Why studying history is important

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Alvine Kapitako
and Sabina Elago

Windhoek-“I know that the struggle will be long and bitter. I also know that my people will wage that struggle, whatever the cost.”

These were the words of Andimba Herman Toivo Ya Toivo, in his statement in the Supreme Court of Pretoria, where Ya Toivo and 29 other Swapo members were convicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

His moving statement remains relevant five decades later. “Only when we are granted our independence will the struggle stop. Only when our human dignity is restored to us, as equals of the whites, will there be peace between us.”

As moving as Ya Toivo’s words were, little is known about the man who fought tooth and nail for Namibia to attain independence. But did the struggle stop with the attainment of Namibia’s independence and the ideals for which Ya Toivo fought bear fruit in an independent Namibia?

“He is a man who died in pain and disappointment. What he fought for is not happening today,” said Moses Amutenya, a history teacher at Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo Secondary school.

Ya Toivo was actively involved in the liberation of Namibia and “enough is not done to recognise him as a co-founder of Swapo”, opined Amutenya.

As a matter of fact, his speech is merely highlighted in history books and not taught in depth.
“He could have been praised as co-founder of Swapo, because he was one of the Namibian stalwarts who served a long jail term at Robben Island,” he adds.

Historian and anthropologist Jarimbovandu Alex Kaputu feels that Ya Toivo is an unsung hero and a somewhat “forgotten figure”.

“After his passing we are talking about Ya Toivo as if he resurrected from the dead. Why didn’t we do it while he was alive? He was just an ordinary Swapo leader and pensioner in the eyes of many people,” remarked Kaputu.

In fact, some people thought he died many years ago, Kaputu added.
Having contributed significantly to the country’s struggle for independence, Ya Toivo’s “history was just put in smoke,” Kaputu remarked.

“It was not shining at all. I don’t know if it was overwhelmed by others. After his release from Robben Island in 1984, his history just faded out,” Kaputu further stated.

Having served a lengthy prison term, Ya Toivo’s history should not be taken for granted, Arries said. “I’m not comparing him to Nelson Mandela, but he (Ya Toivo) is our Nelson Mandela,” Albert Arries, a history teacher at Windhoek High School maintained.

Yet, it is seldom asked how much of an impact Ya Toivo’s speech in Pretoria has had on Namibians, Aries noted, adding that his experience as a political prisoner is seldom spoken of, said Arries. “He wasn’t appreciated enough for that.”

Teaching Namibian history in schools Kaputu, Arries and Amutenya, however, all agree with Edmund Burke that: “Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it”.
They maintained that history should be taken seriously as a school subject.

In Namibia we are promoting the sciences, Arries said, noting that “As good as that is we are not growing socially and if we are not careful our history will be lost in translation.”

Learners are not made aware of possible history careers, such as anthropology and archeology. “Learners might be interested in it, but society does not promote these careers for Namibians,” said Arries.

Kaputu agreed that: “if we are not careful we might lose our history”.
Also, Amutenya held views similar to those of Arries, saying Namibian history is not adequately documented in Namibian history textbooks.

For example, Grade 8, 9 and 10 history books do not offer in-depth coverage of the country’s history, while Grade 11 and 12 history focuses mainly on world history.

“Namibian history is merely highlighted in history textbooks,” Amutenya added.
There are conflicting views regarding the history of political prisoners at Robben Island. He added: “Some people say he spent 16 years on Robben Island, while others say he spen 17 years,” added Amutenya, who stressed that history should be accurately documented.

“We are afraid to teach our learners some of those things, because there are conflicting views,” added Amutenya, saying there are ongoing disputes over who is the founder of the Ovambo People’s Congress. “Things need to be clear. We don’t want people guessing,” he stated.

“History is not taken serious by the government itself,” Amutenya further opined.
He attributes the lowly status of history studies to the fact that history as a subject is not properly marketed at career fairs. Furthermore, there are limited places where people can learn about history beyond the classroom.

“We don’t have a fully-fledged centre where history is accessible,” Amutenya highlighted.
Ya Toivo in his 1969 speech further said: “My co-accused and I have suffered. We are not looking forward to our imprisonment. We do not, however, feel that our efforts and sacrifice have been wasted. We believe that human suffering has its effect, even on those who impose it.”

Ya Toivo concluded by saying: “We hope that what has happened will persuade the whites of South Africa that we and the world may be right and they may be wrong. Only when white South Africans realise this and act on it, will it be possible for us to stop our struggle for freedom and justice in the land of our birth.”

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