These were the last words of Hendrik Witbooi (1830 – 1905), on 29 October 1905, after he was wounded during guerilla war operations around Vaalgras, //Kharas Region. These visionary words keep me awake to ponder on what it could have meant to the offspring, descendants and Namibian nation at large, in an independent Namibia.
The Founding President Dr Sam Nujoma, recognised Hendrik Witbooi, with other national heroes at the inauguration of the Heroes Acre in Windhoek on 26 August 2002. In his inaugural statement of Heroes Acre, Dr Nujoma, said that “Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi was the first African leader who took up arms against the German imperialists and foreign occupiers in defence of our land and territorial integrity. We, the new generation of the Land of the Brave, are inspired by Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi’s revolutionary action in combat against the German imperialists who colonized and oppressed our people. To his revolutionary spirit and his visionary memory we humbly offer our honour and respect.”
The revolutionary spirit and visionary memory of Hendrik Witbooi require us the offspring to highlight some of the milestones achieved by him in his pursuit to free Namibia from the colonial yoke. When coming into contact with German imperialists, Hendrik Witbooi immediately recognized the danger posed by these invaders and fiercely opposed them.
He warned other tribal chiefs, with whom he had differences, that their differences were nothing compared to the dangers of German invasion. He wrote to other Nama chiefs to stand together in unity against the German imperialists’ invasion in the following words ““Come brothers, let us together oppose this danger which threatens to invade our Africa … The emperor of Germany has no business in Africa whatsoever.”
Hendrik Witbooi took the matter of land occupation to authorities in the then British South Africa. He appealed to the British governor of the Cape Colony that conflict and war would be imminent, if Germans continued to occupy their lands and settlements by force. In his words, “We cannot tolerate that. We did not give our land away, and what has not been given by the owner, cannot be taken by another person…”
These were words of Hendrik Witbooi already around the 1890s, which speaks volumes of his vision for Africa, foreign policy, conflict resolution and mediation, on colonialism and Pan-Africanism, long before the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was born on 25 May 1963.
During the scramble for Africa around 1885, in one of his meetings with Curt von Francois on 9th June 1892, he declared to von Francois that the great Namaqualand belonged to them, “This part of Africa is the realm of the red chiefs …” The arbitrary distribution of land should therefore be dealt with very carefully and with the sensitivity it deserves.
When looking at Naukluft, the area regarded as Sperrgebiet, which was a no-go area until recently, and tourists route, is where Hendrik Witbooi surrendered himself to German imperialist forces and signed a peace treaty on 15 September 1894. Conservancies could be set up for the youth and offspring of Hendrik Witbooi in that area. This is to promote the culture and share the history of his legacy. Hoornkranz is another place where the first bullets were shot. I visualize a shrine of Outa !Nanseb at this site. All Namibians irrespective of race and ethnicity could come and display and celebrate these heroes.
Such places will instil unity and appreciation and acceptance of differences, and unitedly strive for economic freedom. This is where we need to tell the nation about the bloodshed that watered our freedom, and to instil the lost dignity, self-actualisation, belongingness and worth to our children.
The offspring of Hendrik Witbooi have been branded and labelled as drunkards, lazy and without morals. But Witbooi taught strict discipline, and “forbade his people to use alcohol”. He “… separate(d) his soldiers from their womenfolk for two weeks before setting out on military campaigns”.
Hendrik Witbooi has been projected as having a complex nature and his actions as relentless, violent, and cunning, but yet merciful, religious and forgiving. Some writers said that “the price that leadership brings with itself is that a … leader’s life always finds itself scrutinized, criticized and magnified”. Today’s leaders should take a leaf out of this statement.
Our conclusion is that Hendrik Witbooi’s legacy is not properly celebrated. Nor are his offspring adequately compensated and rewarded for their contribution to the struggle for liberation. My appeal therefore is for the offspring of Hendrik Witbooi to benefit from his legacy and rich historical knowledge that is archived in the National Archives in Namibia and the world.
They should be assisted to study history, geology, medical fields, traditional and herbal plants, engineering and many other fields. When witnessing graduation ceremonies of UNAM, NUST and IUM yearly, it is a pitiful picture to see the visible absence of the offspring of Hendrik Witbooi.
Hendrik Witbooi said to his warriors, “It is enough. The children should now have rest,” meaning, that the struggle was long and bitter, and that the harvesting period is now, through economic emancipation and participation. Let my children also take part and enjoy the fruits we fought and died for.
* Annarine Jacobs holds a BA Political Science and Psychology degree from the University of Namibia (2004) and is from the Gaob Hendrik Witbooi clan, /Khowese //Aes.