A stranger in Windhoek

In Ghana where I come from, our elders say: “It is only a stranger who eats a blind chicken.” Imagine a blind chicken. Apparently they exist. Poor things. How do they circulate? Do they have a white cane, a guide dog, a helper chicken holding their wings to cross the road? Or do they have a motorized wheelchair in which they navigate the streets and bushes on their own? How do they eat even? They must first see the food before pecking it, so how do they peck the food if they are blind and can’t see it? Do they develop extra sensory powers as blind human beings do? How do they live in an animal kingdom where the rule is each for himself and God for us all? Well, that takes me back to the elders in Ghana: “A tail-less animal has God as its fly-swatter,” they say. It follows, doesn’t it, that if God, in his infinite mercy, creates an animal without a tail, he must naturally be responsible for swatting flies off that animal’s back. And, if you believe colonial academia and orthodox European historians, Africa has no philosophers, great or small! Well, they are yet to arrive in any African village to hear pure philosophy pouring forth from the wrinkled mouths of old women. Philosophically speaking, a stranger eating a blind chicken is negative. It shows a man or woman who is not in control of the facts and reality around him or her. A stranger comes with no kitchen, so by courtesy, his host provides the food. If the chicken that goes into his meal is blind, he will not know because the head of that chicken would have already become a member of the refuse bin before the food is served. But there is, as always, also a positive side to a stranger. With a pair of new eyes, fresh as ever, he sees more than the locals. He sees more new things that the locals may have taken for granted in the locality because of familiarity. I am a stranger in Windhoek, this being only my second visit to Namibia. On my first visit seven-and-a-half years ago, it was love at first sight with Windhoek and the country. I love Windhoek even more now that I have had time to explore its many delights on this second visit. Somebody has said “clean and orderly” Windhoek is “perhaps the most attractive capital city on the African continent”. I agree. An amazingly beautiful city, Windhoek appeared to me on my first visit in September 2003 to be too clean for comfort, especially as an African city! It is a fact we cannot run away from – cleanliness and African cities are odd bedfellows. I don’t know why. How we manage to litter our streets like there is no tomorrow beggars belief. How Namibians, on the other hand, manage to keep Windhoek this clean and beautiful equally baffles me. Since my first visit, I have become an honorary ambassador for Windhoek, telling all who have ears to hear about the beauty and cleanliness of the city. In fact, on my many travels around the world in over 24 years, four cities have stood out for me – by way of cleanliness: Geneva, Windhoek, Tunis and Kigali. Little Rwanda deserves congratulations for keeping its capital city spotlessly clean and decorated with plants, trees and flowers. Ayekoo Rwanda! Sadly, the same cannot be said for our in-laws in Harare. Zimbabwe’s capital city used to be clean. Yes it was a clean city! In those halcyon days, the Harare City Council was up to speed with street sweeping and collection of rubbish. Not anymore.The people of Harare themselves behaved responsibly and did not throw rubbish about recklessly. Again, not any more. On my last two visits to Harare in March and April this year, my heart sank. I found to my utter shock that Harare has become one of those African cities where the residents have no qualms littering the streets and the city council does nothing to check it. How Zimbabweans could go from the Harare I knew even in mid-2008, at the height of the economic implosion, to the current dirty state of the city, as though the adoption of the enemy’s currency as the major medium of exchange has brought in a street-littering competition, even right in the heart of the Central Business District, takes the breath away! Somebody has to stop the rot in Harare, and I don’t know who that person is. Anyway, on my recent visit to Windhoek, I sensed that even Beautiful Windhoek was struggling a bit to keep up with its high standards. The streets are clean all right, the wealthy suburbs are tidy and green as ever, there is even a new addition – a spanking and stunning new State House shimmering gorgeously on the hillside. It is a credit to Namibia to have such a beauty as the home and pinnacle of national power. But I found, again to my huge disappointment, that the green of the central reservation in the roads in Central Windhoek has faded out. Has the City of Windhoek run out of green paint? Or is it a sign of abandonment? And wait for this: There are potholes in Windhoek! An incredible sight! Something unheard of in Namibia! “We are not used to potholes,” people kept telling me, but they conceded that the potholes, a complete aberration, were due to the serious rains of recent weeks. Let’s hope it is only a