The memorial service and State funeral of former Plan commander Matias ‘Mbulunganga’ Ndakolo on 7 December unearthed the deep-seated wounds of Namibia’s veterans of the liberation struggle, who engaged the enemy directly in battle at the frontlines during Namibia’s war of liberation from apartheid colonisation.
The pain is best expressed in an honest and heartfelt plea by General Charles Namoloh towards President Hage Geingob to look into the plight of surviving war veterans, because according to Namoloh, they have been overlooked, excluded and left out from the benefits accrued to citizens of an independent Namibia.
Speaking on behalf of friends and comrades of the late Mbulunganga, General Namoloh, who served under the deceased’s command during those trying times, remained true to the revolutionary spirit of Swapo combatants who sang “Hailwa wange, menhu wameme hailwa kuminine nge (my comrade, carry me along)”, a solemn war cry that acknowledges “miita ohamu siwa mo ohamu lemanwa (in war, people do die or get maimed)”.
In general, the song is an acknowledgement that there would be consequences for those who had committed themselves to fight for the liberation of their motherland, Namibia. But the soldiers had a collective responsibility towards one another to ensure that when one of them falls the other would be there to pick him up.
There is a solid bond between soldiers that transcends even maternal and kinship ties because of their lived experience through the trauma of war.
It is an experience that many current leaders of the party cannot relate to, hence their defensive posturing and dismissal of Namoloh’s comments as being misplaced and inappropriate for the occasion of a memorial service.
Instead of acknowledging the sensitivity of the matter and deferring his response to a more appropriate seating, President Geingob went on a tirade, giving a procedural account on how honours are bestowed on veterans, much to the dismay of mourners who came to listen to tributes for the late and not a lesson on government systems and processes.
Citizens at the grassroots level in the rural areas are fond of saying, “Aantu yo muushimba oha yeya komikunda taya ihumbata nayi, ohaati mbela oyo ashike ya valwa (people who live in towns behave badly, they think only they were born)”.
This sentiment, which is a result of the rural-urban divide, speaks of the snobbish exclusivism displayed by government officials when hosting events at the constituency level.
They do not observe the customs of the people they are addressing and do not include them in their programs as equal counterparts but rather dictate to them as if they were their juniors. After all, “when in Rome do as the Romans.”
President Pohamba’s rebuttal of Namoloh was the most controversial.
Two years ago, Kela Hamutenya, consumed by grief, anger, sadness, sorrow and mourning, pointed out the ill treatment of his father the Late Hidipo Hamutenya at the hands of the Swapo leadership during his tribute at a heroes memorial service at the parliament gardens.
Pohamba acknowledged openly that a lot of wrong had been done to the deceased and thanked Kela for his bravery and truthfulness.
Pohamba showed statesmanship, humility and empathy towards the family of the deceased, most notably his son. Why could general Namoloh not be afforded the same courtesy as a comrade mourning his brother in arms?
As a young democracy we have now entered a period where pilgrimages to the Heroes Acre will become more frequent as the ‘founding fathers’ and the ‘old guard’ of our national struggle for independence depart this earth.
Such is the circle of life. Due regard, sympathy and consideration must be given to the families and loved ones at these solemn occasions and they should not be hijacked by politicians to score political points or to outdo one another. We are all aware that Swapo, the ruling party and liberator of the Namibian people is facing an existential and identity crises caused by problems concerning money, property and prestige.
Such is the character of capitalism and neo-liberalism which the ruling party and national government has come to represent and embrace.
As for General Namoloh, President Pohamba and President Geingob, their actions at the memorial service of the Late Mbulunganga left a sour taste in everybody’s mouth and subtracted from the gracefulness of the occasion.
As leaders they set the tone and example of what it means to be in a position of authority. They are found wanting and need to show a greater responsibility and accountability when called upon to pay tribute at future events. Tributes should be done in an empathetic and dignified manner.
There is no room for “Mama send me a signal politics” in Namibia’s democracy.
* Vitalio Angula is a socio-political commentator and independent columnist.