The Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA), yesterday accused the government of continuing its marginalization of the Ovaherero and welcomed the cancellation of the launch of the Ovaherero and Nama Genocide Exhibition.
The mobile exhibition was slated to commence on Monday in Windhoek, but the Nama Traditional Leaders Association and the Ovaherero Traditional Authority’s Common Position on Genocide and Heritage Matters Committee demanded the cancellation of the mobile exhibition, as well as the launching of a history book on the genocide on the grounds that they were not consulted, citing marginalization and exclusion.
In a statement released yesterday (Thursday) the OTA welcomed the cancellation, which is believed to have been ordered by the president. Minister of International Relations Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah this week tried hard to justify the event, saying the project was aimed at informing Namibians about the atrocities committed by the Germans against the Ovaherero and Nama people at the beginning of the 20th century.
“The OTA had not even been invited by the time of the public announcement, but was only present by its conspicuous absence. And that is exactly the reason why we did not see the need to go and watch a ‘final version’ in which its beginnings we (OTA) were excluded.
We could not have gone there and watch a fait accompli, and which, if we should find mistakes or omissions, we could not rectify, as the Exhibits and/or the Handbook will have been published and would be on display or the copies may already have been packed for distribution to the Secondary Schools of the 14 Regions,” the OTA statement reads.
“Now that the few questions pertaining to the court case in New York that we raised in our press briefing are known, are they reflected in the handbook, and, by the same token, is the on-going and un-concluded so-called ‘government-to-government negotiations’ covered in the handbook? If ‘the exhibition was initially conceptualized and developed … as far back as 2013’ … and it is ‘about the genocide’ of also the Ovaherero and the exhibition was to have been on ‘17 February 2020’, a good 7 years, why would OTA not be involved in the project about the genocide of its people and who are, needless to say, the very subject-matter of the General von Trotha’s Extermination Order of 2 October 1904?”
“Seven years of clandestine writing of a book about the Genocide of our people and we are totally kept in the dark? And only at the very end, are we invited just as part of the ‘public’,” OTA Secretary-General Prof. Mutjinde Katjiua says in the hard-hitting statement.
According to Prof. Katjiua, Nandi-Ndaitwah only shared information with government-supported genocide committees and its special envoy on genocide negotiations, Dr. Zedekia Ngavirue and is calling that consultation, while side-lining the genuine victim communities that the OTA represents.
“This is symptomatic, and smacks, of the usual marginalization of the OTA and its leadership by government functionaries over the years. The Ovaherero Traditional Authority and the Ovaherero People of Namibia, and, indeed, its leadership, have been deliberately excluded from certain socio-economic developments or vital services in the predominantly Ovaherero regions,” Prof Katjiua claims.
He mentioned examples of marginalization, including the gazetting of “Ombara Otjitambi”, otherwise statutorily as ‘Chief’ Riruako, and the repeated rejection of several applications for gazetting his traditional councillors until he died, gazetting them only after 22 years of denial in 2017, and after intense pressure mounted by the OTA in 2015 and 2016.
According to him successive ministers of the Local, Regional Governments and Rural Development from Jerry Ekandjo, Charles Namoloh, Sofia Shaningwa to Peya Mushelenga, have all deliberately and unlawfully limited the authority’s jurisdiction geographically, in contravention of Article 2, sub-section 2 of the Act No. 25, 2005.
He says the traditional communities of the OTA are settled in about 15 communal areas all over Namibia, a known fact, but all those ministers have been hell-bent on discriminating against the Ovaherero.
He further says no government officials ever visits, nor commemorates any of the battle fields or memorial sites where the Ovaherero Genocide took place and nor the site where General von Trotha stood when he read the Ovaherero extermination order, whilst government has turned Shark Island into a tourist attraction for predominantly German holiday-makers.
“Why then should we trust Minister Ndaitwah to deal with the exhibition and writing of our genocide when in a reality she would want to wish it away?”
According to him the government has to date not recognized the status of the 154 young people, then, who were sent out of the country for military training by the legendary Paramount Chief of the Ovaherero, Hosea Kutako, in the mid-60’s in much the same way he sent the Founding President Sam Nujoma, only a few months earlier in that same year.
“These people were not sent out to go and come back to join ‘Koevoet’ or the South African Army, but to liberate Namibia; their status could be regularized by a stroke of the pen in recognition of their noble intent of that time; the survivors are 34, who are looking up to high heavens for their recognition.”
He further said the marginalization and economic deprivation of the Ovaherero is blatantly manifest in the non-renovation of the pre-independence primary schools in areas such as Aminuis, Epukiro, Otjombinde, Otjinene, Okondjatu, Otjituuo, Okamatapati, Okakarara, Okaoko, Omatjete and Otjimbingue, which are all areas inhabited by Ovaherero.
“Farmers from the Ovambo, Kavango and Damara areas are allowed to settle with their livestock in Tsumkwe, whilst the Ovaherero from Gam are told to ‘get out and go back to Hereroland’ by a San Traditional Chief of Tsumkwe, himself from Botswana, while Ovaherero livestock are not allowed to drink the government supplied water, but have to survive on unhygienic sewerage water,” the statement continues.
“Hon. Minister Ndaitwah, the OTA agrees with you that it is important that all Namibians are aware of the available information about the genocide. BUT, all we are saying is that, It cannot be about us, without us; anything about us without us is against us or is merely engineered to further marginalize us.”
In the statement Prof. Katjiua warns against ‘dragging’ UNESCO and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum into the exclusionist behaviour of the government.
“It is alleged that the Office of the President intervened and cancelled this ill-conceived and ill-fated exhibition, and for that, if indeed it is true, we congratulate the President for a wise decision!” the statement concludes.