Nationalise all battlefields

Courage is one of the most essential virtues of a hero but how do you define courage and more importantly, who do you consider a hero?

These days, not every hero can be identified by their trusted white steed and their shining suit of armour. The modern face of courage has many different forms and can sometimes be the face of someone you least expect.

As we mark Heroes Day this August, our edition this month seeks to recognise unsung extraordinary heroes in our community who have overcome personal adversity and are inspiring others in the process.

We also give special mention to other unsung heroes of our liberation struggle; heroes/heroines whose stories may never be told and whose legacies are only known to them or their closest family members.

This brings up the question as to what are we doing as a country to honour those that died in the name of this country, besides marking Heroes Day on August 26?

Out there lies great battlefields in Namibia; out there lies places of national historical memory that have not been accorded the sacredness they deserve.

I have read stories of former South African Defence Forces members, who fly in groups from South Africa to tour the northern part of this country, and go down memory lane by viewing old battlefields.

Too many people know or would like to know the Cassinga, Ongulumbashe and Cuito Cuanavale battles.

But they are not the only historical places we have. The article of Outapi CEO Onesmos Namakulu on our special heroes supplement challenged me to write and call for more and better ways to preserve our historical sites, as national shrines not Swapo Party shrines. Even where one soldier died.

That the only historical site at Outapi is a baobab tree which the colonial forces used as a church is a mockery to our history, when we have unpreserved Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, when we have dozens of sons of the soil who perished in that town.

I do not subscribe to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier theory, in a country of less than two million people, where only a fraction was the one at war.

If the whole country had taken up arms, then at least one would say, yes we have tombs of some unknown heroes.

Unbeknown to us, battlefields can be a tourist hotspot where not only living heroes can re-live the history of some of the encounters, but also for the future generation to have a full picture of where we are coming from.

With this industrialisation, it would soon be forgettable to try to narrate some battlefields. To leave battlefields unpreserved, is selling our real history.

Historical sites such as battlefields should not be celebrated neither should they be blotted from national memory. It was each battle that was fought, even with only one bullet that changed the course of this country. Any battle was as important.

We will not learn by reading books about campaign and battles without visiting them. This is more than just a matter of being able to visualise how geography and topography shaped a battle—the pattern of fields and woods, hills and valleys, roads and rock outcroppings and rivers and streams.

The few shrines we have especially in the North have a tombstone and a fence to note that someone or some people died there, but they do not tell the story of how it happened. There is no feeling or connection to the war.

Being present on any battlefield, one should experience an emotional emptiness with the men and women who fought there. With a little imagination one should hear the cries, imagine the horror, experience the terror and share the anguish of the families of all those unknown soldiers buried in mass graves across the country.

Every visitor to any battlefield should experience such feelings. Proper educational and interpretive programs should also aid to visualise these dramatic scenes and to comprehend their meanings. Only then, we can safely honour Heroes Day.

Having spoken and interviewed a number of war heroes, most of them unsung, I have grown tired of those who glorify or romanticise the war. Quite the contrary; it is a matter of comprehending its grim reality. Someone should accept that battlefields are monuments to the gritty courage of men and women who fought and died there.

We do have the chance, the obligation to save and preserve what remains of our past so that us, the future generations can understand how we became what we are. PF