Colonialism is an inescapable term on the African continent. On the positive side, so are independence celebrations. As most African nations honour days that marked the end of pain and division inflicted on them by their past colonial rulers, conventional wisdom is that all of the countries that colonised African countries are European and other non-African countries.
And then there is Namibia, a country colonised by another African country. While history has it clear that Namibia was colonised by another African country, this fact is not well known by many. Especially fellow Africans.
A country of less than 3 million people but with a geographical size of one with a much greater population, it is commonly known that Namibia was a German colony from 1884 to 1919.
However, from 1920, Namibia was colonised by apartheid South Africa. And this colonisation went on for seven decades, with the country only gaining independence from the fellow African country in 1990. Consequently, 21st of March of that year was marked as Independence Day in Namibia.
Like has been done over the years, this year will see Namibians flock to a chosen location to celebrate the country’s 33rd independence anniversary. In 2023, it will be a town called Outapi. Namibian President Hage Geingob and other dignitaries will welcome fellow African heads-of-state to attend.
Outapi is in the northern part of the country where most of the country’s decorated liberators hail from. Many of Namibia’s liberation struggle heroes, some of whom were jailed in the infamous Robben Island prison alongside Nelson Mandela, hail from the north of Namibia.
Despite this, it has become part of Namibian independence tradition to celebrate their independence anniversaries in different towns every year. For example, last year, the celebrations took place in Swakopmund, a city in the West of Namibia.
Toini Hamunyela, now a pensioner, recalls how the South African Defence Force killed her husband when she was just 26 years old, pregnant and with three children. The former school teacher never remarried and raised all her children alone. She told Pin Africa that Independence Day celebrations always bring back painful memories of the brutality that South Africa has committed to her family and to many other Namibian families.
Every year during the country’s independence celebrations, stories of pain, murder, torture, economic exclusion and other atrocities committed by the South African Defence Force members and their Namibian allies of the time make the way to the front of the countries consciousness.
Apart from Independence Day, Namibia marks other important days that remember the pain that its neighbour inflicted on its people. Those days include Cassinga Day , which is a national public holiday in Namibia remembering the Cassinga massacre.
Commemorated annually on 4 May, the date remembers those (approximately 600) Namibians (mainly women and children) killed in 1978 when the South African Defence Force attacked a camp full of Namibian refugees in Cassinga, Southern Angola. The victims had already fled Namibia from South African invasion and brutality.
Other painful dates marked in Namibia include the Oshakati bomb blast, an event that saw a bomb placed in a Barclays Bank on a busy payday in 1988. 27 people died and 70 others were injured.
Post-independence, Namibia and South Africa seem to have had no bad blood between them and have both progressed to realise their personal dreams of independence that both nations longed for. Though both countries are neighbours, subsequent years have seen South Africa develop into an African powerhouse which has influenced events on the international stage, while Namibia has elected to focus on internal affairs mostly.
Still, the economies and political atmosphere of both countries appears to have remained similar. To date, the Namibian dollar remains pegged to the South African Rand. And both currencies are in circulation in Namibia. This makes many of Namibia’s economic trends (including inflation) follow those occurring in South Africa.
The shared history of both countries have caused them to become greatly reliant on each other in many regards. The countries now enjoy open borders and it is not uncommon to hear of people of both countries travelling across borders for work and then returning home. The historical reality of the colonial relationship shared by both countries is thankfully evolving largely into a positive aspect of both cultures.