• September 23rd, 2018
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Time of reckoning: The battle of Namutoni


Tonateni Shidhudhu The Namibian history of anti-colonial resistance is replete with the heroic exploits of our forefathers against intruding European settlers and colonialists. Arguably, many Namibians might not know what transpired on the 28th of January 1904 in the former Owamboland in the then German South West Africa, although they may have heard about the name of King Nehale Lya Mpingana of the Ondonga sub-tribe of the Aawambo ethnic group in northern Namibia. The 28th of January 1904 was the day when King Nehale Lya Mpingana attacked Imperial Germany’s Schutztruppe at Fort Namutoni with his 500 warriors and drove them out of the fort. He captured horses and cattle and also confiscated a large amount of weapons, abandoned by the intruders as they were fleeing from the overwhelming firepower of the Aandonga warriors. It is said by historians that he was the most feared of all the Aandonga kings by both the missionaries and European settlers at the time. In order to honour this gallant fighter of the anti-colonial resistance war in a befitting manner, a small group of Oshindonga speaking Namibians gathered at a site where King Nehale lya Mpingana’s warriors are believed to have been buried to commemorate the historic battle that took place at Fort Namutoni. The group discussed the possibility of erecting a war memorial there. This gathering was in fact the second of such meeting since the idea of erecting a proper monument in his honour at the site, was revived two years ago. In fact, the idea itself was already mooted about 20 years ago. However, unlike this year, last year a much larger group gathered at the site at the invitation of the organising committee, which was set up with the singular task of spearheading the erection of a shrine at the site. But, that idea never gathered the necessary momentum so as to be implemented as was agreed then.One can partially attribute this year’s poor attendance to the ongoing squabbles within the Ondonga Traditional Authority at Onamungundo. However, the Ondonga Traditional Authority can only give its blessing to such an idea, because it is the people themselves who can make it happen once they are united and give their unwavering moral and material support to the organising committee. The organising committee should also work in partnership with the National Heritage Council in its quest to realise that goal. The National Heritage Council has been established for that particular purpose of identifying, promoting and protecting our national heritage sites. The poor attendance at this year’s commemoration could also be attributed to some perceived fears, sparked by some sections of the Aawambo ethnic group, who falsely believe that erecting such a shrine at the site might stoke tribal hatred as the Aandonga sub-tribe apparently regard themselves as superior to other sub-tribes and that they therefore allegedly look down upon other sub-tribes. Such fears, however, seem to be unfounded, baseless and are a typical example of selective morality as similar monuments have already been erected in the other areas of the former Owamboland. Moreover, some other people fear that the erection of such a site at Namutoni, is a veiled attempt by the Aandonga to claim ownership of the Etosha National Park, which is also totally misleading and should be condemned by all peace-loving Namibians, who believe in the spirit of ‘One Namibia, One Nation’ and the fact that Namibia is a unitary state. The true motive behind the commemoration of the Battle of Namutoni is to pay due homage to those gallant warriors who sacrificed their precious lives in defence of what was rightfully theirs then, and in so doing stopped the intruders in their tracks from taking control of the entire former Owamboland, and rob the people of their land and cattle just as they had already done by then in the south of the country. In fact, King Lya Mpingana is said to have sent reinforcement to the Ovaherero people who were fighting Imperial German troops in their respective area during the same period. That was a typical example of national solidarity with fellow compatriots, fighting a common enemy. This shows that the Battle of Namutoni was part of the broader national resistance against colonialism. Therefore, the erection of a heritage site there should be seen in that light—a national undertaking deserving of national support particularly from those in positions of power and influence as well as businesses in the area. A war memorial inspires future generations by deepening their appreciation of what past generations accomplished in securing freedom and independence. It also stands as an important symbol of national unity, a timeless reminder of the moral strength and incredible power that can flow, when people are at once united and bonded together in a common and just cause. The efforts being made now to erect a war memorial at Namutuni should be understood in that context. There is nothing sinister about it nor are there ulterior motives as some detractors and others who are hell bent on opposing the idea would like the nation to believe. The Head of State has declared 2018 as the year of reckoning. Perhaps, one of the things we, as a nation, should take into consideration in this respect, is the erection of national heritage sites across the nation that will add value to our economy; and the envisaged war memorial at Namutuni could play that important role—once it becomes part of the tourist attraction spots of the wider Etosha National Park, which already enjoys worldwide recognition and fame as a tourist destination of choice. Surrounding communities will undoubtedly also benefit enormously from the spin-offs, emanating from the influx of tourists to their areas, and so will businesses in those areas and tour operators. In view of this, I definitely pledge my unwavering support to the members of the organising committee under the able leadership of Papa Shikongeni and they should be commended for their efforts so far. Although it is a fact that the committee’s efforts have been moving at a snail ’space, due to a plethora of challenges mentioned earlier, its members should not give up, but should instead continue to spearhead this noble cause forward with increased vigour and determination until its final conclusion. The committee should also continue to mobilise people for their support - from the grassroots level to the top echelons of our society. We should start walking the talk when it comes to undertakings of national importance such as this. One is also obliged to advise members of the organising committee not to take sides in the ongoing squabbles at the Onamungundo Palace, but to act impartially in all their dealings with all members of the Ondonga traditional area. I am sure that the committee will enjoy the support of the ministries of Environment and Tourism, and that of Education, Arts and Culture as well as the parastatals and agencies falling under them, if it is not already doing so. Tonateni Shidhudhu is a journalist by profession and a lay historian. Views expressed in this opinion piece are entirely his own and do not in anyway reflect those of his employer.
2018-01-31 09:48:04 7 months ago
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