ON 19 March 2014, I wrote a letter to the City of Windhoek’s Chief Executive, Niilo Taapopi, on the existence of Bismarck street – named after one of the authors of African colonialism. I was then a spokesperson of the SWAPO Youth League. That Bismarck had and continues to have, a street named after him 24 years after independence, demonstrated clearly that the former liberation movement remains unconscious of decolonial discourses. Those who disagree must quickly produce any document of the ruling party over the past 10 years, articulating or even mentioning in passing any decolonial principles, values and strategies. Sam Nujoma had somewhat a grasp of the impacts of coloniality of being. On day one of Namibia’s independence he boldly declared; “our nation blazed the trail to freedom. It has risen to its feet. As from today, we are the masters of this vast land of our ancestors. The destiny of this country is now fully in our hands. We should, therefore, look forward to the future with confidence and hope. Taking the destiny of this country in our hands means, among other things, making a great effort to forge national identity”. Otto von Bismarck remained powerful, even in his death, such that Nujoma’s words remained at Independence stadium. His ghost and spirit ensured that no one in Namibia disturbs his street until 19 March 2014, 24 years after independence.
Given that many Namibians understanding is shaped by viva viva politics, it wouldn’t be surprising that decoloniality and even Otto von Bismarck is unknown by many. Even a greater number of those occupying highest chairs in society – Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament – are not familiar with decolonial principles, values and strategies. A simple request for evidence and a challenge to debate is sufficient to those who argue otherwise. It is, therefore, important, for posterity, to recount the motivation, orientation and submission made to Chief Executive Taapopi on why Bismarck deserved no street in our country. Otto von Bismarck was a German thief who dominated German and European affairs for years. He was German Chancellor between 1871 and 1890 and organized the Berlin Conference of 1884/85 – the conference that divided and distributed parts of Africa amongst European states. To this meeting of sharing and diving Africa, he invited Austria, Hungary, Belgium, Portugal, Denmark, France, Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Norway and the United States. They contained their outcome into what is known as the General Act of the Berlin Conference. Historians regard this as a formalization of the Scramble for Africa. At this meeting the then South West Africa, presently Namibia, was given to Germany. The results of the Berlin Conference devastated Africans in general and Namibians in particular. It meant more than 100 years of brutality, oppression, subjugation, and loss of life, loss of culture, loss of dignity and primarily and fundamentally the loss of land. It is, therefore, scandalous to see this man honored with the street in an independent Namibia wherein we were instructed, on day one, to take ‘the destiny of our country in our own hands’ and make a ‘great effort in forging a national identity’.
I then argued for the renaming of this street from Bismarck to Simeon Kambo Shixungileni, a freedom fighter who was abandoned by the ruling party and lived in abject poverty. Shixungileni was amongst the fearless upright sons of the land who travelled by foot from places as far as Tanzania to come intensify the struggle against colonialism. They launched the Armed Liberation Struggle when they engaged the enemy at the Battle of Omugulugombashe on 26 August 1966. This day is celebrated today as Heroes day. He was the Second-in-Command during that battle; second to the late Commander John ya Otto Nankudhu.
Before the March 19 letter, I sent Martha Kauna Hailwa, a then youth leader in Oshikoto, to go deliver a letter to commander Shixungileni in which I requested his permission to make a submission to the City of Windhoek. The report was saddening, not only because of the abject poverty wherein he was living, but also the question he asked them; “do you think they will listen to you”? Kauna told him we will try our best. While we were hopeful, Shixungileni surely understands the modus operandi of his comrades. It is for this reason that Shixungileni died in October 2014, without receiving his well-deserved recognition.
The abject poverty under which Shixungileni lived under was a public secret. Former President Hifikepunye pohamba was scandalously forced to send an official from State House to look at his condition. Commander Shixungileni had surrendered to his poverty such that at one point he refused to attend Heroes Day where, to him, he was displayed and later forgotten after the cameras are gone. Listen to the Editor-in-Chief of Confidente, Max Hamata, describing the suffering last days of Shixungileni; “It was saddening to witness how the ailing second-in-command of Swapo’s first armed invasion by colonial South African Defence Force (SADF) – and Ongulumbashe hero – Simeon Shixungileni was stranded at the Windhoek Central State Hospital because of a lack of a bed on the 8th floor where hordes of patients were forced to sleep on the floor. After the intervention by Andimba Toivo yaToivo and Helao Shituwete, his fellow liberation war veterans, Shixungileni was only then rescued to the third floor where he is being treated as a private patient”. More saddening were the remarks of Shixungileni’s son, Usko Shixungileni, as then reported in Informante. Listen to him; “yes my father was poor and hungry but not that hunger that one feels in their stomach but the hunger that he could not support his family because of his age and ailing health…All he wanted was to purchase a vehicle to transport him to hospital, but I never got feedback from the lady in-charge of the office [Veteran Affairs ministry]”.
Although it is four years later, it is wonderful to see the City of Windhoek taking practical steps to implement the submission. To decolonial thinkers and forces, the fall of Otto von Bismarck and the rise of Commander Shixungileni is an important decolonial victory. The colonial project, as Ngugi wa Thiong’o finds, did not only dismember the Africans from the continent through slavery and from the human family; it dismembered Africans from their confidence and knowledge of self. Had the African mind been a computer, its hardware was kept the same but the software was formatted/removed and replaced with European software and memory. May the struggle for a decolonized Namibia continue. To commander Shixungileni we say we did it, they finally listened.
Job Shipululo Amupanda is a decolonial scholar and Activist from Omaalala village in northern Namibia.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015