While misery abounds in tough times, Namibians are earning their reputation as complainers. If you ask anyone, they can list for you everything they feel is going wrong, but a national holiday of commemoration, such as Heroes’ Day on August 26th, is the time to focus on what is going right and learn something about our shared history.
Heroes’ Day 2019 is an oasis surrounded by the hot, desert sands of a drought-stricken Namibia as we drown in the high national debt that has resulted in massive budget cuts, social ills, rising discontent, joblessness, homelessness, landlessness, and more visible corruption. For just one day, let us take refuge under the shade of the Heroes’ Day trees, bathe in the cool waters of respect for veterans and remember the value of independence.
Even though Heroes’ Day salutes the beginning of armed resistance during the struggle against apartheid, we must not forget that the long war for independence in Namibia began much earlier in the resistance to German Occupation decades before. Many who fought for this country’s liberation, lost their lives, property, and dignity or were even chased out of the land of their birth – they too are heroes.
On 26 August 1966, the first shots were fired in Namibia’s modern war for independence at the battle of Omugulugwombashe in the central north. These acts of armed resistance are commemorated every year on that day. Heroes’ Day is celebrated as a respectful nod of respect for the sacrifices and efforts of all who struggled for this country’s freedom.
We recall our interview with The Founding President, Dr. Sam Nujoma where he told the story about the military training received by early fighters in the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) and those first few weapons and ammunition boxes used to fight the apartheid forces. Heroes’ Day demands that we reflect on those times.
The Founding Father, in a May 2019 interview, recounted:
“To win our struggle, we started fighting from Tanganyika. But we needed to get guns. Algeria helped. We had Namibians training as soldiers in Egypt and Algeria. I was given four guns: two rifles and two pistols and ammo and went by plane with those guns in my luggage, through many transit flights from Algiers to Cairo on Egyptian Airlines to Nairobi and then onto Dar es Salam.
I was able to keep the guns and bullets in the bags. I brought the guns to Tanzania (it was independent by then) and then from Tanzania through Zambia to give those few guns to comrades to take to Omugulugwambashe for the 1966 fight where we began the armed struggle.
When the comrades started training they also gathered some others to train. People began coming to us to train to fight for independence. The King of Uukwalothi at that time, gave us that forest area to begin our training. The first gun was fired at the South African helicopters and our fighters fought back against that with the little that we had.” - Dr. Sam Nujoma
While the clash that day in 1966 was arguably an enemy ‘victory’ in technical terms as they had been tipped off about the location of the nascent liberation movement training base, every bullet the enemy fired at the poorly armed but brave PLAN fighters were freedom flares that signalled the beginning of the end for Boer control in Namibia.
Heroes’ Day does not belong to any particular political party – it is above today’s politics. The great people buried at Heroes’ Acre and the lesser-known heroes buried in other locations in all regions of Namibia, died for a unified state where ALL NAMIBIANS could live with inalienable rights and the ability to pursue their dreams in peace.
Some white Namibians have stated (perhaps disingenuously) in interviews that they do not attend national celebrations because they feel that the program devolves into a ruling party rally, rather than a unifying national day of remembrance and honour. Indeed, elected leaders and representatives must not wear party colours for national celebrations, but flag colours.
Other Namibians claim that they don’t attend national ceremonies or watch on television because they feel little interest and only want a paid day off.
Too many people use the phrase, “I fought for this country” as a hammer rather than a badge of honour and it has alienated segments of the society. It is a sad fact that too many of our people can neither pronounce Omugulugwambashe nor have ever heard of it. If the government tries to name a street after that historic site, there will likely be another insulting ad campaign by a defeated and embittered previously advantaged citizen claiming that the word has too many letters and cannot be pronounced.
Heroes’ Day is a time to learn and remember. The Namibian newspaper published a poignant interview with former Grootfontein mayor Penny Mwazi, a war veteran, who spoke about the lack of information available about the enemy attack on the Shatotwa camp in July 1975 where PLAN fighters and SWAPO members were killed.
She said, “It was still dark that morning when the enemy attacked us, and the camp was big and divided into four sections. The South African armed forces attacked and only stopped firing at the Swapo people in the camp after we started fighting back and defending the camp for nearly an hour. Why are some of the stories never told to the nation, as if they did not happen?”
On the 26th, take a minute to view the NBC televised coverage of Heroes’ Day in Otjiwarongo this year. Visit Heroes’ Acre or one of the many old monuments or locally known resistance locations and remember.
Seek out the veterans of battles with the enemy and listen to their stories. Many people fed and hid PLAN combatants or participated in street demonstrations, gave money in support of liberation, wrote articles or spoke publicly about apartheid injustices, or participated in student or labour strikes during the dangerous decades of the liberation struggle. Listen to their stories and retell them as often as possible.
Viva to all heroes of Namibia!