‘I shall die honestly’ The Case for Ancestral Land

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The debate on whether there is ancestral land in Namibia and whether anyone in this country has the right to claim ancestral land has ebbed and flowed, but has effectively resisted the pressure to recede for good in the face of contemporary antagonism from sections of Namibia’s political life. The pervasive view among casual readers of Namibia’s history holds that Namibia is forever free and that all must enjoy the fruits of independence, after all colonialism will never return to Namibia. These casual readers of Namibia’s history further hold that discussions on ancestral land and German Genocide are in bad taste as they are tantamount to invoking a return to Bantustan.
The debate lingers and has refused to evaporate for as long as someone sits on land expropriated from someone whose descendants wander on a forced march to nowhere, for they have no dwelling place and nothing to call their own.

There is a case for ancestral land in Namibia with ample evidence to this effect. These are some of the examples.
Katjitamuaha Zaire was discovered by German families who had come to settle on the traditional habitat of the Zaire dynasty. This was a twelve year old boy who was abandoned by fate in the rocky surroundings of Otjituezu  that formed rural Otjomuise, present day Windhoek. The first day the settlers failed to subdue the boy on foot and on the second day they chased him with horses until they captured him. Katjitamuaha was tamed by these German settlers and converted into a cattle herder. Years along his life, Katjitamuaha was booted out of Otjituezu which was by then ring-fenced as Crown Land into Farm Voightz Land, because the numbers of his cattle were not acceptable. He either had to sell to the German family or move out. He moved with his family to the newly proclaimed Otjimbingue Reservaat from where he later moved to Ovitoto, from where the German settlers of Farm Voightz Land rediscovered him and persuaded him to return to the farm to work, minus his cattle. Katjitamuaha consented and returned to the farm, he worked there until his last day alive. The only property he has on Otjituezu is a one hectare piece of land where he was buried and where we have returned on numerous occasions to bury his descendants.

He gave birth to prominent Ovaherero leaders, Katjiukirue Zaire and Luther Zaire, both who are entered on the said piece of land.  Among Katjiukirue Zaire’s living children feature Tamunee, Ukasuva, Tiree and Ndjai Zaire. These children continue to farm in Ovitoto Reservaat, safe for Ndjai who bought a farm. Voightz Land is ancestral land.

Ngatajosi descends from a famous Ngatajosi family that lived in the Osire area of Hereroland before the German crown had expropriated and transformed the area into German Crown land. During the German campaign whole Ovaherero families were rounded up and locked into concentration camps. A few years later these camps were opened up and many of the survivors were let go. The Ngatajosi family returned to the area they used to inhabit. The area was ring-fenced into a farm with a windmill and modern kraals and the land was allocated to a German settler. When the family arrived at the farm after walking for days, the German settler spoke to them through an interpreter. He told them that this place belonged to Kaiser Wilhelm and he was protecting the farm for the Kaiser. While the elders were interacting the children had recognized their cattle and were playing with their names. The settler enquired what the children were doing and the father of the children told the settler that they recognized their animals. The settler said that it was a lie. The family was given a spot underneath a tree to spend the night. The next morning the Ngatajosi family were given instruction to move on, forced on a march from their land to nowhere. Osire area is ancestral land.

The Mungendje family decided to bury Katjiritja Mungendje on farm Otjombuindja west of Okahandja.  Otjomuindja was traditional habitat of the Mungendje and Mungunda families long before they were expropriated from them by imperial Germany. Otjombuindja is ancestral land.

Okakango on the edges of the Okahandja River has been habitat to the Rukoro and Katjiuongua families long before the German stampede and these families were forced off the land through the German land expropriation decrees of 1905. Okakango is ancestral land

Hornkranz was traditional settlement of the Witboois from time immemorial. One early morning in 1905, the German troops under the command of Curt von François attacked the unsuspecting nation. During this raid, this settlement was leveled to the ground, women and children were maimed. Witbooi survived because his fighters had managed to dash him away under the cover of darkness and pushed him into a rock opening, from where he helplessly watched as the German soldiers destroyed his people. He saw in disbelieve as a German soldier executed in thieve-dog style, his paralyzed twelve year old son, who could only coil on the ground. The Witboois were forced onto a march to nowhere. Later Theodor Leutwein would write a letter to Hendrik Witbooi, imploring latter to surrender. Witbooi replied and reassured Leutwein that he would fight on. He said, “I shall die honestly for that which is mine”.
Witbooi’s words were prophetic because years later he died of a German bullet while he inspected the area of Vaalgras on horse-back. His comrades buried him at a place yet to be discovered.  Hornkranz is ancestral land.
There are many accounts that bear testimony, that virtually all of central Namibia is ancestral land. These areas were expropriated by Germany, carved up into farms and distributed to German settlers, missionaries and German soldiers. In this way, the Nama, Ovaherero, San and Damaras lost their traditional habitat, their ancestral land. In December 1905, Kaiser Wilhelm issued a decree to expropriate all of Hereroland. On May 8th 1907 Kaizer Wilhelm issued a decree expropriating all of Namaland, with the exception of Berseba and Warmbad. By the end of 1908, the German Government had acquired a total of 46 million hectares of land that was property of the Namas, Herero, Damara and the San people.

When Ovaherero were finally defeated at the cutting edge Ohamakari battle and pushed into the Omaheke to die, the official German history of the battle concluded in part as follows: ”The hasty exit of the Herero would seal his fate; the environment of his own country was to bring about his own extermination in a way that no German weapon, even in the most bloody or deadly battle ever could. The death rattle and curious cry of insanity echoed in the exalted silence of eternity. The Herero indictment has come to an end and they have ceased to exist as an independent people.” This citation is accurate in that, both Ovaherero and Nama lost all land and have become at best seasonal workers on farms that were carved out of the land that once was natural habitat to their fore-bearers. And if we depart from the fact that 46 million hectares were purposefully expropriated by the German regime through decrees promulgated by Kaiser Wilhelm, it goes without saying that all of present day central Namibia rests on ancestral land.  
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