Katima Mulilo — The name change in the newly christened Zambezi Region precipitated a street demonstration yesterday by a group calling themselves "Concerned Caprivians".
The group, numbering less than 100 people held a demonstration and handed a petition to the Governor's office, demanding the shifting of the region's border back to Andara, and a referendum on the name change. The group claimed Caprivi unifies all ethnic tribes in the region.
Among those who have been vocal against the name change are the group calling themselves "Concerned Caprivians", who joined with their supporters to march from the Katima Mulilo open market to the Governor's office. Last week they called a press briefing to denounce the name change claiming it amounts to "taking away people's identity".
Zambezi Governor Lawrence Sampofu was not available at the time of the demonstration as he was said to be on compassionate leave and was represented by his special advisor Ignatius Nkunga. The demonstrators chanted slogans and sang freedom songs denouncing Sampofu who they felt unilaterally took a decision to have the region renamed without proper consultations and accusing him of totalitarianism.
When they reached the office of the Governor a police presence prevented the group from entering the premises forcing their petition to be read at the gate by their spokesperson Robert Matongela.
Just before the petition was read and upon learning that Sampofu was not present to receive the petition, chants denouncing special advisor Nkunga started and Nkunga was irked by the taunts and subsequently a fracas almost ensued forcing the police to step in. Demonstrators felt it was their right to denounce Nkunga because he was standing in for Sampofu.
Zambezi regional staff who learned of the planned demonstration all wore T-shirts bearing the words 'Zambezi Region', a move which seemed to add further to the demonstrators' fury.
After a long narration of the history of the name Caprivi, the group said the new name would destroy their identities, claiming many countries today still bear colonial names.
"The name change from Caprivi to Zambezi is destined to destroy our identity and history as a symbol of renaissance, the dilution of political foundations in the identity of CANU party founded by the late Dr Brendan Kangongolo Simbwaye and Dr Mishake Albert Muyongo. To rewrite the history of Caprivians should not start and be based on the name change as there is a varsity of states still bearing colonial names such as Colombia, Philippines, America and Venezuela," read their petition.
The petition further accused the Fourth Delimitation Commission of lack of proper consultations calling on the Namibian government to effect a referendum on the matter.
"We question the norm on how the delimitation commission came to make some recommendations over the name change when the majority masses of Caprivi were not holistically consulted. The Pohamba administration rushed to gazette the name change imposing it on the entire populace of Caprivi. The name Caprivi can only be changed through proper consultations and by a referendum instrument to test for public opinion as enshrined in the Namibian constitution," the petition read.
"We know the intentions of government regarding the name change," the petition continued, adding that the delimitation commission was a farce. "We are aware of the intentions of the government over the name change and shifting of the boundary as it started immediately after 1992. Errors were committed by all the delimitations, this involves all the delimitations that came and went and we want to be availed with the instruments used to secure information through reports, meetings, deliberations, consultations, views and public inputs," they demanded.
The demonstrators whose placards among others read "To hell with Zambezi,' 'No Caprivi no election,' and 'Respect the international boundaries of Caprivi', stuck to their guns claiming the move was a waste of resources that could otherwise have been channelled towards development and creation of employment.
"The name change is an expensive exercise as it is. We believe billions of dollars budgeted for such must be given to Caprivi to effect development and bring jobs to the people of Caprivi," said the group.
The group further accused government of unilaterally renaming Schuckmannsburg, an area in the eastern floodplains of the region which has returned to its original name of Luhonono, as well as former Kabbe Combined School to Dr Sam Nujoma Combined Shool, without proper consultations.
"Schuckmannsburg was renamed to Luhonono; Kabbe Combined School to Dr Sam Nujoma Combined School. All the people of Caprivi including traditional chiefs and the entire leadership of Caprivi were not asked whether they supported the name change or not," they further claimed in their petition.
Receiving the petition special advisor to the governor, Ignatius Nkunga promised to channel the concerns to the relevant authorities. "We live in a democracy; you have the right to demonstrate. I will make sure that I hand over your concerns to the relevant authority," promised Nkunga.
Even though the group claims to be apolitical, the entire leadership is mainly made up of politicians with Linus Muchila former Congress of Democrats' (CoD) MP serving as its chairperson. Other prominent members of the group include Alex Kamwi, president of the revived Caprivi African National Union (CANU) and former vice-president of the war veterans association, which ousted him over his CANU links, Martin Lukato, current president of the National Democratic Party (NDP), Robert Sililo, a retired teacher and member of CANU and RDP local authority councillor, Robert Matongela.
The same group held a press briefing last week in which it denounced government and the regional leadership and it was not clear what specific action the group would take if its demands are not met. The group argues the name Zambezi may not befit all inhabitants of the region.
However, proponents of the name change such as historian Dr Bennet Kangumu feel such a reason does not hold water as Zambezi is in a sense more broad than what people may think.
"That's a lame excuse. Lyaboloma is from Makanga but a constituency outside his area of birth is named after him. We look at broader issues, the contribution to the region. Katima Mulilo, for example, which is a major centre for all, is fed by the Zambezi River. Our water supply is from the Zambezi River. No one can claim not to have visited or lived in Katima. We have already started using names such as Wenela Service Station, Zambezi Waterfront and Zambezi Vocational Training Centre. That is not a coherent argument. The renaming of Caprivi will not erase our history; it will only erase the name not the history. If we look at the historical period, Namibia was called German South West Africa and after independence today it's called Namibia," argued Kangumu.
Another proponent, John Ntemwa chairperson of Zambezi Youth Forum alleged demonstrators were opposition parties who failed to draw a large crowd. "These are people from the opposition parties. We saw them. Their call to demonstrate did not even pull a lot of people but a few individuals. Some are even demonstrating while they are on duty," noted Ntemwa.
They were also unconfirmed reports the group visited the traditional authorities in the region to canvass support but the chiefs snubbed them refusing to be dragged into the matter.