Former President Hifikepunye Pohamba says the brutal treatment of Namibian black migrant workers by the apartheid South African government was no different to the way the colonial German government treated the Namas and Hereros during the 1904 -1908 genocide.
Pohamba said this on Wednesday, during the launch of UNAM Pro Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance, Dr Ellen Namhila’s book titled Little Research Value: African Estate Records and Colonial Gaps in a Post-Colonial National Archive.
Pohamba, a former contract labourer himself, told those in attendance at the book launch how blacks were treated by the South African apartheid regime.
“This contract labour system was not the only reason we engaged in the national liberation struggle against apartheid. We were also motivated by the need to break the chain of injustice of this terrible system that our people felt and experienced every day, every hour in our lives. We lost our identities back then, they called us by the numbers they gave us when we took up jobs,” he said.
He said that after independence, when records became available, the question was raised about why the records of black Namibians were not found in the archives, while those of whites were.
He said the only estate left behind by black workers was maybe a pair of old shoes and yet the documentation for white estates were complete, including title deeds and land transfers.
Names of black people in the records were redacted and numbers inserted, while information for whites recounted exact family names.
He noted that 11,000 files ‘accidently’ not destroyed by German colonialists detail so-called ‘native’ estates and files of the contract workers, mainly from the North and North Eastern Namibia and these are the main scholarly contributions of the Author, Dr. Namhila.
Departing from his prepared statement, he noted that “We have a case on the table on Genocide. The Germans and South Africans were no different in how they treated blacks. They were the same. Nujoma as a leader then said we should forgive them because we believe in inclusivity, but I remember some colleagues asking: why should we forgive them? After all what they have done by killing our people in Cassinga and so on, must we really forgive them?”
Dr Namhila researched the apparent neglect and deliberate disregard in the record keeping of estate records of indigenous or black Namibians.
As a Librarian, Dr Namhila knows the power of well-kept documents and records. She realised that during the colonial period, the estate records of black Namibians were not properly kept, as compared to those of white Namibians.