I can confidently say there was not a single dry eye among members of the Namibian film industry and spoken word poetry subculture last Thursday morning.
One of our greats has passed away.
Not necessarily great because she won acclaim for her movies, including Tjitji the Himba Girl, 100 Bucks and Cries at Night, and paved the way for others in the film industry, although she certainly did both of those things par excellence.
Nor indeed that she was part of literally a handful of young Namibians who revitalized performance poetry and created a whole spoken word movement in Windhoek in the early 2000s, though she was that too.
For me it was her humanity, her kind heart, that made her a great person.
I’ve known Oshosheni for more than a decade, starting when she was on the organizing committee of Spoken Word Namibia. I watched as she managed auditions and rehearsals with aplomb. She handled the big personalities and fragile egos that you often get in poetry (oh, yeah, who told you all poets are sensitive?) with grace and integrity.
She certainly had disagreements with certain people in all sectors in which she worked, but I literally cannot remember a time when I heard her raise her voice, or saw her threaten or be mean to anyone.
Most recently, I was with her on the judging panel for the 2019 Namibian Theatre and Film Awards. She was hardly ever late for a meeting as we reviewed hours upon hours of footage, testing the concentration of even the most ardent movie fan.
As a casting agent, she was also responsible for unearthing a lot of the acting talent that currently graces Namibian screens.
Oshi was passionate about providing a platform through film for women, especially women of colour, to tell their stories and celebrate their triumphs over adversity.
In a short interview currently doing the rounds on YouTube, directed by Marinda Stein of Red-Hot Film Productions, Oshosheni said, ‘I think sometimes women don’t even understand their own value... I want to shake them, like, do you know that you’re a beautiful woman? Do you know the strength that is inside of you? Do you not know what you are able to give this nation?’
In these ultra-politically-correct times, one might dismiss that kind of talk as a feel-good soundbite for the corporate sponsors, but anyone who knew Oshi would know that she undoubtedly meant and felt every last word.
Oshosheni Hiveluah spent most of her childhood as a Namibian refugee in the old East Germany, but returned to Namibia shortly after independence in 1990.
She directed her debut student film, Tulila’s Fate, in 2004, which later won Audience Choice Award at the Wild Cinema Film Festival in Windhoek. Tjitji the Himba Girl won Best Narrative Film and Best Cinematography at the 2014 Namibia Theatre and Film Awards and a Special Mention at the Bangalore Short Film Festival in India in 2015.
Oshosheni died in a hospital in Windhoek last Wednesday night. She was 37.
How we memorialize her, I don’t know. Were I the Mayor of Windhoek, I’d propose a street name in her honor. A part of me wonders if there isn’t a provision in the law for people who made an outstanding contribution to the arts to be buried at Heroes Acre. At the very least a Lifetime Achievement Award somewhere seems fitting.
But if I knew Oshi, as a ‘woman of the people,’ she’d want none of that.
She’d probably say that the memorial she would want would be that we keep in mind the importance of stories. That we tell the stories of marginalized people who have been shut out of mainstream narratives around the world for far too long. That we remember stories’ power to shape our world and to live beyond us.
Hugh Ellis teaches media and communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views expressed here are personal views. All are welcome to follow his blog at ellishugh.wordpress.com