Namibians went to the polls in November 1989, which ushered in the state of nationhood. After the elections, a Constituent Assembly was constituted which crafted one of the best constitutions in the world of which Hon. Muyongo was one of the drafters. After being pushed out of parliament by his party a few years later, Mishake Muyongo started preaching about seceding the Zambezi Region (the then Caprivi Region) from Namibia. Many questions flooded people’s minds concerning this development. How could one of the crafters of the best constitution in the world embark on the secession course after agreeing to a unitary state? Then when people were sleeping peacefully on 2 August 1999, hell broke loose as his secessionist soldiers attacked Mpacha Airport, the police station and NBC. What was the main cause of this mayhem? Could people really understand the meaning of the attack? Maybe some of the following incidents could highlight the cause of such calamity.
The historical past: The Zambezi Region has changed hands many times starting from the Luyana Kingdom up to the time of independence. Around the year 1740 Ngombala, the tenth Luyana King, attacked the inhabitants and then incorporated the region into the Luyana Kingdom. Then came the Sothos from South Africa who ruled the Luyana Kingdom from 1830 to 1864, the region included. Sebitwane their king went an extra mile by shifting the Luyana capital from Namuso to Linyanti (Sangwali today).
At the Berlin Conference of 1885, commonly known as the Scramble for Africa, the region resorted under the Luyana Kingdom (Barotseland). It was only five years later when the Anglo-Germany Treaty commonly known as Heligoland-Zanzibar Agreement was signed on 1 July 1890 and hatched Caprivi Zipfel. In creating the sphere of influence in the Caprivi Strip, the German Chancellor outraged geography and all common sense by carving out a territory in an arbitrary fashion in order to give his nation access to the Zambezi and a route half across Africa. This was done without the knowledge and permission of the inhabitants.
For nineteen years, the Germans would not send a representative to the region until in 1909. The treaty could not hold long as the British soldiers took over the German garrison stationed at Schuckmansburg (now Luhonono) in September 1914 immediately after the outbreak of the First World War. In fact, the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty became null and void and the British took back the region to herself. The British seemed not to know what to do with the region because instead of giving it back to its owners, they started tossing it around firstly by administering it through Bechuanaland Protectorate, then through Windhoek and finally Pretoria. During the period of administration by the Bechuanaland Protectorate with laws of that territory applying, there was a certain slight merging of the region with the Bechuanaland Protectorate with concessions made to the people of Barotseland. Efforts to hand it back to the Luyana Kingdom failed despite recommendations by Venning, Assistant Magistrate of Sesheke, Zambia.
The political past: The apartheid era did more harm to the region than any place in Namibia. Zambezi Region was the most isolated of all the regions in the country. The colonialists equally failed to integrate the region into the mainland as their policies and acts were applied discriminatorily. In terms of proclamation 1939 (No. 147 of 1939), Caprivi Strip was administered separately (i.e. no longer as part of the mandated Territory of South West Africa) by Union of South Africa’s minister of Native Affairs as an integral part of Union of South Africa and subsequently as an integral part of the Republic of South Africa. This had been the case effectively up until after Namibian independence on 21 March 1990. The following Act was passed by the Parliament and signed by the President in terms of the Namibian Constitution, Article 56 of that Constitution, No. 10 of 1999: Application of Laws to the Eastern Caprivi Zipfel Act, 1999. Act No. 10, 1999 Government Gazette 12 July 1999 No. 2139. Meaning it took nine years after independence for all Namibian laws to be applied to the region.
The CANU-SWAPO merger: Although SWAPO denies the existence of such a merger, information shows that it partially took place. This means both parties came to Zambia with different agendas of the liberation struggle and only managed to meet on foreign soil. SWAPO never campaigned in the region before the 1970s. The early nationalists therefore did not know each other until they met in exile. In the preamble of the merger, the two political parties mention their two different peoples assuming that indeed there were two countries.
The exodus into self-imposed exile: This episode created havoc in the region, culminating in some people fleeing to neighbouring Botswana, including Hon. Muyongo and Chief Mamili VI. The aftermath of the incident in which suspected secessionists were manhandled also added fuel to the fire. The suspected secessionist were harassed and sjamboked and in some cases leaving indelible scars on their bodies. Most of the suspected secessionists served up to almost twenty years in prison and found not guilty. Despite the court verdict, the government is still on the warpath to re-arrest the exonerated prisoners. In any normal situation, one cannot expect the harassed and oppressed person to obey the oppressor. African countries went through that path but fail to learn one or two things from this experience.
The Dukwe returnees: For almost twenty years, this group was reluctant to come back home citing political conditions that were to be met. However, both Botswana and Namibia ran out of patience, that it was finally agreed the group should come back home to roost. The group was finally escorted back to Namibia against their will. For all the returnees the government has shown goodwill by resettling them. Maybe it is time the returnees learn the Mandela dictum, who after serving twenty-seven years in prison saw the bleakness of the future and narrow prospects of being released, opted for negotiations against the will and wishes of his comrades who felt he had sold out. Strangely, the same comrades were the first to leave the prison gates of Robben Island.
Impact of the episode: The whole spectacle has negatively affected the region by increasing tension in the already strained environment in terms of the economic and political setting. It has tainted the Mafwe as a secessionist group despite the fact that the majority of the community do not support this movement. Resources, which were supposed to be utilized elsewhere, have been diverted to address and solve the crisis. Unfortunately, some people lost their lives in the process.
Finally, the pro-secessionists should be realistic and acknowledge that armed struggle for secession is futile, especially if it lacks national and international support. Although the government has taken a stand of non-negotiating with the group, the reality is that the group is at its doorstep and should therefore find means of diffusing the tension.
* Prof. Makala Lilemba, University of Barotseland, Mongu, Zambia