On Saturday 2nd June they converged on Otjinene village to remember Kuaima Riruako and to, as it were, reflect on his undying legacy.
On that day in 2014, the curtain closed on his life from a bed in the Roman Catholic Hospital in Windhoek and this set the stage for mourning by the Namibian people, and particularly the Ovaherero for whom he was paramount chief.
He was interred at Okahandja on Sunday 29th June 2014, alongside the Ovaherero braves such as Hosea Kutako, Clemens Kapuuo, Kukajorua Ndisiro and Kandjanatozombua Tjiho. His funeral pulled together at least 20,000 mourners, chief among them Namibia’s then Head of State Hifikepunye Pohamba.
They had gathered at Tuynhuis in Cape Town to pay their last respects to then President Swart of the Boere Republic. As they were about to draw the cart with his remains from the church to his resting place, a young Afrikaner army private rose and walked over to the podium, grabbed the microphone and said loudly in Afrikaans: “Staan op aandag Suid Afrika, daar gaan ‘n man verby” (stand in attention South Africa, a great man is passing through).
The day Kuaima was interred in Okahandja called for the same sentiments as the town of Okahandja came to a literal standstill when his body was strolled through the streets of the garden town followed by hundreds of cars and surrounded by over one hundred horse riders displaying traditional Ovaherero attire.
Kuaima was a controversial personality but with strong political leadership characteristics. He was fearless and loved the world. And whoever worked close to him will agree that he displayed extremes to friend and foe: he was the best ally in camaraderie and worst enemy to those in the opposing camp. And he held this unyielding commitment to the cause of the Ovaherero.
Kuaima was born in Otjeue in present day Aminuis Constituency. He had cut his political teeth at the feet of the legendary Hosea Kutako and other Ovaherero braves. Kutako had been a warrior of the 1904-1908 German wars of extermination. He had fought at Ohamakari and there he was badly wounded in the face. When his brother Samuel Kutako saw how badly he was hit, he turned his gun on Hosea. Samuel Maharero grabbed the gun from the elder Kutako and this saved Hosea’s life, for him to later assume leadership of the Ovaherero, when the Ovaherero were defeated at the cutting edge battle of Ohamakari and Samuel Maharero was forced to leave the territory into Botswana.
Samuel died in Serowe, Botswana and was reburied in Okahandja on 26th August 1923. On this day, the Ovaherero took two decisions. One was that the Ovaherero confirmed Hosea Kutako to succeed Samuel Maharero as paramount chief of the Ovaherero and two, that Ovaherero would henceforth return to Okahandja each year and pay homage to their fallen leaders. Kutako died in 1970 and was succeeded by Clemens Kapuuo. Kapuuo died in 1978 and was succeeded by Kuaima Riruako in the same year, after some tedious selection process by Ovaherero senior dynasties-cum-royal houses, who had gathered for the purpose at Okahitua in present day Okakarara Constituency.
Historically the Ovaherero had managed their political systems through royal houses and this held its own for the longest time. During the time King Zeraeua reigned supreme in Otjimbingwe he convened a broad national consultative conference at which the Ovaherero took their security and their continued existence in perspective. This played against the backdrop of threats by Nama warriors from the south of the country. Here Ovaherero leaders took introspection and concluded the conference with two decisions. One, that Ovaherero had to draw a circle that would excluded none of them and two, that Kamaharero Tjamuaha would henceforth lead the Ovaherero as supreme leader and Commander in Chief of Ovaherero Armed Forces. Maharero was later confirmed as Paramount Chief of Ovaherero in 1863.
When Maharero died, Samuel Maharero took the reign. Samuel was succeeded by Hosea Kutako, Kutako by Clemens Kapuuo, who in turn was succeeded by Kuaima Riruako. Riruako was succeeded by Vekuii Rukoro. Riruako left behind a troubled Ovaherero leadership with pockets of hostilities among some of the royal rouses and between some royal houses on the one hand and the Ovaherero Traditional Authority on the other. Even more, Riruako left behind an incomplete assignment: the campaign for reparations by the German regime, for the genocide they had committed against Nama and Ovaherero in traditional South West Africa. And he left behind the drive to repatriate the remains of the Ovaherero and Nama from Germany, originating from the same era.