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Letter - Problematising tribal expressions in the context of the Kavango

2021-03-05  Staff Reporter

Letter - Problematising tribal expressions in the context of the Kavango
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Rudolph Haingura


My contribution to this topic is necessitated by the views and teachings that Professor Joseph Diescho articulated on this topic on 4 February 2021. His reflection was based on the main argument and teaching that no one in Kavango can claim community originality and authenticity, and therefore, express the view that he or she is pure and does not have historical, family, and cultural and language relationships with other communities such as the Vanyemba, Chokwe, Luchazi, Umbundu and other communities of the present Kavango. I fully support Professor Diescho in his stating these perspectives. 

It is evident from both oral and written history that communities from the Kavango migrated from central Africa before reaching their current settlements. During the migration journeys, some members remained behind. The communities also interacted with others in the process of migrating. Against this background and on the basis of historical and social factors, the Kavango communities since time immemorial have family lineages and relationships with those across the Kavango river, Botswana, and Zambia, amongst others. This is the case with other communities in the northern part, southern part, and the Zambezi region communities of Namibia of having lineages with those across the borders. 

The Kavango river serving as a border between Namibia and Angola is a colonial and continued post-colonial political construct. The royal houses of some Kavango communities are up to today located across the Kavango river. My own class teacher who taught me in Grade 2 in the early 80’s, whom I knew as an elder of the community of Rundu in the name of Ms Kandjimi, for example, is today the hompa of the Vashambyu community in present Angola. Her coronation took place in Angola, and she has relocated to her palace across the Kavango river. 

The new developments of name calling and expressions of tribal remarks and sentiments against other members of the communities against this background become problematic among peoples who since time immemorial have historical, cultural and language affinities. 

Tribalism and tribal sentiments in these cases are generally expressions of contestation for political power and occurs when those in political and community leadership positions are threatened by possibilities of losing power, hence turning to tribal expressions for moral support with the view to continuing and advancing personal interests and that of their patronage networks. This phenomenon has of recent been evident in the greater Namibian body politic. 

The Kavango and Namibia of today as a whole is more ethnic and tribally conscious than 30 years ago. But we have to ask fundamental questions such as who has planted the seed of division in Kavango and Namibia that is detrimental to community, social, and national cohesion. Those with whom I schooled before independence in urban areas such as Rundu hardly notice the others as different community members. When we used to play football in the riverbeds of Katutura in Rundu and in particular in the mixed location, it was not easy to know one’s tribe, as this was irrelevant to being human. Our parents used to treat us equal in most cases. In modern social circles, intermarriages and thus becoming one family is the norm. Tribal considerations seem to be fading away.

Notwithstanding, tribal expressions seem to be the order of the day, including derogatory remarks about other communities. Access to power at all costs, and abuse of communities by politicians for their own sake, and insensitivity towards cultural diversity, and symbolic inclusion are at the heart of tribalism in Kavango and Namibia. What I am conveying in this article is that tribal expressions in the Kavango are contemporary social and class interest dynamics born out of the unequal distribution of  Namibian resources and the results of some communities claiming more rights and hegemony over others. 

We have seen and have experienced on several occasions in Kavango tribal sentiments always explicitly and vocally being expressed by some Vashambyu members of this community against the so-called Angolan tribes. The lesson to be learned is that tribal expressions among Africans are problematic against the context of historical, cultural and language affinities, and likely to result in discriminating against your family member.


* Rudolph Haingura is a lecturer at the Rundu campus of the University of Namibia. The views expressed is this article are his personal views.

2021-03-05  Staff Reporter

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