On 14 June 2021, death robbed us of one of Namibia’s historic icons, in the person of William Eric Getzen, better known as Mburumba Kerina.
He was born on 6 June 1932 in Tsumeb, grew up in Walvis Bay and did his primary school at the St Barnabas Anglican Church School in Windhoek’s Old Location. He was thus every inch cosmopolitan.
Like many of us, Mburumba Kerina had a lot of weaknesses and in the process, he stepped many people on the toes, but you cannot take this one thing away from him: the modern history of Namibia cannot be complete without mentioning the name of Mburumba Kerina. This was the man who coined the name Namibia and proposed that the Ovamboland People’s Organisation (OPO) be changed to the South West Africa People’s Organisation (Swapo), as we know it today. He was not only a co-founder of Swapo, but also of the National Unity Democratic Organisation (Nudo) and the Federal Convention of Namibia (FCN).
He went to the US in 1953 and studied at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1957. He then became a graduate fellow at the New York School for Social Research. In the US, Kerina held both administrative and academic positions at various institutions.
He held a lecturer position at New York City School of Visual Arts (1966 -1968), and an assistant, later associate professor position at the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York (1968 – 1971). Between 1960 and 1962 he did a PhD at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, Indonesia. It was during his stint in Indonesia that he met the then Indonesian President, Sukarno, who encouraged him to get a better name for South West Africa, and that was how the name Namibia was coined.
From 1956 onwards, Kerina was among the first petitioners to the United Nations for Namibia’s independence on behalf of the Herero Chiefs’ Council. Other early petitioners besides him were Reverend Michael Scott, Hosea Kutako, Namibia’s founding President Sam Nujoma, Hans Beukes, Markus Cooper and Jariretundu Kozonguizi.
At independence, he served as a member of the Constituent Assembly (that drew up the country’s constitution), the National Assembly as well as the National Council.
Over the last three years or so, the two of us struck a strong bond of friendship and I would always prick his brains to learn a few things from him – and what a walking encyclopedia he was! Our discussions would range from Pan-Africanism to Ovaherero history as well as Christianity.
Amongst other things, he told me that his great grandfather was the famous Scottish trader and explorer Frederick Thomas Green from whom he derived the surname Green. The Ovaherero people could not pronounce the name “Green” and they changed it to Kerina. Having been born to an Omungandjera father and an Omuherero mother, Kerina could lay claim to both Ovambo and Ovaherero ancestry. That, I believe, enabled him to shuttle easily between the two cultures.
He will be greatly missed and will be mourned in accordance with the rich traditions of our people. The Ovaherero mourning ceremony is a sombre event where the heroic exploits of the deceased are called to remembrance and where his/her genealogy is also traced – in a lamentation narrative - even up to 20 generations back; and there would be a proud reference to the colours and names of some of the “prominent” cows which the clan is known to have owned.
Members of Kerina’s regiment – men who were circumcised in their youth in the same year as he was - are also expected to step forward and to play a key role in the funeral arrangements. Given the fact that he was advanced in age, one wonders whether there are any living members of his regiment left.
I remember a cousin who grew up with him in the Old Location who would normally praise him as “…eengui uo mukaendu Kasondoro (…the son of the woman called Kasondoro).
Kerina was not only a confidant of and advisor to legendary Ovaherero Chief Hosea Komombumbi Kutako, but I also have it on good authority that he was one of the “backroom architects” behind the genocide motion which the late Ovaherero Paramount Chief, Kuaima Riruako, tabled in Parliament in 2006.
He was a politician, a scholar and author; and above everything else an orator of note. Love him or hate him, Mburumba Kerina will go down in the annals of Namibia’s history as one of a kind; rest in peace son of the soil – the soil you selected to call