Who is a Namibian? (Part 1)

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Namibia is at a crossroads. Unlike any time since the attainment of political independence in 1990, the governing party which was, to all intents and purposes, the glue that kept the country together, is coming unstuck in a most fundamental way, namely our basic understanding of who we are and we are what and who we are. The ruling party is disintegrating at a most dangerous level, namely the past versus the future, the elders against the youth. The elders who are meant to defend the constitution of the party are knowingly or unwittingly violating the very sacred constitution of the former liberation movement. The elders have turned their backs against the future and focus only on what matters to them, and it would appear that what matters is power and material wealth. It would appear that the related problem is in our definitions of reality, which stems from the definitions of where and how we sit around the Namibian fire – or whether we are invited in the first place and by whom. Unless and until we are clear about what makes us Namibians and a nation of equals, we will continue to quarrel and hurt one another around peripheral and ephemeral issues that can only take away from what we have accomplished thus far. In this atmosphere our leaders lose focus of the real issue of governance and, as it is now the case, do not know how to lead or how to behave given the positions they fortuitously occupy in the name of all Namibians. Who are we?

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.

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. They 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, mineworkers 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!

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