August 26 is Heroes Day. Today, we are here from all corners of the country to commemorate Heroes Day. What is a hero? Professor Philip Zimbardo, in his paper Understanding Heroism, defines heroes as “people who transform compassion (a personal virtue) into heroic action (a civic virtue). In doing so, they put their best selves forward in service to humanity.” He breaks down heroic action into four segments: It should be engaged in voluntarily; it should be conducted in service to one or more people or the community as a whole; it involves a risk to physical comfort, social stature, or quality of life; and, it should be initiated without the expectation of material gain.
The heroes and heroines that we honour today came from all walks of life and from all regions of our motherland. But they all shared one great character trait. A strong desire to transform their feelings or compassion for their fellow countrymen and women into heroic action.
While there are those who wavered, our heroes and heroines did not waver. They entered the proverbial “belly of the beast” in order to do battle against the tyranny of colonialism and Apartheid brutality. They did so voluntarily in service to their countrymen and women. They did so at a great risk to their physical comfort and quality of life. And they did so without the expectation of material gain. This is what defines the heroes and heroines of Namibia. Our heroes and heroines whose memory we honour today understood the need for resistance and struggle.
In Dar-es Salaam, we in SWAPO announced that freedom fighters had launched their first armed attack on a South African military contingent at Omugulu-Gwombashe in north-western Namibia. On that day, 26 August 1966, the people of Namibia had set a date with destiny and had reached a point of no return. The freedom fighters fired the first bullets in anger, responding to the clarion call of a gallant son, Comrade Peter Nanyemba who had said, “We have no alternative but to rise in arms and bring about our own liberation. We are our own liberators.” In becoming their own liberators, Namibia’s brave men and women immortalized themselves as heroes and heroines.
The people of this land refused to passively accept the unjust Apartheid system. Just like the legendary Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi who over a century rallied in battle, “Let us die fighting”, successive generations of Namibians refused to accept any form of oppression. They realized that their fate and the key to their freedom lay in their own hands. On the home front and abroad, Namibians understood that the struggle against colonialism and Apartheid would be brutal, bitter and long. But they would rather die fighting than to live under Apartheid slavery.
We have achieved Unity and Liberty, two of three key principles inscribed in our Coat of Arms and embodied in the Namibian Constitution. The third and last principle, JUSTICE is the second phase of our struggle.
As I address you today, Fellow Namibians, we have been trying to ensure Justice for the past 28 years. It is what we fought for, JUSTICE. Justice in all its manifestations – equality of opportunity, fairness and access to a better life for each and every Namibian. It is a commitment we made at the founding of the Republic of Namibia. To honour the spirit of the fallen sons and daughters of Namibia, we have to work harder, and recommit ourselves to a caring and just country. Challenges remain. But we all know that we have made good progress over the past 28 years. Poverty rates have decreased; infrastructure has been expanded; the monthly pension grant for the elderly, which reaches ninety nine percent of beneficiaries has been increased by more than sixty percent in the last three years to reach one-thousand-two-hundred Namibian dollars. Many schools have been constructed across the country. We are now going to roll out a large project to refurbish school infrastructure across the country. It is dishonest to say that nothing has been done.
As we try to deal with the remaining challenges, we should approach the issues of poverty, landlessness and genocide with clear minds and with urgency. For as long as we have Namibians who are poor, who have no access to the means of production, who have not received satisfactory compensation for past atrocities committed against them, we will not be able to pay a fitting tribute to those who perished in defence of Namibia and its people.
I believe that we should have difficult conversations, as Namibians, with the aim of finding peaceful and sustainable solutions to the challenges of inequality, landlessness and outstanding pains of genocide. As we try to find solutions to what I have mentioned, we should not succumb to cynicism and behave as if Government is not doing anything. We are doing our best and if we hold hands we shall achieve our objectives. We should not succumb to those who seek to divide us at every turn and opportunity. They will fail.
During my first State of the Nation Address in 2015, I announced that a Second Land Conference would be organized. It was done with the intention of creating a platform at which the willing-seller, willing-buyer principle, ancestral land claims for restitution, expropriation in public interest with just compensation, urban land reform and resettlement criteria, as well as the Veterinary Cordon Fence can be thoroughly interrogated and discussed. The Land Conference will take place from 1-5 October this year. It will happen in a transparent and inclusive manner.
Government is opening up these difficult policy conversations because no one should be under the illusion that our fight for freedom is complete. We remain cognizant of the fact that we are now engaged in the second phase of the struggle; the fight for economic freedom and justice. The struggle for a better country shall continue until it is won.
We all understand that without socio-economic justice, liberty will be fleeting. Until we achieve justice for the majority, we cannot rest because our work is not complete.
