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Namibie : Statues and Nation Building

D 14 août 2020     H 07:30     A HARRY BOESAK, MITCHELL VAN WYK, Shaun Whittaker     C 0 messages

THE CALLOUS KILLING of George Floyd led to a global uprising against racism, including the toppling of many statues associated with white supremacist ideology.

Such symbols are crucial reminders of history, in particular the way in which that history is celebrated. Therefore, the recent protest at the bust of Curt von Francois, and the demand for its removal comes at an opportune moment. It is lamentable that the image of a German-speaking coloniser, who ordered the Hornkranz massacre – which included femicide and infanticide – and falsely claimed to have founded Windhoek, remains after 30 years of neocolonialism.

Von Francois should be replaced with a statue of Johannes Nangutuwala, leader of the 1971 general strike, a turning point in the anticolonial and anti-apartheid struggles of southern Africa. It conscientised and inspired a generation of Namibian youth, and also contributed to the 1973 Durban strike.

It would be fitting to have a worker leader – giving a black power salute with his left fist – in front of the City of Windhoek to strike a chord on the role of mass action by the Namibian working class. Namibian political independence did not come through the barrel of a gun, as Swapo would like to suggest, but via a negotiated settlement with significant compromises.

Indeed, such a statue should also initiate a national conversation about the circumstances around the assassination of Nangutuwala.

Besides the colonial images, however, it may also be appropriate to engage in a national dialogue about neocolonial statues. For example, the huge sculpture outside Windhoek of the Unknown Soldier – who obviously resembles former president Sam Nujoma – is supposedly a celebration of the victory of Swapo’s armed struggle. But, if it is considered that Swapo fighters did not fire a single bullet at either Omgulugombashe and Cuito Cuanavale, the two major places where Swapo claims to have respectively started their armed struggle and defeated the colonial army, that statue could be regarded as a symbol of a dishonest narrative.

The primary battle at Cuito Cuanavale ended in a military stalemate between the MPLA/Cuban and the Unita/apartheid armies, when Chester Crocker and PW Botha understood that the balance of forces did not allow for the partitioning of Angola at that point. For that reason, the political independence of Namibia happened as a second option that would still get the Cubans out of Angola. Nevertheless, Swapo fighters were not at the key battle and therefore not at the negotiation table.

The bust of the Unknown Soldier ought to be substituted with a statue of Jakob Marengo – holding up a Martini-Henry rifle with his left arm. That anticolonial fighter led a ’vicious’ guerilla revolt of a few thousand against German colonialism from Karasberg between 1903 and 1907. Marengo’s non-tribal army consisted of several language groups, and fought much longer than all the tribal armies. The scourge of tribalism should really have died in Namibia in 1903. Thus, it would be right to return Marengo’s remains from the farm Eensaamheid in the Northern Cape. Surely, after so many years the Swapo fiction that the anticolonial struggle began in the 1960s should be discarded.

Moreover, it would also make sense to erect a statue of Jonker Afrikaner in front of the National Museum. He was arguably the founder of the Namibian nation given his serious attempts to unify all language groups within the borders of what is today called Namibia, and that his forces managed to keep the colonisers out of the territory during his reign (1825-1861).

At the same time it is relevant to remember that Windhoek was named after the Afrikaners’ farm ’Winters­hoek’, which they – guided by his grandfather Klaas Afrikaner – had to flee due to Dutch colonialism in the Cape. Radical historian Martin Legassick in his book ’Hidden Histories of Gordonia : Land Dispossession and Resistance in the Northern Cape 1800-1990’ (2016) noted that the original Afrikaners were fearless and proud anticolonial fighters. In the 1820s these brown Afrikaners consisted of about 300 men with 200 guns, described by a white traveller as “the scourge and terror of the whole of this part of Africa”.

One of their leaders, Jacobus Afrikaner, for example, was imprisoned on Robben Island from 1879 following the Korana wars – well before Andimba Toivo ya Toivo found himself in that infamous prison. A sculpture of Jonker Afrikaner – presenting with his left hand the Treaty of Hochanas (1858) that ensured usufruct land rights for all language groups – would be more suitable in front of the museum compared to Nujoma showing a neoliberal capitalist Constitution with so-called private property rights, which are at the root of today’s massive social inequality.

It is overdue as well to shift the memorial of the Old Location massacre (1959) to Zoo Park in Windhoek, and to list the names of all 13 victims in order to reflect the national character of the people. It is unacceptable to only mention Rosa Mungunda. That monument ought to supplant the German colonial shrine to the soldiers who carried out the Hornkranz slaughter.

It is also an indictment of the Swapo elite that, after so many years, the sites of the German concentration camps at Lüderitz and Swakopmund have not been accorded due recognition. Maybe they fear that it would lead to questions about Swapo’s camps in Angola and Zambia ?

Nonetheless, it is high time for the remains of Afrikaner, Marengo and Nangutuwala to be given dignified burials at Heroes’ Acre, and for the return of the bodies of as many as possible of the victims of the Swapo camps. The nation must use this historical moment to mobilise against racism and for reparations, but if the Namibian people are going to engage in nation building, it is crucial to remember our history in a balanced way. The truth is always revolutionary.

*The authors are members of the Marxist Group of Namibia.

Source from https://www.namibian.com.na/