecues

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On the Namibian holiday calendar no day is arguably more significant than March 21, on which we celebrate independence and freedom from foreign occupation and colonisation.

It was on March 21, 1990 that we proclaimed to the world our separation from the colonial administration of white South Africa and our emergence as a new sovereign nation.

But as time passed, March 21 perhaps no longer carries the original significance and spirit in the eyes of many. It has – especially for the majority youth – become a day for backyard barbecues, blockbuster movies, leisure and consumption.

For black Namibians, such activities were obviously a privilege before 1990 and perhaps it could be argued that people are enjoying, and making up for, what they were denied for successive generations.

However, the amnesia that engulfs March 21, especially its significance in the context of our history and politics, robs our country of a significant opportunity to reflect on the journey we have walked and whether we are where we thought we would be by now as a nation.

Twenty-six years on, freedom is no more about blacks being able to have a bite on a slice of white bread or moving from Owambo Lokasie to Nama Tien, without a pass document. It goes beyond indulging our basic appetites.

Independence means doing things that we always wanted to, for society’s well-being without the dictates of outsiders. Those are the types of reflections we should preoccupy ourselves with on a long weekend like this, because picnics and other intimate activities cannot be sustained in a society struggling on the socio-economic front.

We need to maintain the momentum of the past 26 years, so that we do not become a nation that got drunk on the strong wine of its own freedom.

The youth in particular have shown little appetite for national events such as Independence Day and what it truly means in the broader sense.

However, we are in no position to dictate to anyone how they should spend their independence holiday – after all, that would take us back to the dark episode when the masters dictated how private citizens must live their lives.

But we encourage an enlightened society where people listen to Independence Day messages by those we have voted to lead us, analyse their pronouncements and make valuable comment where necessary.

That’s the sober lesson we should all contemplate as we munch our rump steaks and sip our Windhoek Lagers this weekend.
Independence surely means not answering to someone else unnecessarily, determining your own schedule, values, and priorities, and not being a victim of anyone. But it also means jealously guarding our civil liberties and demanding accountability from our leaders at all levels.

It also means time to reflect on things we often take for granted, such as political freedom, peace and stability. Some of our compatriots, especially those born after independence, were lucky enough to not have witnessed the atrocities and suffering our country has gone through – at least with their own eyes.

The gallant sons and daughters of the soil who fought for our independence – some dying at the front and many of the survivors currently in the evening of their lives – did this for all of us.

Their natural expectation is simple; that preceding generations do their part in shaping the destiny of this great nation. When we take things cheaply and without an iota of pride and seriousness, we risk becoming another banana African republic – and that’s a route we cannot afford to head into.

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