temporary situation. Clean and Beautiful Windhoek cannot go the way of all cities African. Von Trotha’s statue Now let me come to my main point. The beauty and orderliness of Windhoek hide a fundamental ugliness that we should all be concerned about. Do I hear that there is a statue of Lothar von Trotha, the Kaiser’s murdering agent who supervised the killing spree in 1904-08 in which thousands and thousands of Herero and Nama ancestors were dispatched to their early graves in the first genocide of the 20th century? And that this monstrosity still stands in the heart of Windhoek, in front of the “national” museum – 21 years after independence which was won hard and difficult by SWAPO? Let’s go sequentially. Please come with me to Jerusalem, another beautiful city at the edge of a desert. Imagine the Jewish people building a statue for Adolf Hitler in front of the national museum in Jerusalem. Can that ever happen? If not, why have we allowed it in Windhoek? I concede that Von Trotha’s statue was not built today. While in power before Namibia’s independence, the descendants of the victors of the killing spree in 1904-08 felt the need to build a monument to honour their ancestors’ savagery. And they couldn’t find anybody else to put atop that monument than Lothar von Trotha. But that was many decades before Namibian independence in March 1990. Today, a government run by SWAPO and, particularly the African people of Namibia, have no excuse to keep von Trotha standing in front of the national museum. Where is our dignity as African people? Every passing day that the “great general of Kaiser” sits on that horse with a gun in his hand, posing arrogantly as if he were still a king over our people, adds to the already huge insult that the statue hurls at our ancestors, to ourselves as Africans, and to our future generations. Why have we Africans become so soft-headed? Why do we allow ourselves and our sensibilities to be trampled upon and debased, even in our own capital cities, by people who would not tolerate such abuse and monstrosity in their own home countries? Tarred roads and air The other day, one of SWAPO’s intellectual giants made the acute remark that in Namibia the SWAPO government, in power since March 1990, rules only over the tarred roads and the air in the country. “If you turn left or right off the tarred road, you get fences, miles and miles and miles of them, shutting out government control of the land. “It is private property and the government dares not trespass on private property. And what is more: Chapter 3 of the Namibian Constitution, which was asked to be inserted by the imperialist powers, the Gang of Five (the so-called Contact Group made up of the UK, USA, Canada, Germany and France that helped in the independence negotiations), prevents the SWAPO government from doing anything about the land.” “Why,” I asked him. “Because every article and clause under Chapter 3 is not amendable,” the SWAPO man answered. “We can’t amend anything under Chapter 3. So, we have to live with the silly situation where 90 percent of the land in this huge country is in the hands of a few thousand white Namibians. “Meanwhile, our own people have no land in the communal areas where they have been pushed. I, talking to you, I am a chief myself. And I have no land. Imagine, a chief who has no land in his own district, in his own country?” True to the chief’s words, on Easter Monday, we travelled from Windhoek to Gobabis, 200km east of Windhoek. And on both sides of the road, the fences went on unbroken for the whole 200km. All private property, in the hands of a few descendants of the German and Afrikaner colonists who ruled Namibia between 1844 and 1990! I even heard that one deputy minister in the SWAPO government who tried to go into one of these private properties to address some of the people who had voted for him – his constituents – and investigate their working conditions, is now in court facing trespassing charges. It is an indictment on the current generation of African people that such an unjust and grotesque situation can be allowed in our own land while we stand aside and watch (as Bob Marley would put it). Constitutions are written by human beings and are not set in stone! So long as it is human beings who write them, they can be, and are, changed by human beings. The American Constitution, so sacrosanct to Americans, does have its amendments. Even the British who have no written constitution as such do “amend” their unwritten constitution, when and as it is necessary, as they go along. It is a matter of great interest that the British who have no written constitution yet go around the world writing constitutions for other people. History shows that they were responsible for the written constitutions of a large part of the world which happened to fall under their colonial control. And they were there when all the nastiest articles and clauses of Namibia’s “un-amenable” Chapter 3, and Zimbabwe’s “Willing-Buyer-Willing-Seller” clause were inserted in the constitutions of the two countries. And the African people of Namibia sincerely want the world to