The South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO of Namibia) had a unique status among anti-colonial movements. Fighting South Africa’s illegal occupation of South West Africa/Namibia, dubbed by the United Nations as a “trust betrayed,” it resorted to armed struggle in the 1960s. SWAPO was subsequently recognized as “the sole and authentic representative of the Namibian people” by a United Nations General Assembly resolution since the mid-1970s. The political culture in post-colonial Namibia is much characterized by the dominance of SWAPO as a former liberation movement and its official history. This paper summarizes the relevance of the armed struggle for the heroic narrative. It contrasts the glorification with some of the ‘hidden histories’ and trajectories related to some less documented realities of the armed struggle and its consequences which do not have much visibility in the official historiography. It thereby finally seeks to present a more nuanced picture by giving voice to some protagonists of a post-colonial political culture not considered as mainstream.
This essay is a preliminary attempt to compare the ways in which the liberation struggles in Namibia and South Africa have been memorialised, both in non-fiction writing about the two struggles and in monuments, memorials and museums. Such a comparison needs to be undertaken through contextualising the two struggles. Though they have some similar features, the ways they have been memorialised are strikingly different, with the armed struggle having been given much greater emphasis in Namibia than in South Africa.
Both Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo and South African author Niq Mhlongo encapsulate in novels published by each of them in 2013 what has become of their governments’ promises of freedom and prosperity. In her novel We Need New Names, Bulawayo criticises the poverty, corruption and mismanagement seen under the regime of Robert Mugabe and caricatures the grandiose slogans of ‘Black Power.’ In his novel Way Back Home, Mhlongo reveals how a former anti-apartheid activist in the ANC becomes enmeshed in self-enrichment and nepotism and is pursued by the ghosts of the past. Both Bulawayo and Mhlongo are not content with merely decoding slogans, but identify possible paths to a future with greater self-determination. Disappointment about the unredeemed promises is thus transformed into a sobering résumé and stocktaking that can provide a basis for a new consideration and new definition of social objectives.
This paper looks at the novels by Joseph Diescho (Born of the Sun, 1988), Kaleni Hiyalwa (Meekulu’s Children, 2000), and Neshani Andreas (The Purple Violet of Oshaantu, 2001) with a special focus on the access to education and land, but also problems such as Gender Based Violence and poverty. By comparing how an independent Namibia is imagined during South African apartheid rule, during the Liberation Struggle, and post-independence, the novels open up perspectives that empirical studies may overlook or decide not to emphasise. Furthermore, this comparison also allows for a linear, yet non-chronological, view on how the literary visions evolve with concepts such as nation and liberation, but also modernity and nationalism as they ‘enter’ into the characters’ every day. With the protagonists deeply involved in the make-up of their respective villages, they can also be considered prototypical Namibians in their value systems and networks. Through their eyes, it is possible to trace how political promises that were envisioned and imagined prior to 1990 are either realised or disappointed.
Literature struggles in South Africa—or, struggles of interpretation?—evince, and continue to evince, a thematic and stylistic impulse to belong to a common society, but, paradoxically, a society that is often more disjunctive than conjunctive. How, then, to belong? I trace the trajectory from the black-and-white voices of the 1970s to a more heterogeneous conception of the society, after apartheid, and particularly over the last decade, or so. What is peculiar about literature struggles is that the heroic mode has played a relatively marginal role in sense-making or imaginative projection; rather, the critical insight ensures that political language—too often crude in its singularities of either/or—has seldom enjoyed the unalloyed assent of literary language. Considerations of nation-building hardly feature alongside the concerns of living in a functioning society.
After a South African air raid attack against the liberation-struggling independence movement of their parents, more than four hundred young Namibian refugees—preschoolers, primary school pupils and teenagers—arrived in the German Democratic Republic in 1979. This chapter evaluates representations of the deportation of the children and their experiences in the GDR by looking at (auto)biographical depictions. With regard to the question of whether their spectacular life stories have (co-)shaped the prevailing post-independence national narrative of Namibia or not, their own perspective yields both an unambiguous and, given the conditions under which they had been sent on their odyssey in the first place, surprising result. While the former exile children have ultimately been denied the privilege of being part of the country’s elite, they do not seem to resent their near invisibility in these self-images of the nation, and seem to have come to terms with their situation (and identity) as Africans with a German past.
This article analyses representative life stories that reflect the experiences of people who participated in the Namibian liberation struggle, as well as one narrative that reflects the traumatic effect of the brutal murder of her mother witnessed by a five year old girl. The stories detail the vicious nature of settler colonialism in South West Africa and the motive that drove youths to abscond from school to join SWAPO camps in neighbouring countries. Two of the male authored texts focus on the political dimensions of the struggle, with minimal personal details; the two accounts penned by women who obtained secondary and tertiary education in exile and underwent military training foreground the personal dimension that is understated in the male accounts. The human side of war, suffering and discrimination is captured in all the accounts, in differing degrees. The strong Christian beliefs of the selected authors are a striking feature in most of the life stories.
In the South African War (1899–1902), Boer women emerged as more heroic than their men folk. When Boer leaders succumbed to a truce, much discursive work ensued to domesticate Boer women anew in the face of their recalcitrance in accepting a peace deal with the British. But attempts to re-feminise Boer women and elevate Boer men to their ‘rightful’ position as patriarchs faltered in the topsy-turvy after the war. The figure of the volksmoeder, or mother of the nation, provided a nodal category that combined feminine care for the family and the volk, or fledgling Afrikaner nation, but the heroic narrative was increasingly displaced by the symbol of self-sacrificial, silent and passive motherhood, thereby obscuring women’s political activism. Today, a re-remembering of volksmoeder heroism, combined with feminist politics based on the democratic-era Constitution, opens up possibilities of Afrikaners breaking out of their white exclusivism to join the nascent democratic South African nation.
The Herero Nama Genocide is a painful period in Namibian history and yet it is the period about which several novels have been written in the past ten years. This article examines one of the novels of this period, The Lie of the Land by Jasper Utley, with a view to exploring the ambivalence in its writing. Using witness bearing and the concept of the ‘Other’ in postcolonialism, I investigate the narrator’s language and lay bare the ambiguities in the novel. I trace the path of the eponymous hero from being a witness to the Nama Genocide to an active involvement in the rescue of a Nama woman whom he falls in love with.