But I am somehow comforted when I see the men fighting back valiantly, firing in unison. I can see them jumping from trees in surprise attacks on their enemies, and letting the ozongunja (kieries) do the talking. I can hear them chant “Ondjirijo”, with the almost choral responses of “Hijo” echoing all over the Ondundu Kaondeka (Waterberg).
No, I am not crazy! I am definitely not hallucinating. These are just some of the painful memories that flash through my mind during this sombre month of August. The date, 12 August 1904, marked the start of the Great Battle of Hamakari. Many stories have been, and continue to be told about the courage and the carnage during that and other anti-colonial battles. Now you know from where I got the title of my column. And like Rachel in the Bible, I refuse to be comforted…..
In Namibia, August is the month in which we celebrate and commemorate our heroes/heroines. In years gone by, the month of August witnessed some of the most brutal acts against our people by the colonisers. However, there were also some very heroic responses by our forebears. The battles of Hamakari and Ongulumbashe are but two examples of anti-colonial heroism. I have decided not to focus on the carnage, but rather on the gallantry of our people. Let us take a closer look at heroes.
Like most words in English, the word “hero” has its roots in Greek mythology and folklore. It originally referred to a demigod (a “half-god”) thought to be the offspring of a human being and a god. According to Wikipedia: “The words hero and heroine came to refer to characters (fictional or historical) that, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice – that is, heroism – for some greater good, originally of martial courage or excellence but extended to more general moral excellence.”
Humans have this tendency to look for inspiration from a person that displays certain crucial qualities that are not commonly found in other people, and which qualities are essential for survival at a particular point in time and space. Somehow, such a special person represents the elusive notion of perfection. We actually tend to have divine regard for such special people.
The concept of a hero thus changes from time to time, from situation to situation, and from place to place (sorry for sounding like an economist!). As Africans, our history has seen the spilling of our precious blood, and thus our lives have always been associated with war and politics. Little wonder, therefore, that almost all of our heroes are of a political and/or military nature. Our heroes are people whose gallantness makes us believe that we can fly, that we can soar, that we can touch the sky (thank you R. Kelly). They make us believe that we shall always overcome no matter the intensity of our adversity.
Heroism is infectious. Those people that would normally be regarded as cowards (don’t point in my direction!), get positively affected and infected by the heroism of others! Heroism should not only be displayed by those who give up their lives for the common cause, but also by those who remain to carry on the fight. There is a danger that those who survive can become so overwhelmed that they could resign to their sorry fate, but they should take up the cross to continue the glorious struggle.
Therefore, as we remember our heroes, we need to ask ourselves whether we are continuing to honour the cause that they died for. Are we paying lip service to soothe our guilty consciences, or are we seriously advancing the struggle for total liberation? Our heroes were removed from this land, and their blood was spilled on this land.
I go crazy every time I drive past the farm Ohamakari, knowing that this place, where our people spilled their blood more than a hundred years ago, still belongs to the descendants of the very people who slaughtered our forebears. Is this not one of the farms that the Namibian Government should expropriate in memory of our heroes? Why not declare this and other historic farms to be national heritage sites?
We should never allow reconciliation to get in the way of completing our unfinished business of economic emancipation. Remembering our heroes should not start and end with speeches upon speeches of historical anecdotes, year in and year out. Now is the time to make our heroes smile in their graves by restoring our land. For heaven’s sake, the land is ours. Take it back. Now.
Allow me to conclude with the inspiring lyrics by the great Motown legends “The Commodores”, in their song titled “Heroes”.
“Lookin’ back through time we are in debt to the leaders
Angels of mercy everyone
Good folks who believe there is no good and evil
Fought long and hard until the battles were won
Give us an anchor or a rock to lean on
A captain to take us through the storm
What makes a soldier ride alone into battle
Can anybody tell me where he’s coming from
He’s that stranger on the street
He’s that child who’s at your feet
Searching for freedom and justice
You’ve seen him time and again, you know they only fight to win
They’re the challengers of evil and I’m glad we know them
Heroes make the sun rise in the mornin’
Heroes make the moon shine bright at night
Heroes make our lives a little stronger
All our fears go away when he’s around
Heroes make our lives a little stronger
If you look you’ll surely see there’s you and me.”