believe that they, in fact, cannot change even a “t” or “i” in Chapter 3 of their own constitution, an act which will open the access to land and give the people part ownership of their own country? So, if they can’t amend Chapter 3, what else can Namibians do? Continue to throw their hands in the air (which, thankfully, the SWAPO government controls) as a few thousands of the descendants of the former colonisers own all the fences along the roads while native Namibians continue to be hewers of wood and drawers of water? I can now understand the high hostility in Germany against President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and his ZANU-PF party. If the example of taking the land of Zimbabwe from the descendants of the former colonisers and redistributing it to the natives is allowed to succeed, it will open closed eyes in the south, and that will be bad news for the descendants of the former colonisers in countries such as Namibia (who happen to be mainly Germans and Afrikaners), South Africa, and even Kenya. But the descendants of the former colonisers, and even their mother countries, are just being myopic. There is no virtue in continuing the near total occupation of the land in these African countries while the governments run by the native Africans control only the air and tarred roads. Even if the current generation in government continues to be seduced by the sophistry masquerading as rationality and economic/political pragmatism, nobody can guarantee that the next generation, or even two or three generations down the road, will continue the current policy. A time will come when it will all explode, as we’ve seen in Zimbabwe! There is virtue, however, in the descendants of the former colonisers meeting the native Africans half way now, than latter, and resolving the land issue amicably. Greed has a price, and it is always paid in full. Natural justice demands that the people of Namibia, both black and white, should have a stake in their country. The descendants of the colonisers who have now become bona fide Namibians must have access to land if they want land to farm. Equally, the descendants of the native Namibians who make up the bulk of the country’s 1.8 million people must also have access to land if they so desire. It is unjust for one side to deprive the other of their birthright, whether it is inserted in an un-amenable Chapter 3 or not. Thus, the current situation where a few thousand white Namibians have fenced off over 90 percent of the land of this huge country, and using trespass laws to deny native Namibians access to land, is just not right. They themselves must know that it is just not right. And sustainable! Remember what Mohandas Gandhi once said: “All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.” And more importantly, Gandhi also said: “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive … To deprive a man of his natural liberty and to deny to him the ordinary amenities of life is worse than starving the body; it is starvation of the soul, the dweller in the body.” I hope the wisdom in Gandhi’s words will not be lost on the descendants of Namibia’s colonisers. But I am going ahead of myself, so let me return to Von Trotha’s statue. The tourist dollar I hear that Von Trotha’s statue is still standing in front of the national museum because German tourists like to pay money to come to Namibia and see it. Tourism helps the economy; yes we know. But must we pander so shamefully to such basic instincts, or be insulted, to earn a few tourists dollars here and there? I call that “blood money”. And even Judas Iscariot went and threw his 30 pieces of silver away when he realized that blood money was no money at all How can we so soon forget, or behave as if we didn’t know, Von Trotha’s words of 2 October 1904: “I, the great general of the German soldiers, send this letter to the Herero people. The Herero are no longer German subjects… “The Herero nation must leave the country. If they do not, I will force them out with the Groot Rohr (canon). Every Herero armed or unarmed … will be shot dead within the German borders. “I will no longer accept women and children, but will force them back to their people or shoot at them. These are my words to the Herero people. The great general of the powerful German Emperor.” A month later, on November 5, 1904 to be precise, Trotha followed up his extermination order with a letter to Governor Theodor Leutwein, who was against the annihilation of the native Namibians, and for which Leutwein was relieved of his military and civil authority and asked to return to Germany in disgrace. Trotha, who despised Leutwein (remember Trotha came to Namibia on the back of such punitive expeditions in China and German East Africa), wrote to Leutwein: “I know enough of these African tribes. They are all alike insofar as they only yield to violence. My policy was, and still is, to perform this violence with blatant terrorism and even cruelty. “I finish off the rebellious tribes with rivers of blood and rivers of money. Only from these seeds will something permanent be able to grow.” On November 