’Holy Fire’ dispute put to rest

WINDHOEK: A legal dispute between two rival OvaHerero factions over the location of the ‘holy fire’ at the annual Okahandja Red Flag Day commemoration activities is finally over.

This legal wrangle came to an end when the two rival factions – the Maharero Royal House Traditional Authority and the Red Flag Regiment – reached an out-of-court-settlement here on Tuesday morning.

As per the settlement, the much-respected OvaHerero ‘holy fire’ at the Commando structure at Okahandja will now be restored to its original position on the eastern side of the building, situated on Erf 1756 at Okahandja.

The ‘holy fire’ was removed from that position by the Red Flag Regiment and its supporters – who are the respondents in this case – during August 2011.

“The applicant (Maharero Royal House Traditional Authority) shall ignite the holy fire by Friday morning of the weekend that the OvaHerero Red Flag Day commemorations are to take place, and shall maintain this fire up to the dawn on the Sunday morning of the commemoration activities.

The fire shall be ignited by the applicant in accordance with the traditions and practices which will enable its use for the purposes of notifying the ancestors of the upcoming events; and perform such other rituals as may be required, and introducing participants in the commemorations to the ancestors,” read the settlement.

Nobody other than the applicant or persons authorised by the applicant shall remove or relocate the said fire.

It was further agreed that the Red Flag Regiment, through its Commando One based at Okahandja, shall be responsible for the arrangements of the annual Red Flag Day commemoration activities there during August each year, and shall do so in consultation with all the interested parties, including (but not limited to) the Maharero Royal House Traditional Authority in terms of the practises and traditions prevailing up to August 2011.

This out-of-court-settlement was made an order by High Court judge Shafimana Ueitele in the Windhoek High Court on Tuesday morning at 11h30.

The agreement was signed and sealed by the various representatives of the two rival factions in the presence of their respective lawyers this morning.

The annual Red Flag Day commemoration activities are held at Okahandja, some 68 kilometres north of Windhoek, when thousands of OvaHerero gather at the Commando in that town to pay homage to their fallen heroes and heroines.

The Maharero Royal House Traditional Authority earlier wanted the court to declare it as the only entity with the right to establish and maintain a ‘holy fire’ at the Red Flag Commando site in Okahandja.

The respondents in the matter are the Red Flag Regiment (first respondent), Ismael Kamuhapita (second respondent), Abisai Mungendje (third respondent) and the OvaHerero Red Flag Association (fourth respondent), which were led by late OvaHerero Paramount Chief Kauima Riruako at the time of the relocation of the holy fire from its original position during August 2011.

Riruako died on 02 June this year, and will be laid to rest at Okahandja this Sunday.

In 2012, the friction over the holy fire resulted in the traditional Red Flag Day event, which attracts visitors and tourists to Okahandja on 26 August every year, being postponed for the first time in 89 years.

The main disagreement between the two groups was the location of the holy fire, and this resulted in the holding of separate ceremonies in 2012.

The faction led by the late Riruako allegedly moved the holy fire to face the sunset in the west, while the Maharero Royal House Traditional Authority supported by members of the technical committee of the OvaHerero/Mbanderu Council on the Genocide (OCD-1904) insisted that it should face east.

In 2012, police intervention was sought to maintain law and order at a separate commemoration held by the faction led by the late Riruako.

This was after Riruako had obtained a High Court interdict allowing them to go ahead with the commemoration.

The police had banned the event for fear of violent confrontation between the rival groups.

Advocate Theo Frank SC (senior counsel) represented the Maharero Royal House Traditional Authority and its supporters.

Thomas Weilligh appeared for the Red Flag Day Regiment and supporters.

According to the settlement, each party shall pay its own legal costs.