11 January 2019

Namibia: Namoloh's Tribute to Mbulunganga May Be Justifiable

The memorial service of People's Liberation Army of Namibia commander Matias 'Mbulunganga' Ndakolo on 7 December 2018 brought to the surface the deep-seated wounds of Namibia's war veterans, who engaged the enemy directly in battle at the frontlines during Namibia's war of liberation from apartheid colonisation.

The pain is best expressed in an honest and heartfelt plea by minister Charles Namoloh towards president Hage Geingob to look into the plight of surviving war veterans because they have been overlooked, excluded and left out from the benefits which accrued to citizens of an independent Namibia.

Speaking on behalf of friends and comrades of the late Ndakolo, Namoloh, who served under the deceased's command during those trying times, remained true to the revolutionary spirit of Swapo combatants who sang "Hailwa Wange, menhu wa meme hailwa kumininenge", a solemn war cry that acknowledges "miita ohamu siwa mo ohamu lemanwa".

An English interpretation of this song, which is sung in Oshiwambo, is the acknowledgement that there would be consequences for those who had committed themselves to fight for the liberation of their motherland, Namibia. Some would be killed and others would be maimed.

But the soldiers had a collective responsibility towards one another to ensure that when one of them falls, the other would be there to pick him up.

There is a solid bond between soldiers that transcends even maternal and kinship ties because of their experience through the trauma of war.

It is an experience that president Geingob cannot relate to, hence his defensive posturing and dismissal of Namoloh's comments as being misplaced and inappropriate for the occasion of a memorial service.

Instead of acknowledging the sensitivity of the matter and deferring his response to a more appropriate setting, Geingob went on a tirade, giving a procedural account on how honours are bestowed on veterans, much to the dismay of mourners who came to listen to tributes for the deceased, and not a lesson on government systems and processes.

Citizens at the grassroots' level in the rural areas are fond of saying, "Aantu yo mushimba oha yeya komikunda taya ihumbata nayi, ohaati mbela oyo ashike ya valwa".

This sentiment, which is a result of the rural-urban divide, speaks of the snobbish exclusivism displayed by government officials when hosting events at the constituency level. They do not observe the customs of the people they are addressing, and do not include them in their programmes as equal partners but rather dictate to them as if they were their juniors, forgetting that they are guests being hosted, and that "When in Rome, do as the Romans do".

Former president Hifikepunye Pohamba's hypocrisy is worth noting as he once again showed a penchant for petty cruelty and eagerness to engage in public controversies by rebuking Namoloh in public.

Two years ago, Kela Hamutenya, son of the late Hidipo Hamutenya, consumed by grief, anger, sadness, sorrow and mourning, pointed out the ill-treatment his father received at the hands of the Swapo leadership during his tribute at the parliament gardens.

Pohamba acknowledged openly that a lot of wrong had been done to the deceased, and thanked Kela Hamutenya for his bravery and truthfulness. Pohamba showed statesmanship, humility and empathy towards the family of the deceased, most notably his son. Why could Namoloh not be afforded the same courtesy as a comrade mourning his brother-in-arms?

As a young democracy, we have now entered a period which pilgrimages to the Heroes Acre will become more frequent as the 'founding fathers' and the 'old guard' of our national struggle for independence depart this earth. Such is the circle of life.

Due regard, sympathy and consideration must be given to the families and loved ones at these solemn occasions, and they should not be hijacked by politicians to score political points, or to outdo one another.

We are all aware that Swapo, the ruling party and liberator of the Namibian people, is facing existential and identity crises caused by problems concerning money, property and prestige.

Such is the character of capitalism and neo-liberalism, which the ruling party and national government had come to represent and embrace.

The actions of former president Pohamba and president Geingob, at the memorial service of the late Ndakolo left a sour taste in everybody's mouth, and subtracted from the gracefulness of the occasion.

As leaders, they set the tone and example of what it means to be in a position of authority. They are found wanting, and need to show a greater responsibility and accountability when called upon to pay tribute at future events. Tributes should be handled in an empathetic and dignified manner.

- Vitalio Angula is a socio-political commentator and independent columnist.

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