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Calls for a genocide commemoration day

05 May 2017 Author   Sonja Smith
Credible sources known to the Windhoek Observer, report that there are serious complaints from various communities that the government prioritises holidays related to the heroic struggle for independence led by SWAPO, such as Cassinga Day, while not giving equally high status and national attention to commemorations of other key national events, such as the 1904 and 1908 genocides. 
These comments emerged this week as the nation remembered the terrifying day where nearly a thousand people were killed in cold blood by South African apartheid regime’s soldiers in southern Angola on 4 May 1978.
While the two events are both of national and historical importance, some claim that the genocide, which saw hundreds of thousands Namibians being raped, tortured and killed and robbed of their land, cattle and wealth by the Germans, does not receive comparatively high profile recognition on a consistent basis.
In an interview with political experts this week, some say government should be blamed for the discrepancy, while others argue that there is significant recognition of a host of historically important days in Namibia.
Political analyst, Ndumba Kamwanyah said that it is disturbing that the first genocide is not well-placed in the society.
“I completely agree that the genocide’s place in our society is a neglectful one. We are talking about one of the first recorded genocides in the history of the 20th century in Africa. That it is not featuring much in our collective memory is frankly, very disturbing.
“Yes, government is to be blamed for its selective memorialisation but all of us should shoulder the blame. At individual and intellectual level what are we doing to keep those memories alive?” he quizzed.
Kamwanyah went on to question how Namibia can face history, if the national reconciliation policy was specifically designed to not open past wounds.
“I also think that our policy of national reconciliation, which dictates that we cannot open the wounds of the past, is what is contributing to the prevailing apathy and a culture of silence when it comes to past atrocities.
“How can we face our history if we cannot talk about what happened in the past? We need to face the beast of the past because there are many unresolved issues. Namibia is not a healed nation. We are a bleeding nation because of those issues still hidden in the closets,” Kamwanyah explained.
The Cassinga massacre left at least 165 men, 294 women and 300 children dead.  Primarily, women, children and the elderly - who were a part of the camp - were left wounded, most bearing permanent disabilities and scars.
In 2015, a group of journalists visiting Cassinga, publicised photographs of the main grave in an unkempt and forgotten space with the covering cracked and the words marking the buried victims, barely legible.  Shortly after those photos emerged, government announced its intention, through the National Heritage Council, to erect a permanent and more respectful memorial on that site in the near future.
In January 1904, the Ovaherero people, led by Samuel Maharero and Nama Captain Hendrik Witbooi, rebelled against German colonial rule. In August, German General Lothar von Trotha defeated the Herero in the Battle of Waterberg and drove them into the desert where most of them died of dehydration.
In October of that same year, the Nama people also rebelled against the Germans, only to suffer a similar fate. 
Those advocating for equal commemorations of all nationally important and historically tragic events, want the genocide story to be elevated in prominence to other stories about momentous Namibian events.
Sources complained that those affected by Cassinga receive veteran status and the subsequent monthly pension and other financial benefits, documented television productions by nbc are played regularly on the day commemorating their loss and other recognitions.   They feel that the same is not done for those communities affected by the genocide.
“The national broadcaster still has to do a production on the genocide event in our history as a nation.  After 27 years, still the cameras are not ready to sit down with the genocide historians to capture the oral and written transfers of information.
“Is it wrong to say that the government has primarily pushed and continues to push the agenda of one tribe? Who is the tribalist? Me for pointing out this act or the government that does the act?” the source quizzed.
Former Secretary General of the SPYL and UNAM instructor, Dr Elijah Ngurare, said that the untold story must be told and taught.
“It is not necessary in our struggle to differ on matters of principles. I have argued since the early 1990s and late 1990s that slavery, colonialism, and apartheid have been the holocaust against people of African descent. This includes the unspeakable horrors of the genocide on Hereros/Namas and others by the Germans here in Namibia and beyond.
“It must be our collective efforts, young and old, to actualise the ideal for this untold story to be told and taught. This also must include nbc and other media outlets to make documentaries to inform and educate the nation about this chapter in our country’s history. In other words, I think this scar of our history must not divide us but rather let it glue us together so that posterity must never forget,” Ngurare said.
Veteran politician and SWAPO Party Secretary for Information, Helmut Angula, said: “Rome was not built in one day; progress is being made.”
“I chair the High Level Steering Committee for the Documentation of the Liberation History 1958-1990, whose responsibility is to supervise the UNAM research team doing the practical work. Progress is being made in this regard. Today, representatives of Angolan and Namibian governments are at Cassinga breaking the ground for the construction of a memorial shrine on site. But all such memorials and national recognition actions take time,” Angula said.

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