Battle of Ohamakari remembered ...dress rehearsal for Okahandja

By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro
October 2012
Before dawn, a singular marksman is already cutting a lone figure on his position.

This is something Christof Mbirimujo has become accustomed to over the last couple of years. And his task has been a simple one; to hoist the Namibian national flag, the flag of the Federal Republic of Germany and the three red, green and white traditional flags daily.

Germany’s black, red, and yellow/gold colours of its flag are not coincidently hoisted but have historical resonance, for it is the epitome of its avowed “historic responsibility” towards Namibia (if not the affected Namibian communities, let alone the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu; descendants of the victims of Imperial Germany’s colonial excesses in the then German South West Africa, as Namibia was then known).

But the hoisting of the flags today has a more symbolic meaning if not an emotive one. It is August the 11th; 108 years ago on this day, German Imperial Forces unleashed their final push against the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu at what came to be known historically as the ‘Battle of Ohamakari’.

The battle saw the indigenous retreating into the Kalahari Desert where many succumbed to starvation, with only a few making it across the border into the then British Protectorate of Bechuanaland; modern day Republic of Botswana.

The flag hoister is thus preparing to receive, especially the adherents of the three flags of red, green and white to the Okakarara Community Cultural and Tourism Centre (OCCTC) on this historic day, marking a historic epoch in Namibia’s colonial resistance-liberation history.

The Centre is only a stone-throw away from the actual battlefield of Ohamakari; now known as the ‘Hamakari Hunting and Guest Farm’. Germany’s flag, waving peacefully but sublimely neo-colonially, if not superficially alongside Namibia’s, has another contextual post-colonial meaning. The very centre was built with Deutsche Mark. It is not certain but such may have opened the floodgates for the Special Initiative, presumably a development collaboration between the two authorities; Namibian and German, through which Germany has been filtering some Deutsche Mark towards the descendants of victims of communities that were affected by its colonial escapades.

Like the flag hoister, the youth brigade regiment from the first Commando in the Red Flag hierarchy, Okahandja, is early in position, assuming the role of host regiment in welcoming and saluting, with a splendid drilling parade, other regiments and red, green and white. Generals and other high-ranking officials and dignitaries are also welcomed as they trickle into the Centre. This is because none of the host regiments from Okakarara are visible as yet.

It is by no means out of place that this regiment has to temporarily assume the role of a host regiment because earlier, about seven months before on January 12th, the same year, 1904, Okahandja was the place where the then Commander of the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu forces against the conquering Imperial Germany’s forces, Samuel Maharero, declared war against German forces. Hence, Okahandja is merely fulfilling its historic calling.

Incidentally on this day, this regiment comes only one place short of coveting the best drilling regiment in the young brigade’s category, peeped to first place by a regiment of the Ovaherero Cultural Youth League (OCYL) from Windhoek. What else could one expect from a troop hailing from the all-important Commando No. 1 and under the able commander, Brigadier Tjirambi Ngahahe?

As the sun starts to reflect its rays on the flags, the Centre slowly comes to life and is soon a hive of activities of people attired in red, green and white traditional garb for women while the men are in an assortment of traditional paramilitary uniforms with all sorts of military regalia; and of course with the all-important touch of either red, green and white bands around the military hats, and on the shoulders of the uniforms, to represent the three flags.

By this time, the regiments have grown close to 20. The air is now pregnant with a cultural paramilitary extravaganza as the different troops ready for the main parade ceremony for the official hoisting of the flags by designated generals of the traditional flags. This far, the flags have been waving at half mast. Only a real modern day military parade surpasses this parade in terms of earnest and style.

This official flag hoisting ceremony sets the stage for the second phase of the commemoration; speeches. Speaker after speaker follow and the message is but a chorus of the previous one.

Indeed it would be long before the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu forget their sufferings at the hand of German colonists, especially their loss of land and cattle. Hence the call for the return of the land by any means necessary, even by invading commercial farms.

This statement has come to be solely attributed in the media to the Okakarara Constituency Councillor, Vetaruhe Kandorozu, while it was actually the chorus at the commemoration of the Battle of Ohamakari.

Besides its emotive overtures, understandably so, given the sad colonial history of the Ovaherero and Ovambanderu, which led to the Extermination Order against them by German Commander, Lothar von Trotha and their actual near annihilation with their populace reduced by 80%, the day proves true to similar commemorations of these cultural groups. Indeed, a cultural extravaganza in a league of its own. Distinguishing themselves as cultural ambassadors of all sorts for their cultures and their people, are especially young people from the various educational institutions in the constituency.

Notably, the prosaic presentation by Waterberg Primary School, from north of Okakarara, praises their most gracious natural endowment - the Waterberg, among others - in a way, they bring the commemoration to a stand-still. Also on hand are traditional dancers led by Raseuatjo Viakondo, who also scoops the trophy in this category.

The event concludes with another parade in which the various regiments including horsemen as well as traditional dancers vie for the various trophies on offer. In many respects than one, the Ohamakari commemoration could be seen as a dress rehearsal for Okahandja, when the three flag adherents converge on the town to pay homage to their fallen heroes and other eminent people of these communities on 26th August; Heroes Day. PF