Last weekend, I travelled to a communal village known as #Huitsib, about 15 kilometres west of Berseba, in the shadows of the mighty extinct volcano called the Brukkaros mountain. My brother, Stimela, is married to Toeties McKay, whose father, Uncle Thomas McKay, was buried in #Huitsib (literally meaning “heartache”) last Saturday.
The trip down south is very scenic. The first significant landmark is the Heroes’ Acre on the southern outskirts of Windhoek, nestled in the majestic Eros mountains. The road meanders through mountains and goes past Groot Aub which more or less forms the border between the Khomas and Hardap regions. The road takes us past the town of Rehoboth which is on the banks of the Oanob River, with its famous Lake Oanob and the hotsprings of the Reho Spa.
Then the road goes to Kalkrand and Mariental to round off the Hardap Region. Namibia’s largest dam, the Hardap Dam, is in Mariental and is the most famous landmark of the south, on the mighty Fish River which drains into the Orange River that forms the border between Namibia and South Africa. Images of the floods a few years ago are still fresh in my mind, but the town remains a jewel of the south.
From Mariental it is all the way to Tses, then west to Berseba, and then further west to farm #Huitsib. The late Uncle Thomas was a leading Karakul farmer among the communal farmers of the south, and won a few awards. He was a proud farmer, and he would always boast modestly about his Karakul pelts which were the fruits of his labour. I learned that the southerners herd their small stock differently from the way we do it in Omatjette, for instance.
The rest of the southern region is made up of towns like Keetmanshoop, Karasburg, Lüderitz and Oranjemund. We all know now that the much talked about Neckartal dam is located about 30 kilometres from Keetmanshoop, and that will positively impact on the economy of the south. Between Keetmanshoop and Lüderitz, one finds the breath-taking Fish River Canyon that rivals its famous American cousin, the Grand Canyon.
I started off by mentioning the wealth of the south. Well, let’s start with the diamonds at Oranjemund, and we all know the tales of the CDM Tates of yesteryear. Oranjemund literally means “the mouth of the Orange river”, and geologists tell us that Kimberlitic diamonds were washed down the Orange River and were deposited in the mouth of this river as it enters the Atlantic Ocean. Layers of sand buried these precious stones over the centuries; the mining operations involve removing this sand overburden to retrieve the stones.
Lüderitz is famous for its vibrant fishing industry, especially the crayfish and rock lobster species. There is an annual crayfish festival in Lüderitz, and this year it was held from 30 May to 1 June 2013. The waterfront project has positively changed the face of this historic harbour town. About 30 kilometres from Lüderitz is the so-called ghost town of Kolmanskop, which in years gone by was a thriving diamond town.
Along the banks of the Orange River, there is a massive irrigation project that produces grapes and dates. These grapes are primarily meant for export to Europe, although some small quantities do find their way into the local market. I have tasted some of those grapes and dates, and I must say that they are delicious.
The southern regions are also famous for their political history. Yes, some of the fiercest anti-colonial battles were fought in the south.
Ancestors such as Hendrik Witbooi, Jan Jonker Afrikaner and Jakob Marenga were heroic freedom fighters who etched their names into history books by gallantly and victoriously rising against the genocidal regimes of Germany.
The blood of our people cries out to the heavens in the south. Horrible atrocities were committed against our people by the murderous German Schutztruppe. Some years ago, I visited Shark Island and my body was in shock as I stood there remembering what my people went through on that island. Shark Island was a concentration camp created by the Germans to subdue the OvaHerero and Nama peoples from around 1905 to 1907.
People were taken from the concentration camp and forced to work as slaves for private companies, on infrastructure projects such as railways and the around the harbour, and other infrastructure projects.
They were also forced to convert Shark Island into a peninsula by connecting the island with the main land. This hard labour in very cold climatic conditions led to many deaths, at times more than 10 people dying per day.
The Cape Argus used to run stories about these atrocities; for instance, in September 1905, it carried the following story: “The women who are captured and not executed are set to work for the military as prisoners ... saw numbers of them at Angra Pequena (i.e., Lüderitz) put to the hardest work, and so starved that they were nothing but skin and bones [...] They are given hardly anything to eat, and I have very often seen them pick up bits of refuse food thrown away by the transport riders. If they are caught doing so, they are sjamboked (whipped).”
There are also reports that our people were fed to the sharks. As we drove back to Windhoek from #Huitsib, my heartache was quite severe; not only because of the loss of Uncle Thomas McKay, but also the memories of the struggles of our people that were very vivid in my mind. All the struggles are one: in southern, central and northern Namibia, they were all for the Motherland, and must therefore be accorded equal recognition.
I remain hopeful that the sacrifices of our people shall not be in vain. The past should not bog us down, but must instead energise us to achieve that which our ancestors fought for – Freedom.