Statues And Town Names To Go

24 Apr 2015 10:50am
By Patience Smith

KEETMANSHOOP, 24 APR (NAMPA) – Africa is ablaze with the removal of colonial or historic statues and name changes to towns, cities and other geographical locations.
Neighbouring South Africa has been renaming dozens of colonially-themed towns since 1994, while students recently demanded the removal of statues dating back from apartheid – succeeding in the Cecil Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town being taken down.
Elsewhere in Africa’s north and west, rebels have smashed and defaced statues, religious temples and tombs.
It seems a simmering resentment is boiling over with yet-unresolved emotions to past atrocities, loss of identity and current economic and social pressures.
Elevated demands for greater change in independent Africa are taking hold, and the changes to names of streets, schools, airports, bridges and hospitals produced through the political turntables no longer suffice.
Last year, a famous statue signifying the German-won war in Namibia in the early 20th century, the Reiterdenkmal was removed and relegated to less prominence in Windhoek, and recently Swanu of Namibia president Usutuaije Maamberua called on Parliament to remove all colonial statues from public spaces.
In 2013, former president Hifikepunye Pohamba made the shock announcement that the names of a town and a region would change. For southern coastal town Lüderitz(bucht), the name suggested was !Nami#nûs, while the Caprivi Region would be known as Zambezi. History books explain that Lüderitz was treacherously acquired by a German merchant who bought it from Nama captain Josef Frederiks of Bethanie, while the Caprivi Strip was obtained by a German chancellor through an exchange with the United Kingdom. Both areas are named after the Germans.
Making the announcement at the time, Pohamba was at pain to note that Namibians still had to be subjected to live in their own land in areas bearing the names of the colonialists.
Inhabitants of both Caprivi and Lüderitz objected to the proposed changes, with the most verbal indignities around the fact that very little to no public consultations took place before the decision was made. The lack of participation of the citizenry is widely cited as one of the biggest failures of the Namibian Government.
In the end, Caprivi got its new name (Zambezi Region) while only the political constituency of Lüderitz was renamed – this apparently due to constitutional restrictions.
This year however, the ‘Buchters’ were again confronted with the possibility of the town changing names, and this time it appears as if there is no stopping the wheels already in motion.
As Lüderitz native and human rights lawyer Clement Daniels explained to the objecting community, constitutional laws can be changed if it is the desire of the political majority.
At a public event recently, Lüderitz mayor Suzan Ndjaleka also started referring to the town as Lüderitz/!Nami#nûs.
At a subsequent official event last week, Keetmanshoop deputy mayor Gabriel Freyer suggested that this southern capital may also follow in the way of !Nami#nûs – by changing its name to its original, #Nû-#Goaes. It means ‘black mud’ (‘Swart modder’ in Afrikaans), and is also the name of the upcoming arts and culture festival at the end of the month in Keetmanshoop.
The issue seems to divide the once seemingly solid community. A mature visitor to the Crayfish Festival recently told Nampa the ‘Buchters’ have always been a beautiful example to the rest of Namibia.
“They all speak the same language and seem to understand one another irrespective of their cultural backgrounds, but now this issue is dividing them,” she said.
Harriet Isaacks, who has lived in Lüderitz for over two decades, echoed this. Originally from Gibeon, she said: “This is moving us apart. It makes others unhappy about Namas in Lüderitz.”
She did however say it is time for change.
“Lots of things in the country have changed including our currency; why not this?” she asked.
Gaya Victor from Rehoboth has lived in Lüderitz for eight years. Married to a ‘Buchter’, she said she was saddened about the developments and was witness to the bitter discontent it brought to her husband and his relatives.
“Those born here are so unhappy. Perhaps if there was more discussion with people to understand the past, people would have felt differently. Everyone only knows the history of Adolf Lüderitz and not of the people of Bethanie who were here before. The ones who want the new name are the ones not born in Lüderitz,” she said.
Jacky de Klerk said she could not pronounce the new name, and that she wanted her children to know the name she knows. She accused the town council of operating in exclusion of the locals and said the authority had no respect for the views of the people who elected them to power.
Grade 11 learner Rachel Uusiku, 17, was sober in her observation.
“I feel bad for the original owners of the land because I understand the background. But I feel that in geographical terms the name change will be too expensive, while we need money for proper things like sanitation,” she said.
Uusiku added that tourism will also be affected.
“Germans are also emotionally touched by this as they are made to feel like they are not welcome here,” she stated.
She described the process of the name change and the prospect of living in !Nami#nûs as such:
“It is almost like taking a child from her birth mother to go and stay with someone who is not her mother,” she said.
Perhaps all could be well henceforth, provided wider consultations and considerations are made. As !Nami#nûs constituency councillor Jan Scholtz said:
“Change is good. It may not be welcomed immediately, but over time, there will be acceptance. History has taught us that.”