King Mandume Ndemufayo was certainly an epic leader among other great ones on the African continent that were against all forms of colonialism, mass oppression and grave social injustice as was propagated and implemented by the then intruding colonial nations of Portugal, Germany, Britain and apartheid South Africa.
Although he only ruled for a relative short period of six years, King Mandume left an historic imprint that will forever be remember and respected by the peaceful people of Angola and Namibia and by the progressive African continent at large.
With that said, this past weekend witnessed the centenary celebration of his life and of the impact that he had onto the communities of southern Angola and northern Namibia during the era of 1911 to 1917.
King Mandume defied and resisted anything that was colonial at that time to such an extent that it led to his death in 1917 and to the subsequent total dismantling of the Ovakwanyama kingdom by the then South African imperial regime forces for over a total duration period of 81 years.
This long duration of an absence of a Kwanyama king thereafter led to the subsequent anointment of Chief Cornelius Mwetupunga Shelungu in 1998, which upon his death, led to the appointment in 2005 of Ohamba Martha Nelumbu to become the queen of the Ovakwanyama tribe.
Prince Mandume Ndemufayo was born in 1894 and at a tender age of 17 years became the last king of Ovakwanyama before the kingdom was totally dismantled in 1917. King Mandume ruled at a very terrible time of our history which was full of many upheavals that his life and his entire kingdom was constantly under threaten of.
The collaborating local elements of his subjects and the encroaching armies of Portuguese, British and South African forces were particularly key in such upheavals. He hence during his time ruled with an iron fist to maintain law and order in his kingdom. He banned the use of firearms by his subjects, allowed women at that time to own cattle which was originally considered illegal and further prevented the picking of unripen fruits due to the severe drought of that time.
The King further issued harsh penalties to those that committed crime, especially rape.
King Mandume’s loyalty towards his people came first albeit at a huge sacrifice towards his own life. The King was born at a time when colonial regimes of European dissent – through the Berlin conference of 1884 – decided to create artificial borders on the African continent for themselves.
This conference at that time led to the Oukwanyama kingdom being divided into Portuguese West Africa and German South West Africa. The Ovakwanyama kingdom subsequently then fell significantly towards the Portuguese West Africa side and as a result led to many Portuguese traders descending into the region.
The intrusion of the Portuguese into the region brought with it too many problems for the King and his kingdom. They started in collaboration with certain headmen to collected taxes from his people in territories under their direct control through the goods and services they sold and meddled into the direct appointment of the local headmen, a situation which did not go down well with the King. The King, due to the rise in prices of basic commodities and the direct intrusion in the domestic affairs of his kingdom, expelled the Portuguese traders from his territory, a decision which further contributed towards their hatred of him and towards his eventual demise.
King Mandume, as a highly traditional and cultured man, was further particularly against the intrusion of the church and its missionaries into his territory during that time to such an extent that he also expelled them from his area. He saw them as agents of the imperialism, advancing colonial forces and through that decried their intermediate influence on the daily lives of his people.
These resistance actions by the King led to a number of battles being waged against the impeding Portuguese forces to such an extent that he was eventually forced to retreat from his capital of Ondjiva to his northern post in German South West Africa under the then protectorate of the South African colonial regime.
This situation created a leadership vacuum in the northern part of his kingdom in Portuguese West Africa, causing havoc between the locals and the Portuguese traders and eventually to King Mandume and his forces venturing into a prohibited region. This angered the South African regime at that time to such an extent that they teamed up with the Portuguese and British forces in collaboration with local informers to directly take on King Mandume at his stronghold of Oihole where he waged his final battle that led to his death.
The death of King Mandume as a result of the intrusion of the South African and other forces then led to the total dismantling of his kingdom which as a consequent led to the terrible mass contract labour system that eventually culminated into the war for the liberation struggle of the independence of Namibia and eventually of present day South Africa.
King Mandume Ndemufayo was no ordinary person. He personified his life to resist an intruding colonial empire of Portuguese, British and South Africa regimes which had the intent to rule by decree and without mercy the total lives of Africans. He was a cultured man who strongly believed in the preservation of the true values and tradition of his people to the very end. He, through his actions inspired many generations of Namibians to stand up and to fight against colonialism and all that it stands for.
He ensured that southern Angola and northern Namibia remain clear of the influence of the impeding intruders to such an extent that he meticulously defended every known corners within his sphere of reach.
With that, I would end this tribute to King Mandume Ndemufayo from part of his famous quote: “It is better to die fighting than to become a slave of the colonial forces.”
• Pendapala Hangala is a Namibian Socio-Economist.