This Sunday is International Human Rights Day. But for Namibia and by Namibians the day is known variously. To some as Women’s Day. To others as Old Location Massacre Day. Yet to others as Swanu Day.
However, one would wish to remember the day and call it. All these difference references relates to one political epoch in the struggle of the Namibian people for liberation. It specifically relates and refers to December 10, 1959, when black Namibians protesting the forceful removal by the South African Police forces stationed in the county, then referred to in colonial parlance as South West Africa, were gunned, and as result 13 of the protesters died at the bullet of the South African Police. The Old Location Cemetry were the 13 were laid to rest, is today a national shrine.
Once again this Sunday the day is being commemorated as has become a tradition over the last 59 years since the massacre. But perhaps typical of the different denominations that the day seem to have assumed, perhaps an exemplification and amplification of the historical amnesia of post-colonial Namibia, obviously a derivative and blind heritage of the colonial strategy of suppression of the history of the indigenes, to maintain and perpetuate colonialism and Apartheid, strangely such amnesia seem to have been continuing to manifest itself. For what reason only those who have been perpetuating this amnesia can tell. Because in the days of colonialism and Apartheid, this was meant to maintain the colonial hegemony. But in a free and independent Namibia, what hegemony? Your guess is as good as any.
Listening to some hierarchical personas expounding on the celebrations this Sunday one could deduce little historical context of the day other than a vague reference to the international dimension of the day as par International Human Rights Day as the day is known internationally. With only a passing if not tacit reference to the actual context of the day in Namibia. Which is the 1959 massacre. Reminding one once again of the harsh reality of the continuing amnesia among many Namibians as far as the history of this country is concerned. With those with access to the media readily, whether consciously or unconsciously, perpetuating such amnesia. I am aware that in some sections of the Namibian society, this day has also been referred to as Ovita vyo Mawe (Battle of Stones), a reference to the sheer bravery of the protesters to dare the armed Apartheid South African Police with only stones as their weapons on December 10, 1959. Yet, to others, it has been referred and known as Ovita vya Katemune (Battle of Katemune). Katemune is the indigenous name of one of the ringleaders of the 1959 protest, Eliphas Tjingaete. It is any wonder whether to this day any of the streets, especially in modern day Hochland Park, yesteryears Old Location, has been and shall ever be named after him. It is hard to imagine given the terminal amnesia about the Namibian history. One cannot but also on this occasion of the 58th anniversary of the Old Location Massacre, pay homage to Tjingaete and others, as well as John Tjikanguka Garvey Muundjua, one of the ring leaders of the 1959 protest, who passed on this June in Windhoek and befittingly buried at the Old Location Cemetry.
“As we are writing this letter a proclamation has been issued by the Chief Magistrate of Windhoek preventing the Africans not only from holding meetings, but any group of Africans, this has been declared as illegal. Therefore, as a result of this proclamation the old location is being patrolled by the police every night. This provocative attitudes of the fascist govt. has again cause an enormous degree of unrest and bitterness among the residents of the Old Location, as it reminds them of the 10th and 11th December, 1959, when lives were lost.” Reads an excerpt from his petition to the United Nation’s Fourth Committee as Acting Vice President of Swanu. Hence, also the reference to this day as Swanu for the leadership and activism the party provided that time.
It is any guess to what extent those converging on the Old Location Cemetry this Sunday shall ever have the memories of the likes of John Garvey Tjikanguka Muundjua. By the way he is a Namibian veteran just because of, among others, his role and leadership in the 1959 protest and subsequent petitions to the UN. Thus one cannot but be worried that there seems to be little or no reference at all, in Namibia herself, to the local historical context of International Human Rights. Despite the fact that there are living embodiments of the day in people like Dr Zed Ngavirue, Moses Kavitjimo Katuuo, Nora Schimming-Chase, Ottilie Abrahams, Mburumba Kerina, Ester Kavari, to emntion but a few. All these and many others are living witnesses to the Old Location Massacre but have been conspicuously absent from events marking the day year in and year out, let alone the mere opportunity of their reflections on the day 58 years ago. What a travesty of history?