23, 2004 Trotha’s fellow murderer, Count von Schlieffen, wrote to the German chancellor, Prince Bernhard von Bulow, telling him, “one can agree with Trotha’s proposal that the entire nation should be annihilated or driven from the country” because, to him, the Ovaherero had “forfeited their lives”. Schlieffen added for good measure: “The race war, once it has broken out, can only be ended by the extermination/annihilation or complete subjugation of one of the parties.” And we all know which “party” was exterminated and subjugated. To rub salt into the injuries of the subjugated party by letting Von Trotha’s statue stand forever in front of “their” national museum, is asking for too much, a burden native Namibians do not deserve to be made to bear. Somewhere in Zimbabwe In fact, Trotha’s case reminds me of that of Cecil John Rhodes in Zimbabwe. Before he died on March 29, 1902 Rhodes had inserted this paragraph in his Will: “I admire the grandeur and loneliness of the Matopos in Rhodesia, and therefore I desire to be buried in the Matopos on the hill which I used to visit and which I called the ‘View of the World’ in a square to be cut in the rock on the top of the hill, covered in a plain brass plate with these words thereon: `Here lie (sic) the remains of Cecil John Rhodes’, and accordingly I direct my executors at the expense of my estate to take all steps and do all things necessary or proper to give effect to this my desire, and afterwards to keep my grave in order at the expense of the Matopos and Bulawayo Fund hereinafter mentioned.” This paragraph, as I once reported in New African, ensured that when Rhodes finally died, his body was carried from South Africa to Rhodesia (a country he never lived in and yet named after himself), and ultimately to the exact spot described in the Will, on top of the “View of the World” mountain, in an obscure corner of the Matopos National Park, in pristine surroundings. The top of the mountain is bald, and the colour is gold. Everywhere you look from where Rhodes lies, 46km from Bulawayo, you see undulating mountains packed in rows and shaped like acorns. Cecil Rhodes loved beauty, and he knew one when he saw it. He lies in golden surroundings, not bad for a man from Bishops Stortford (England) where no gold is mined. In 2008, Rhodes’ grave found an unlikely ally in President Robert Mugabe when some ordinary Zimbabweans mounted a campaign to dig up the grave and send the remains to Bishops Stortford. If Rhodes had gone, he sure would have done so with all the other white men buried on the mountain – Leander Starr Jameson, the first administrator of Rhodesia; Alan Wilson, leader of the Shangani patrol that was wiped out by the natives in the battle of Shangani; and Charles PJ Coghlan, the first premier of Southern Rhodesia. The huge monument on the mountain built for the “brave (white) men” who fell fighting the natives of Zimbabwe might also had come down. But the street view didn’t win, and it is unlikely to ever win as the government of Zimbabwe wants Rhodes to stay at the Matopos. “So that,” as one government official told me in 2008, “when his cousins arrive from England to pay their respects, they will pay the same national park fees as everybody else. It will help the economy.” And millions of Zimbabweans agree. “It is part and parcel of our history, it must stay here,” said a woman from Bulawayo who had come to see Rhodes’ grave with her husband and children on the day I visited the Matopos. “I have seen it, but it doesn’t give me the emotional pangs that I get at the Heroes Acre in Harare (where Zimbabwe now buries its heroes),” the woman added. But the argument from the street was equally potent. “It must go back to England”, said a man who engaged me in conversation in Harare. When I told him that Karl Marx’s grave was still in London despite British antipathy to his doctrines, the man said: “Ah, but it’s not the same. Karl Marx didn’t kill any British people.” The man then sat up in his chair: “You tell me,” he said, “if Hitler’s grave was in Israel, do you think the Jewish people would just say let it be, because some tourists would like to pay money and see it? “Cecil Rhodes was our Hitler and we are being told to accommodate him here. He never lived here anyway. It’s an insult to both our dead and living.” It was a good point and no one has since bettered it. But Rhodes’ ghost has President Mugabe to thank – for now. As long Mugabe stays in the State House, Rhodes will stay on top of the “View of the World”. But who knows what the next generations may do? They may not be as generous as President Mugabe. That notwithstanding, President Mugabe’s government still ordered the removal of Rhodes’ statue from the heart of Harare at the square that used to be called Cecil Square, now Africa Unity Square. As Mabasa Sasa, the new editor of The Southern Times, reported on March 2, 2009 the significance of Africa Unity Square really makes the matter of Rhodes statue striking. “Africa Unity Square,” Mabasa wrote, “sits at the heart of the essence of what was Rhodesia and the very change in its name suggests the attempts that were made to extirpate the vestiges of colonialism from our national system. “In 1890, Colonel Pennefather’s Pioneer Column reached the Kopje and viewed the land spreading before them as theirs despite the fact that the place was already inhabited. In fact, Col Pennefather is said to have declared upon his arrival: ‘All is well. Magnificent country. Natives pleased to see us. Everything satisfactory.’ “He then proceeded to hoist Britain’s Union Jack at the present site of Africa Unity Square and called the place Fort Salisbury after the Third Marques of Salisbury who was then the British prime minister. “Subsequently, a police camp and other official structures that were a humble foreshadow of the horror of a colonial administration were established. “US army captain Tom Ross, who had arrived too late to be part of the Pioneer Column was invited to help plan the settlement (which Pennefather had called Salisbury). “Being an American, he wanted a rectangular pattern after the structure of urban settlements in his native land, an arrangement that completely jarred the aesthetic sensibilities of an Africa that previously viewed beauty in circles and concentric patterns. “Ross also wanted to name the streets after numbers, again in the fashion of US cities. “However, he was prevailed upon by a British fellow named Dr Rand to ‘name some of our thoroughfares (avenues) after blazers of the African trail’. “Hence, we now have places like Fife Avenue (after the Duke of Fife) and the earliest suburb established was named Avondale (1903), after a place of a similar moniker in Ireland.” Salisbury was declared a municipality in 1897 and a full city in 1935. In the intervening years, the plots around Cecil Square went up in price. Thomas Meikle erected the Meikles Hotel on the south side of the square to serve the accommodation needs of colonial businessmen. On the west side of the square rose the building that became the home of the government’s propaganda arm, the Rhodesia Herald newspaper. “It is no coincidence that these buildings were placed around Cecil Square,” explained Mabasa. “The Square itself was deliberately designed so that the various footpaths that crisscross it form the shape of the British flag, the Union Jack. “The Church, (an Anglican Cathedral) which can never be divorced from the imperial conquest was erected next to the square, to the north of it. “The gun followed the Church in the rape of Africa and it was only fitting that the cathedral should be next to Cecil Square. “After the flag and the guns had played their part, the law was roped in to institutionally impose a racist regime and that is why the Parliament Building is also next to Cecil Square. “Then there were the barons who made their money from the bent and whipped backs of the natives Pennefather had gushed were so pleased to see the Pioneer Column on their land. “These were the Landaus and Meikles of this world. Today we have the latter’s towers standing proudly next to the Square, an undying testimony to the fact that Rhodesia never dies.” Mabasa went on: “Then there was the building that we now know as the Club Chambers, home of the Harare Club. This, like many of the other structures, started off as a series of huts and was improved on in the coming years. “Its relevance to the colonial set-up which is so aptly captured in the totality of Cecil Square can never be underestimated. “This was a place where the senior colonial administrators and top police officers met. Business people were frowned upon as a crude class and were not allowed to join the club. “After sometime the money men were permitted but usually after serving in some capacity for the colonial administration, often at local government level. Jews started getting into the closed circle after the 1950s when Harry Margolis was allowed in while selected blacks joined after the 1970s. “So these institutions – the Church, Parliament, business, media and the club – were all gathered around the Union Jack that was Cecil Square. “It was the pride of Rhodesia and today we have failed to stamp our national mark on it and make it the pride of Zimbabwe. “Perhaps it would be expecting too much to ask the authorities to dig up the whole square to facilitate a re-design that removes the Union Jack shape and replace it with something more Zimbabwean.” In fact, to be fair to the authorities, not even President Mugabe’s famous reconciliation policy after independence which saw many monumental sins of colonialism forgiven and whites accepted as bona fide citizens of the Republic, could save the name Cecil Square and Rhodes’ statue which stood in the very heart of the national capital. Cecil Square was thus changed to Africa Unity Square and Cecil Rhodes’ statue disappeared altogether. In its place, a new Africa unity monument was built to assuage the conscience and sensibilities of the new Zimbabwe and its long-suffering people, even though David Livingstone’s statue was allowed to stand, and still stands, in front of the Office of the President and Cabinet (a complex of offices housing the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Information). However, on