Genocide remembrance day stirs emotions

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Kae MaÞunÿu-Tjiparuro

Windhoek-Following a public hearing in the capital yesterday it is an open question whether the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs will go back to the drawing board regarding the motion to denote a genocide remembrance day.

At a marathon public hearing in the UN Plaza hall in Katutura the committee was bombarded with proposals, questions and many misgivings on the issue in a session that lasted about three hours.

At one stage matters reached boiling point and were about to get out of hand, with some members of the public jeering and interrupting others, once again underlining the sensitivity and emotive power of the unresolved issue of the 1904 genocide, as well as the attendant and inextricably linked issues of reparation and land.

The objections of some audience members to a representative of the Ovaherero-Ovambanderu Council for Dialogue 1904 (OCD 1904) when they made a submission at one point disrupted the meeting. Much jeering and booing members could be heard in response to a suggestion by OCD 1904 representative Dr Utjingirua Kandjeo-Marenga that the words “Ovaherero and Nama” be omitted from the naming of the day to steer away from notions of tribalism.

Chair of the hearing Emilia Nuyoma Amupewa MP indicated that the genocide committees and traditional authorities would be consulted on this later. Amupewa said the naming of the day was not part of the committee’s brief though, which was only to enlist views of the public and other stakeholders on an appropriate date.

But the dominant view of members of the public present seemed to be that the day should be called the Ovaherero and Nama Genocide Remembrance Day.

The overall consensus was that the naming must be specific, as unless such a date is specific in its naming, it would be meaningless, as the point is to honour those who succumbed because of two extermination orders, one issued against the Ovaherero on October 2, 1904 and the other against the Nama on April 22, 1905.

Sweeping such a historic epoch under generic terms, such as “Namibian Genocide”, would be a travesty, seemed to be the general consensus among those present.

The date suggested by the mover of the motion, Usutuaije Maamberua, a SWANU representative in the National Assembly, is May 28.

This was the day that the concentration camps in which survivors of the campaign of extermination decreed by Imperial Germany against the Ovaherero and Nama between 1904 and 1908 were officially declared closed in 1908.

While some members of the public at the hearing objected to May 28, an alternative view emerged that rather than linking the day to an aspect that was a result of the extermination orders, such a day should be commemorated on either of the two days when the two orders were issued against the two tribes.

The two ethnic groups, as the affected communities, should have the right to consult one another and come up with whatever proposal they may agree on, it was noted.

There were also suggestions that there be two remembrance days linked to the two days when the two orders were issued, respectively.

There were others who felt that a day or two would not do justice to the thousands upon thousands of lives lost during the genocide epoch and that instead a week of mourning should be declared, culminating in a remembrance day proper, which would fall on one of the two days the extermination orders were issued.

Another vexed question centred on the fact that the committee only visited urban centres in the 14 regions of the country, thus preventing those from affected communities who are in rural areas from making their inputs into the matter.

Mupewa in her closing remarks – having in the interim temporarily vacated the chair for Bernadus Swartbooi MP, who ably steered the hearing through some stormy weather – this was not the end of the hearings.

Hence, the question whether it is not back to the drawing board for the committee and the motion, especially to seek a mandate, among others, to allow the public to have a say on the naming of the day, not just the date.

The hearing in Windhoek yesterday, the last in a series of public hearings on the motion, was admittedly the biggest to date with close to 100 people present.

The committee started its consultations on May 8 in Keetmanshoop and has been to Gobabis, Otjiwarongo, Swakopmund, Opuwo, Outapi, Oshakati, Omuthiya, Eenhana, Nkurenkuru, Rundu and Katima Mulilo.

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