• September 25th, 2018
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Heroes Day commemorations linger with deep reflections


On the 26th of August of each year, those who chased the struggle in the bush, those who buried the victims of Apartheid and fed the hungry victims inside the figurative belly of the beast, sit with a private tear on their face, reflecting on events that characterize the struggle of the people of the then South West Africa. 

On this day, that reserved, highly perceptive revolutionary with strides of a vigilant hunter and the heart of a lion, Johnny Otto Nankuthu, led a battalion of SWAPO’s armed wing, the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) in combat against the South African forces based in Northern Namibia. This took place at a place called Ongulumbashe near Tsandi. By global standards this must have been just a skirmish, so much so that Apartheid South Africa and her international allies laughed it off. Then South Africa’s minister of police, Johan Kruger, passed a humorous remark that, the world should relax, because this was just a small matter of rebellion that would be sorted in a matter of days, and that South Africa will continue to enjoy their endless bounds. This proved to be an assessment gone wrong because, 24 years later, then President de Klerk of the Apartheid South African government came to Namibia and exclaimed to the Namibian nation in the presence of the international community: “The era of war is over and the era of peace has begun.” And that literally signalled the end of the war between the hitherto protagonists, Apartheid South Africa and SWAPO of Namibia.

I was privileged to have worked closely with Johnny Otto Nankuthu during the years of our struggle, when he was along many others, released from long years of detention on Robben Island, South Africa. These were Messag Victory, John Pandeni, Lokusani (Petrus Ilonga), Ben Ulenga, Immanuel Shitilifa, Helao Shituwete and many others. These were selfless, highly modest and brave children of the storm. Even after their long years of incarceration, they were not bitter and were ready to pick up where they had left off and some did skip the country to rejoin the armed struggle led by SWAPO. We had through the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN) organized strong welfare and rehabilitation services for these revolutionaries and their families and we tried the best we could to link them to life sustaining resources of different kinds.

Johnny Otto Nankuthu was a marvel to observe in so many respects, as he was exemplary in everything he was associated with. He never walked in front of others; he would always yield for someone else to step forward. He would never step to the lunch table before all had settled and would be the last to dish out his food, even amid scarcity. He was always the first to arrive for a meeting and would always remain until everyone had been served with a chair, a drink. These were the children of the storm whose suffering and exemplary conduct still evokes painful memories. Yes, their blood waters our freedom, and I hope it does because, judging from the turnout at events that are organized to celebrate uhuru, seemingly it is not uhuru yet. The situation has become something else and these days are more a display of pomp and picnic celebrations at best. And our activities on this day have come to belie our professed commitment to emulating the human suffering of the past. And, still we sing the old Negro spiritual of the 1960’s in the United States of America: “We shall overcome…deep in my heart, I do believe, that We shall overcome.” God willing, I still trust that we shall overcome.
Lest we forget, the 26th of August also marks the return and reburial of Samuel Maharero, the second Ovaherero

Paramount Chief who led the conventional war of Ovaherero against the invading German forces, marching along with their settlers and missionaries. Ovaherero were defeated at Ohamakari JA Kakonge near the Waterberg Mountains, in the present day Okakarara Constituency.  Samuel featured at Ozombuzovindimba near present day Otjinene, from where he featured at Ondjora, then spotted at Ozombuovire before he was finally reported at Okanaindo, present day Buitepos, where he crossed into the then Bechuanaland Protectorate. 

Samuel crossed with a large contingent of survivors among them his mother, and some close family members. Survivors described the day the group crossed the border as exceptionally emotional. When the Herero cattle reached the boundary, Willie Wellem ordered the procession to a halt. He galloped his horse back into the Hereroland side for a stretch of one hundred meters and he reined his horse in abruptly, he saluted three times and then took off his hat and placed it under his left shoulder and bowed his head to the west. He then turned his horse around and galloped back to the expectant crowd. When he came to a standstill, the women broke in song, in the traditional Outjina style. They said: “Tjiikumbua ozongombe o Kanaindo zetjivaza” (Tjiikumbua the cattle have reached Okanaindo). Tjiikumbua is another name for Samuel Maharero and Okanaindo is the traditional name for present day Buitepos, the border post between Namibia and Botswana. It is reported that at that point, Samuel Maharero broke down and cried and everyone followed suit.

 Ovaherero cattle left Hereroland under duress, leaving the bulk of the nation perished in the desert, with no one to account for their bones and no one to conduct traditional rituals that would link them to their ancestors. It was a sad day as much as it was time up because, Tjiikumbua ozongombe Okanaindo zetjivaza. Samuel Maharero left his habitat for the unknown, only to return 19 years later, wrapped in a casket draped in red and black, the otjiserandu flag. He was interred in Okahandja on 26th August alongside his grandfather Tjamuaha ua Tjirue and his father Kamaharero ua Tjamuaha. On this day, Ovaherero confirmed Hosea Kutako as their Paramount Leader and resolved to return to Okahandja every year on this day, to pay homage to their fallen heroes and to connect with their ancestors.

Heroes Day is a very important day in the history of Namibia. It has in the past served as the day of homage, on which the nation reflects on the painful journey that brought us across and the lives of those who served as the bridge that brought us over. Unfortunately, this day has become a shadow of its original self and little wonder that the day is declining in popularity.


2018-09-12 09:24:09 13 days ago
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