the scale of badness, Livingstone, compared to Rhodes and Trotha, can be excused to have been a benign character. In fact Trotha takes the cake. He was the epitome of evil on human legs. Uproar all the time All over Southern Africa, any time the native people want to change some colonial name or remove an offending colonial statue, the descendants of the colonisers raise an uproar. It has happened in South Africa and many of SADC’s 15 countries. As Africans, it is distressing to see how the things and landmarks dear to us have either been debased or their names changed to suit the whims of European explorers and the foreigners who came to live among us. Landmarks like Victoria Falls, Lake Victoria, Lake Albert, you can go on and on. Even our own names, as human beings of African origin, had to change to European ones for us to feel human again. The major disappointment is that after we regained power over our destinies, we have not been able to change the names back to their African origins. We still have David Livingstone’s statue standing over the Victoria Falls – on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides. Livingstone claimed (with his eyes very open) that he discovered the great falls regardless of the fact that our ancestors who had lived there for aeons had known it as “Mosi-oa-Tunya” (meaning, The Smoke that Thunders); and Livingstone himself was carried to the falls by Africans. They did not qualify to discover it, but he, who sat on the shoulders of those who took him there, discovered it! What arrogance! I saw a similar thing in Windhoek the other day. Count von Francois’ statue stands not far from von Trotha’s, and his descendants claim on the statue that von Francois founded Windhoek in 1890. But 50 years before von Francois allegedly founded Windhoek, history shows that the Oorlam warlord Jonker Afrikaner had come from South Africa’s Western Cape Province to settle at Windhoek and had in fact named the place “Windhoek”. The Germans, history again shows, changed Windhoek to Windhuk in 1903, but the South Africans changed it back to Windhoek in 1919, four years after the Treaty of Khorab (signed on July 9, 1915) after the Germans had surrendered to the South Africans under General Louis Botha. But long before the colonialists ever thought of the name Windhoek or Windhuk, the native people of Namibia called the place “Ai-Gams” (the Nama people, referring to “Fire Water”) and “Otjimuise” (the Herero people, meaning the “Place of Smoke”, referring to the steam that rose from the hot springs in the area). But, our governments will give you chapter and verse on why they cannot change the names back into the African originals because tourism will die. It is quite sad that this is how the African has now been reduced to. We don’t even stop to ask if the tourists come because of the European names of our natural attractions or they just come because they want to see our natural attractions, regardless of their names. And who says that if Victoria Falls reverts to Mosi-oa-Tunya as the ancestors called it, tourists will suddenly decide that the Falls have moved to India, and so they won’t come? Von Trotha the end But to finish off, let me return to von Trotha’s statue. If the boot had been on the other foot, what would the descendants of the colonisers have done? Would they have allowed our statue to stand to this day? What do their mother countries even do to such statues and to similar situations? Way back in 1966, when the CIA used its minions in the Ghana Armed Forces and Police Service to overthrow President Kwame Nkrumah’s government, the British headmaster of one of Ghana’s elite secondary schools in Accra led the wholesale burning of Nkrumah’s books. He put them in massive bonfires, put petrol on them, and set them ablaze. Nkrumah was such a hate-figure that even a headmaster who normally would have cherished and protected books, led the burning of them. And he was British! Apparently, the foreign powers behind the new military government in Accra wanted to kill Nkrumah’s ideas so, they reasoned, it would not contaminate future generations of Ghanaians. When the Americans and their British cousins conquered Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003, one of their first acts was to pull down Saddam’s statues, the famous one in Firdaus Square in Baghdad which had its head draped in the American flag before it was pulled down by American troops in the presence of hundreds of international journalists. “But who prays for Satan?” Mark Twain once asked in his inimitable style. “Who, in 18 centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most? “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” Von Trotha’s statue in Windhoek has lived on borrowed time for far too long. It is time the SWAPO government removed the monstrosity and the insult it hurls at the ancestors. And I know exactly where we can put it: grind it up and use it to fill some of the unusual potholes that have marred the beauty of central Windhoek.

April 2011
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