Government will pursue all possible means to deal with income disparities, high unemployment and the existence of pockets of extreme poverty. We can only truly honour our heroes and heroines if we commit the wealth of the country they bled and died for in their children’s hands. For our liberty and freedom to become meaningful, we have to restore the dignity of the majority. Restoration can only come about through the correction of historical injustices. If we don’t correct the wrongs of the past through appropriate policies and actions, our peace will not be sustainable. I invite each and every one of you to be part of the journey. No one should feel left out.
War is never a good thing, nor desirable. It should not be an option in a free country. We should remind ourselves that it is always easy to destroy. BUT, to rebuild is a difficult and complex undertaking. One resorts to war only when diplomacy fails. When the late Comrade Peter Nanyemba issued the clarion call by stating that, “We shall cross many rivers of blood before we achieve our freedom”, it was not said with ease. It was with the realization that there was no other path to freedom than the path of war.
The heroes and heroines we are honouring on this day sacrificed their lives for a cause. The aim was independence! In war, there are many brutalities that take place on both sides of the warring parties. People are killed, jailed, and their mahangu fields destroyed, and some even disappear without trace. Others flee their homes and become refugees. There are those who were forced to participate on the side of the enemy. In war people die. All of these are consequences of war.
Following the ceasefire of 1988, signed by SWAPO, the Angolan and South African Governments, conditions were set for the implementation of the UN plan for the independence of Namibia, as was set out in UN Security Council Resolution 435. Blanket amnesty was granted to those who fought on both sides. Those who had collaborated with the enemy, and were trying to stop our march towards independence were pardoned accordingly and granted blanket amnesty, and allowed to participate in the United Nations supervised democratic elections of 1989. Elections took place and SWAPO emerged victorious. As a child of international solidarity, Namibia reached that point of independence because in our fight for freedom, we received valued assistance from the Frontline States, Nigeria, Cuba and Angola. I should also mention the United Nations, Scandinavian and Socialist countries. The rest as they say, is history.
I must caution, there are those that are intent on opening old wounds. They shall open a Pandora’s box, notwithstanding the fact that many collaborators and perpetrators of gross crimes against the people of Namibia are still here. Should we bring back those, SWATF, Koevoet and police, the Robben Island Prison guards and try them for their inhumane treatment of the late Eliaser Tuhadeleni, Martin Kapewasha, the late Gerson Veii, Helao Shityuwete, the late Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, the late John Pandeni, Jerry Ekandjo, Petrus Iilonga, the late Immanuel Shifidi, Willem Biwa and many others? Should we try them for having banished many of us for close to three decades out of our motherland? Should we try them for having subjected and relegated our fellow countrymen and women to inhumane treatment at home? We should not forget that Namibians were relegated to second-class treatment, denied education and basic freedoms. . We still have in our midst some of those individuals who violated our rights. Let me caution you Fellow Namibians not to look back at the darkness of the past. We should look forward, towards the path of peace, healing and national reconciliation. Let us hold hands in the spirit of Unity, Liberty and Justice for the sake of a better Namibia. The land we all call home, the land of the brave sons and daughters whose blood waters our freedom. We should not lose sight of the reasons for which so many Namibians sacrificed their lives. It was about Unity, Liberty and Justice.
Five days ago, I had a one-hour interaction at State House with learners from Ndama Combined School in Rundu. I reminded them that they have a crucial role to play in nation building. I told them that they should be proud of their origins and cultures – BUT should not believe that their tribe or ethnic group is superior.
All of us should become nation-builders. We should not stoke the fires of tribalism and division to remain relevant. It is a recipe for disaster. Our independence came at a high cost, and we should never devalue it by taking it for granted. As our Founding Father and Leader of the Namibian Revolution said, “We are and will always remain indebted to those gallant sons and daughters of the Namibian people, who paid with their lives so that our nation could regain its dignity, peace and democratic liberties. We also remain committed to their dream by creating a peace-loving and progressive state resolute in its commitment to provide its citizens with the opportunity to realize their full potential.”
As we celebrate, commemorate and reflect on this day, 26 August, let us dedicate ourselves, in memory of our brave sons and daughters, to remain committed to the dream of creating a peace-loving, united and prosperous country. As we celebrate this day, Heroes Day, let us solemnly invoke the revolutionary spirit of Kaptein Hendrik Witbooi, Chief Samuel Maharero, Chief Kahimemua Nguvauva, Kaptein Jacob Marengo, Chief Nehale lya Mpingana, Chief Mandume ya Ndemufayo, Chief Ipumbu ya Tshilongo, Chief Hosea Kutako and Mama Kakurukaze Mungunda. Let us remember all the battles at which Namibians died, from Lishora here in the Kavango Region to Cuito Cuanavale in Angola.
Let us be guided by the fearless spirit of our founding Father, Comrade Sam Nujoma and our second President, Comrade Hifikepunye Pohamba.
As we work for a better Namibia in which no one should feel left out, let us hold hands in the spirit of Harambee.
• Hage Geingob is President of Namibia. He presented this speech on the occasion of the commemoration of Heroes Day at Nkurenkuru on August 26, titled ‘Working for a united, free and just Namibia’.
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