Battle of Okandjira Must Inspire Reparation Movement

THIS Wednesday one could not help but flash one’s mind back ten years ago to the very same date, April 9, 2004. Also one is very much mindful that on Sunday, our brothers and sisters in Rwanda, as indeed the whole world, were commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda in a week in which one of the former colonial powers displayed typical colonial arrogance, akin to the same arrogance and intransigence that Germany has been showing with regard to the Genocide in Namibia.

The similarities between the Namibian and Rwandese genocides are striking as much as they were similarly tragic. The 4-factor, 1904 for Namibia and then 1994 for Rwanda. In both thousands succumbed.

Ten years ago the Ovaherero Genocide Committee (OGC), today’s Ovaherero-Ovambanderu Genocide Foundation (OGF) that was launched a year earlier, in 2003, was gaining momentum in essence if not reaching the climax with the centenary commemoration of the 1904 Genocide. As much on Wednesday it was the 110th anniversary of the Battle of Okandjira, ten years after the centenary commemoration of the Genocide.

Since the Genocide and Reparation Movement has become a household name, and issues surrounding it now well known locally, regionally, continentally and internationally, it cannot be said that we are any closer to realising the main objective of the movement, which is reparation. That is why such commemorative days such as the Battle of Okandjira are increasingly becoming, and should become catalyst and rallying point for the further buttressing of the Genocide and Reparation Movement.

The Battle of Okandjira, which took place April 9, 1904, has come to become and go down in history as one of the heroic battles of the Namibian people in their resistance against Imperial Germany. And like many other similar battles, which pitted Namibian indigenous warriors against what was thought to be unconquerable and formidable imperial forces, especially with their modern heavy armouries and artillery, the only thing in Namibia today attesting to this heroism. Save for the latest acquisition of the Independence Memorial Museum, which also accommodates a Genocide Department, it is attested only by mass grave monuments of Imperial Germany’s servicemen. Thus seemingly only testifying to the heroism of the German servicemen. But rarely so with respect to the heroism of the indigenes. This is not to say that they did not suffer any heroic casualties. Indeed they did but theirs remain scattered and unmarked. That is why on this auspicious occasion of the 110th commemoration of this battle, the day should not have gone unnoticed, and should not in future go unnoticed, even if it be only as a flipping reminder that they did not fall in vain, nor were their sacrifices and endurance in vain. As much the return of their skulls and remains cannot and should not be in vain. Because true to our National Anthem, “Their Blood Waters Our Freedom.”

On April 9, 1904, at about six o’clock in the morning, the Main Division of the German troops landed at Okandjira with Chief Lieutenant (Oberleutnant) Heydebreck in command of the 1st Field Company and 2nd Field company, among others. They approached the signal hill, south-east of Otjosazu naming a flat stone, Leutweinshohe, after the Chief Commander and Governor of the German troops in then South West Africa, Theodor Leutwein. They found the hill suitable for the construction of a signal post for communication with Okahandja. After the completion of the signal post, Staff Sergeant Peter of the 2nd Field Company sent forces to Leutwein in Okahandja with the news of another group of about 3000 Ovaherero warriors approaching from the north, probably from the Battle of Okaharui towards Okatumba probably readying to join the group at Okandjira. Leutwein started to doubt whether the 2nd Field Company would be able to rescue the Main Division deployed at the riverbed of Otjosazu and enter from waterholes at Okandjira when needs be. The Germans wanted to cross the river to the high mountain range in the northeast-south-western direction that ended in high hills which gave a good view from both directions next to Okandjira Mountain, which provided the Ovaherero with good trenches to ambush the German troops. The Germans, however, detected the Ovaherero and bombed the hill then known as Green Hill. Leutwein commanded the artillery to approach with Lieutenant Grunwald and his platoon soldiers of the 1st Field Compnay. The Ovaherero suffered initial major losses in this contact and retreated to their last point at Okandjira. There they resolved to die fighting and did not cross the Okandjira River. The right wing of the German Main Division patrolled the main road with ten men under Lieuteannt Reiss in command. The Ovaherero built a six-metre high barricade from tree branches positioning women behind it to encourage their warriors with battle ululations and songs. A holy cow known as Ongombe Otjiwenene was tied to the barricade to instill the warriors with courage to fight back, with the women playing a big part in the battle by loading guns. The Ovaherero suffered when Kauari, Komorumbo Kazongari of Katjamuaha, Kariaaka and many others fell. Katjaimo was wounded and died at Okatjingara on the way to Oviuombo. Other 80 Ovaherero bodies were found the next day. Two war prisoners were captured. On April 11, 1904, the German troops retreated to Otjosazu for a breather and to prepare for the Battle of Oviuombo on April 13, 1904, which is this Sunday. Likewise for the Ovaherero, the Battle of Okandjira forced their first major retreat northwards towards Waterberg, where the mother of all battles was to eventually ensue, on August 11, 1904, three months after the Battle of Okandjira.

Namibians have, only last month, just welcomed home 35 skulls and two human remains from the Federal Republic of Germany. The Battle of Okandjira like many other battles fought by valiant forefathers and mothers countrywide against Imperial Germany’s forces, is thus undeniable as much as it is undeletable. Hence, the return of the skulls and remains cannot be seen in any other context than in the context of these valiant battles in which our forefathers and mothers engaged against Imperial Germany. One needs not emphasise mothers because even in the very Battle of Okandjira the role of our mothers is well documented and undisputable. Likewise the issue of Genocide and Reparation cannot be delinked from these battles. Namibian traditional leaders whose forefathers and mothers were not only at the forefront of these battles but paid the highest price, with their lives, loss of property like land and cattle, have been bequeathed with but one treasure, an independent and free Namibia. However, this treasure would be meaningless until the history of such battles like Okandjira are fully comprehended, much so in their proper context and perspective. This onus is now on those who have been bequeathed this treasure, among them the direct descendants of the victims of German Genocide in Namibia, foremost the traditional leaders that Germany is today trying to deny and denigrate, to stand up and own their own history. And in this endeavour, determine to stop and be disrupted by no power, however colonially and neo-colonially minded, or even Nazism if you like, for them to re-write their own history(ies), sing their song (s) and reclaim their heritage(s).

Source : New Era