Let’s do this!
The time has arrived, and has been a long time coming, for us to reflect on who we are, and what we want to become. During the national liberation struggle, we committed ourselves to the superordinate goal of national independence, and reached consensus that we must prosecute this struggle as a united people, irrespective of tribal or racial origin. We succeeded, and independence was achieved.
However, the devil is always in the detail. We never quite understood that one cannot sustain a veneer of unity, because the reality is that this unity is only a veneer, or façade, which hides a different reality. Behind the veneer, there are many different groupings, which all have different expectations about the ‘freedom dividend’, i.e. now that we found freedom and independence, what is in it for everyone? Are we going to continue to shout pre-independence slogans of ‘One Namibia, One Nation’, even when the reality is in stark contrast to this illusion of unity?
We should be careful about using foreign words, which have a different meaning to those in our various mother tongues. In this regard, the word ‘tribe’ is very problematic. For instance, the OvaHerero people used to refer to themselves, and still do to this day, as otjiuana, which is nowadays translated, rightly or wrongly, as ‘nation’. Conceptually, otjiuana is a conglomeration or assemblage of families, clans and lineages, which obviously have a common language, culture, customs, etc.
Before the formation of modern nation states, all societies were based on the otjiuana concept. In fact, each of the early nation states (e.g. Rome, Greece, etc.) was made up of a homogenous otjiuana, but with conquests, the nations enlarged their borders to include other oviuana (plural of otjiuana). Interestingly, the word ‘tribe’ is said to originate from the Latin word tribus, which referred to one of three divisions of the Roman nation state, known as the Latin (Tites), Sabine (Ramnes), and Etruscan (Luceres) settlements. Thus, ‘tribe’ referred to a smaller division of a nation state.
We all know that before the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, there were no political borders as we know them today. The pre-Berlin nations of Africa lived as various oviuana, e.g. Bakongo, Umbundu, OvaHerero, Aawambo, Damara, Shona, AmaZulu, AmaXhosa, VaKavango, Nama, and so forth. Such oviuana were spread over areas that were later split by the colonial borders, thereby fragmenting the original oviuana.
Consequently, we find Aawambo (especially the OvaKwanyama) in Namibia and Angola, Bakongo in Angola, DRC and Congo-Brazzaville, Tswanas in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, Shangaans in South Africa and Mozambique and Masubia live in Namibia, Angola, Botswana and Zambia. I can go on and on.
Each otjiuana occupied large tracts of land, and moved freely in search of more fertile soils or better grazing.
Thus, you find that the OvaHerero, Damaras, Basters and Namas occupied most of the areas between Etosha and the Orange River.
Of course, they did have squabbles and skirmishes amongst themselves, as all families do, but these were dwarfed by the colonial acts of genocide. The problem arose when the colonial authorities expropriated large tracts of indigenous ancestral land, and decided to put the different oviuana into cages known as homelands or Bantustans.
Some of the Bantustans coincided with the ancestral lands of the oviuana, for instance in the case of the Aawambo, VaKavango and the Lozi-speaking peoples of Namibia. Unfortunately, for others, such as the Namas, Damaras and OvaHerero, their prime ancestral lands were taken by force, and the original owners were squeezed into the concentration camps known as communal areas. Many of the graves of our ancestors are located on commercial farms owned by former colonisers.
It thus makes perfect sense that people, who have lost their ancestral land, will always fight for the return of their land. Between 1884 and 1903, the German colonial administration grabbed 19,25 million hectares of land, while 29,18 million hectares were owned by colonial concession companies, and 3,68 million hectares were owned by colonial settlers. This is a total of 52,11 million hectares of land in colonial hands, constituting approximately 64 percent of the total land area. Thus by 1903, indigenous Namibians only had about 36 percent of land left, which was again reduced to only 17 percent by 1915. The Odendaal Plan of 1962 ‘increased’ the ‘native’ land to 40 percent.
The magnitude of dispossession is thus quite evident. From 25 June to 1 July 1991, a national Conference on Land Reform and the Land Question was held in Windhoek. Unfortunately, the conference concluded that the restitution of ancestral land rights was impracticable. Thus, while acknowledging the historical injustices, the conference did not resolve to restore specific areas of land to their rightful owners, on the basis of ancestral land claims. This was a very unfortunate outcome, and it is hoped that the second land conference will not make the same mistake.
By contrast, South Africa enacted the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994, “To provide for the restitution of rights in land in respect of which persons or communities were dispossessed under or for the purpose of furthering the objects of any racially based discriminatory law; to establish a Commission on Restitution of Land Rights and a Land Claims Court; and to provide for matters connected therewith.” Why not in Namibia?
Therefore, some people in Namibia are genuinely and legitimately raising pertinent issues relating to ancestral land rights, not because they are tribalist, but because there is incontrovertible historical evidence to prove their dispossession.
Muzi Dlamini argues that tribes which are in power (executive tribes), tend to avoid discussions about matters relating to tribes, in contrast to those tribes that are not in power, and which thus feel marginalised.
The evolution from tribal consciousness to national consciousness will not happen automatically. We must manage the fears, feelings and perceptions of all tribes, in a manner that will promote sentiments of belonging to one nation. The nation should be a higher level of consciousness that is kept alive by positive feelings at tribal level.
Only we, as Namibians, can solve our land problems. Let’s do this!