No-nonsense Swapo backbencher Ida Hofmann did not take kindly to assertions by Swapo secretary general Nangolo Mbumba that the Germans massacred other tribes and not only the Ovaherero and Namas during the 1904-1908 genocide.
This is in line with the stance of the National Heritage Council of Namibia, which was the first to indicate that the remains of Owambo, Damara and San people were also taken to Germany, alongside those of Ovaherero and Nama people during that period.
Mbumba said: “There is no way that you can say the gun shot one and not the other one.” He made the remarks during a debate on a motion for a genocide remembrance or memorial day, tabled by Swanu leader Usutuaije Maamberua in the National Assembly this week.
“When we were repatriating the skulls [from Germany] we noticed that some of the names on those skulls were Damara names,” said Mbumba. “Nobody ever mentioned that before. Why? Because everyone wanted to do their own little things. These are broader questions of history,” he further stated.
“People think that those who come from other communities and other parts of the country did not study the history of Namibia, or did not experience what was happening and recorded it in books. Not in some hidden document. In books,” he continued.
The formidable Hofmann, who heads the Nama Technical Committee on the genocide issue, immediately sprung up and interrupted Mbumba’s contribution to ask why other ethnic groups are only speaking out now. “When this motion was discussed in this parliament, all of us were here; the Damara, Kavangos, Basters and San you can name them,” Hofmann said.
“And I believe that [at the time] each and every one was also aware of the history [of their people] who were killed and their skulls taken to Germany. Why was it they never made use of the floor and talked about this during that discussion?”
According to Hofmann, at the time of the repatriation of the first 20 skulls from Germany in October 2011 there was an agreement that government would only assist in getting the remains back into the country, but would not play an active role in the issue of reparations. “Now you sit with the question as to what happened. What caused the change?” she asked.
Before Mbumba could answer, National Assembly Speaker Professor Peter Katjavivi interjected by saying: “I am not sure what you are driving at to be honest… I think you are missing two things.”
Hofmann stood her ground and again put her questions to Mbumba, before advising Katjavivi to allow time for her questions to be answered. In his response Mbumba jokingly reminded Hofmann that he is her son-in-law and now her “daughter will be in trouble tonight”.
“When we talk about certain things we forget how related we are. In my house there are three Tjitenderos, two Van Wyks and two Mbumbas. And I have many friends, including Calle Schlettwein… we studied together. When we look for solutions, let us look for those solutions as one united Namibian nation,” Mbumba insisted.
Meanwhile, during the same debate Hofmann did not mince her words when she called on the nation to handle the genocide issue with integrity and respect. “Maybe to some others this may sound like it is nothing, but to us this is holy a case, a noble case, a sacred case… We must not make jokes with this case. People died, women were forced to use bottles (shards) to remove the skin of their own husbands and children,” she said.
“Let us handle this issue with dignity and respect in the same way we handled the other cases, like Cassinga and Omugulugwoombashe,” she suggested.
This is not the first time Hofmann has publicly taken on her own government on the genocide issue. This, some say, is what motivated President Hage Geingob to publicly criticise ruling party politicians who express their dissatisfaction in the public domain, adding that those who do not agree with the order of business must resign.
When he motivated his motion, Maamberua suggested that May 28 be considered for the genocide remembrance day. “The genocide remembrance day will be an important occasion to remember the lives lost, to show solidarity with the descendants of the victims and to unite and to ensure genocide never happens again in Namibia, in Africa or elsewhere,” Maamberua said.
“A commemoration of this nature shall be and remain an important factor in the context of building a national identity, as the country tries to break through the trauma of the genocide,” he said. The motion since been referred to a parliamentary standing committee for wider consultation.