From Villain to Hero in Death

NOT SO long ago, the ovaHerero Paramount Chief, Kuaima Riruako, was Swapo’s and our post-independence government’s sworn enemy.

Understandably, Swapo disliked Riruako because the chief was on the side of the apartheid National Party in opposing Namibia’s independence, democracy and equality of all before the law. As part of DTA, Riruako was a pivotal force in the anti-Swapo campaigns that also involved state-sponsored violence.

During colonialism, the DTA encouraged people to join the apartheid South African army and its extensions such as Koevoet and the South West Africa Territory Force (SWATF).

Unlike individuals who were in the colonial and ethnic administrations but joined Swapo after Namibia gained independence in 1990 (some of whom are now prominent ruling party leaders), Riruako never denounced his old allegiances to join or support Swapo. If anything, the ovaHerero chief remained the ruling party’s aersary even after he left DTA to revive Nudo as a self-standing political party.

In fact, Swapo as a ruling party, continued waging a sort of a Cold War on him, using the state machinery to punish Riruako by refusing to accept him and many of his sub-chiefs as a traditional leaders.

So, it comes as a surprise that the Swapo-led government has reportedly accorded Riruako a hero’s status, offering him a State funeral and even burial at the Heroes Acre. Both those gestures were believed to have been reserved for people who took part in the national liberation struggle against colonial forces or, more specifically, on the side of Swapo.

If all this was not taking place amid sabre-rattling from government leaders, including President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who within the past few weeks challenged the former Koevoet and SWATF members to another bush war with Swapo, we would have been forgiven suffering from a collective sense of amnesia in mourning the death of a Namibian leader.

Clarity is required. How does the Swapo-led government justify the total vilification of former apartheid foot soldiers (for example Koevoet and SWATF members), but glorify their leaders? What and who is a national hero? Who qualifies for a State funeral? Does it merely depend on the whims of the people at Auasblick, the offices of the former apartheid administrator general and the occupants of the building to the north of Katutura State Hospital housing the organisation that goes by the slogan ‘mannetjie’?

The gesture towards Riruako and his people may very well be a noble one in fostering nation-building. But that can only be the case if the criteria are clear and applicable to any Namibian who meets them.

In the absence of an explanation, speculation and suspicion will reign supreme. After all, it is an election year and ruling parties are shameless at putting the State machinery into overdrive to rake in votes.

The government must explain.

Source : The Namibian