The towering statue of German colonial officer Curt von François will fall from its mount outside the Windhoek municipal building at the intersection of Independence Avenue and Sam Nujoma Drive.
This comes after a Windhoek municipal council resolution to remove the statue, which the majority of councillors branded “a symbol and celebration of colonialism”.
Last Thursday, the councillors voted nine to five to decide Von François’ fate.
Those who voted in favour of the statue remaining where it is were Jürgen Hecht, Ndeshihafela Larandja, Ben Araeb and Ottilie Saarty Uukule, all from the Independent Patriots for Change.
They were joined by the National Unity Democratic Organisation’s Joseph Uapingene.
The statue is now all but set to join the Reiterdenkmal, which was moved to a museum in 2013 from where it stood near parliament.
The Von François statue was unveiled in October 1965, during the 75-year anniversary celebration of the ‘founding’ of Windhoek under German colonial
rule. Thursday’s resolution emanates from
a petition submitted to council back in 2020 that demanded the statue’s removal.
The petition was spearheaded by decolonial activist Hildegard Titus. It generated over 1 500 signatures. To this day, there is no counter petition, despite Namibians being divided on the statue’s removal.
On Friday, Titus was elated by the
news. “It’s a monumental time in Namibian history, particularly in decolonising Namibian history; because this [Von François] has been called the founder of Windhoek for over 100 years, although he is not the founder,” Titus stated.
Asked about those who harbour views that removing the statue is of no economic importance nor will it address Windhoek’s bread and butter issues, she said: “At the
end of the day, it’s not like we are
destroying the statue. It’s hopefully going to
a museum where it can be contextualised. If you go to places like Germany, they don’t have statues of Adolf Hitler. This guy is equivalent to our Hitler. He started the Hornkranz massacre, which is one of the first massacres against the Nama people.
Having a city celebrating someone who was okay with murdering women, children and the elderly and trying to wipe out people because they were not autonomous with the German colonial status at the time, is problematic.”
Like Titus, official opposition leader in the National Assembly, McHenry Venaani, described the move by the municipality as progressive.
“It’s a progressive move in the sense that it raises the profile of the genocide issue as far as atonement is concerned. The people in Germany will know that their treatment of this whole issue is not being taken lightly, despite Namibians being generally peaceful people,” he said.
Meanwhile, Landless People’s
Movement lawmaker Utaara Mootu was equally elated by the news, albeit observing that it was long-overdue.
“It’s great. It is part of the decolonial project. That man was harsh, and didn’t have any respect for our people. It should have been removed 32 years ago,” she
Mootu had a proposal.
“It should be replaced with a statue of a national hero, even Hosea Kutako, who is the father of Namibian nationalism, or anyone identified by council, in order to restore the dignity of our people,” she
noted. Affirmative Repositioning movement leader and Windhoek councillor Job Amupanda echoed Mootu’s sentiments.
He heads the city’s heritage committee.
“The fact that it has been standing for 32 years is scandalous. The statue is not a national monument nor has it been protected by law, including the National Heritage Act.
“It was put up in 1965 by an all-white city council to apparently honour the ‘founder’ of Windhoek. We know that this is incorrect and a lie. Clearly, the statue represented a lie for close to 60 years!”, Amupanda said without mincing his
words. He added that this is just the beginning of a greater project. At the next council meeting, he said, the heritage committee will submit a number of streets that will be renamed.
“The decolonial intervention is a tough but necessary exercise. Decolonial interventions will always be opposed by those who are brainwashed by the settler ideology, and the settler kith and kin themselves. But we will not retreat,” the activist stressed.
The Forum of German-speaking Namibians said they take cognisance of the decision by the City of Windhoek council to remove the statue of Von Francois, who was regarded as the founder of colonial Windhoek. "This decision is respected, and has been on the cards for some time now. The forum encourages and promotes reconciliation amongst all its inhabitants in the spirit of one Namibia one nation," said forum spokesperson
Harald Hecht yesterday.
But not all Namibians are for the removal of the statue.
One opponent is Lee Garises, a public social commentator. “The reasons provided are feeble and illogical, to say the least. No black citizen of this country can be accused of glorifying colonial history for trying to protect the physical identifiers of our country’s arduous journey.
If seeing Von François is causing emotional discomfort for whatever reason, I say that it’s doing a good job of reminding us all of the difficult path
we’ve taken to be where we are. And it reminds us to never repeat such gross human rights violations. It confirms how much we’ve had to overcome,” Garises
“History doesn’t belong to one generation, and the next generation is yet to benefit from finding that statue just where it stands right now. Leave the statue to remain the scar that it is, to speak honestly of a place and a difficult time which has given birth to a country we are all proud of today”, she reasoned. It is Garises’ fervent view that there was no broad consultation prior to the resolution.
“There was no wide consultation in the form of a referendum because while the decision is made by a handful of people, it concerns the rest of us… to make matters worse, the existing account of the character of Von François is being contested by his living descendants.
I’m not sure if the CoW even made any efforts to reach out to them and put this historical paradox to bed,” she added.
She then branded it a senseless project. “The city council should instead concern itself with urgent matters pertaining to the wellbeing and
progression of our city and residents. The colleagues need to find other ways to be functional. In fact, they can identify land and erect new monuments, instead of ones which already tell their own story,” she suggested.
The Hornkranz massacre took place 129m years ago. It is one of the battlegrounds which birthed Namibia’s war of liberation from colonial occupation.
Hornkranz is situated some 120 kilometres south-west of Windhoek. Legendary Nama chief, kaptein Hendrik (!Nanseb) Witbooi, settled in these open plains with about 300 people from his clan in the late 1880s.
The area is now dotted with graves, those of the perpetrators and victims, some acknowledged, and some marked with just a heap of rocks.
It is there were Von François launched a surprise attack on 12 April 1893 with about 200 soldiers. More than 80 of Witbooi’s people were massacred, many of them women and children.
The kaptein and most of the men survived the attack, and escaped.
The Germans took about 100 prisoners, among them Witbooi’s wife and daughter.