The Long Aftermath of War – Reconciliation and Transition in Namibia Reviewed

By By Francis Mukuzunga
May 2010
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Efforts to recount Namibia’s history cannot be completed fully without looking at the current status qou, upon which the country sees itself today. Namibia is regarded as a peaceful, independent and economically stable country with a harmonious population – after fighting bitter wars against its colonisers.

Then known as German South West Africa between 1884 and 1915, and then later just South West Africa when it was taken over by South Africa as part of the British Empire, Namibia attained independence in 1990. But that was not before citizens endured some of the bitterest wars in the history of mankind.

First it was the genocidal war against the Germans (1903-1908), and then later, against the apartheid regime of South Africa before independence.

From the onset, the government has stretched out its long hand of reconciliation to its former colonisers – thereby bringing about a peaceful co-existence amongst all Namibians, irrespective of their colour, race or creed. Twenty years down the line, questions of inequality in terms of wealth and race, education, and the availability of resources still surface. Questions on land and control of the economy resurface each time issues of reconciliation and transition are discussed.
A critical analysis of these issues, as a first attempt to provoke debate is contained in a scholarly book ‘The Long Aftermath of War – Reconciliation and Transition in Namibia’. It is a collection of various pieces by several authors, among them some distinguished researchers and lecturers at tertiary institutions and edited by Andre du Pisani, Reinhart Kossler and William (Bill) Lindeke.

According to du Pisani the book signals ‘work- in-progress’ as many of the contributors are working on their individual doctoral and research projects. The book is basically divided into three sections, which are Section 1: Reconciliation: Discourses and Constraints, Section 2: Communal Resilience and Section 3: The Presence of the Past. Apart from looking at these issues holistically from a Namibian point of view, the authors further delve into the experiences of other countries within SADC and other parts of Africa as a comparative yardstick against Namibia’s progress on these issues.

Other contributors to this volume are Herbert Weiland, Gerhard Totemeyer, Volker Winterfeldt, Phanuel Kaapama, Napandulwe Shiweda, Johann Mueller, Pamela Claassen, Memory Biwa and Justine Hunter. Funds for the production of the book were made available by the Volkswagen Foundation in the context of their research and capacity building programme, ‘Knowledge for Tomorrow’ of the project ‘Reconciliation and Social Conflict in the Aftermath of Large-Scale Violence in Southern Africa: the cases of Angola and Namibia’.

The book offers an opportunity for further study by students at institutions of higher learning, thereby contributing to Namibia’s historical literature -and closing the yawning gap that exists on scholarly books written by Namibians themselves. While acknowledging that this volume is not by itself an exhaustive explanation into the whys and wherefores of the current state that Namibian finds itself in, the book’s editors agree that it could be the beginning of a series of debates on the issue of whether reconciliation does exist in Namibia.

Questions raised from the floor at the launch of the book early May also dwelt on issues of reconciliation in Namibia, where up to now the land question has not been resolved, educational standards are at variance between different classes of society and where certain ethnic groups are still calling for reparations (e.g. Herero/Nama genocide of 1904 at the hand of the German settlers). When government announced soon after independence that Namibia did not need a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ as set up in South Africa, did this mean that the scars left behind by the previous regimes should be ignored? Some critics queried.

Although the book is written from an intellectual discourse, it does not discourage the general reader from reading and further making a contribution to the issue of reconciliation in Namibia. Politicians and other decision makers are particularly encouraged not just to read it, but make further contributions on how this complex issue could be addressed in Namibia.