Red Flag legal battle ...shall truths be told?

By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro
October 2013



“Both the Okahandja Commando of which I am the patron and the Ovaherero Traditional Authority of which I am the chief advisor, welcome this legal suit with open arms so that a final clarity can be obtained over who has legitimate authority over the Okahandja commemorations and the Commando at Okahandja!”


This was the initial enthusiastic response of Advocate Vekuii Rukoro - rightly or wrongly so, prematurely or opportune - to the notice of motion, which has been brought by the Maharero Royal House traditional authority’s Chief Tjinaani Maharero in the High Court.


In the motion, Chief Maharero, on behalf of this traditional authority, has applied to the High Court, among other things, to adjudicate that the Maharero Royal House Traditional Authority attains the “sole right to establish and maintain a holy fire at the premises known as Commando situated in the town of Okahandja”.


This is Commando No. 2 in the traditional parlance of the Red Flag and the Ovaherero community. With this application, the authority expects the court to judge whether or not the Maharero Traditional Authority has “the sole right to the premises known as ‘Commando’, situated in Okahandja on an annual basis for the weekends immediately and prior to or subsequent to 23rd August for the purpose of commemorating the Maharero ancestors.”


It also expects the court to “order and interdict” the respondent. The Red Flag Regiment has been cited as the first respondent, Ismael Kamuhapita as the second and Abisai Mungendje as the third, “to remove the holy fire established by the Chameleon Totem from the aforesaid premises” - Commando No. 1 in Okahandja - and “refrain from using or occupying the aforesaid premises during the weekend immediately prior or subsequent to 23rd August without the consent of the applicant”.


“Commando No. 1, also known as the ‘Okahandja Commando of the Ovaherero People’s Red Flag Association’, which is an integral organ of the Ovaherero Traditional Authority under the leadership of its successive paramount chiefs since time immemorial, has resolved to vigorously defend the legal action instituted against it by the Maharero Royal House Traditional Authority,” Rukoro’s statement determines, casting the die in the long-running feud within the Ovaherero community, especially between clans resorting under ‘royal houses’.


These ‘houses’ are among the first Ovaherero traditional communities to be recognised under the Traditional Authorities Act of 2000 and the Ovaherero Traditional Authority under  Paramount Chief Kuaima Riruako, which was only officially recognised by the Government in 2008 but whose councillors are, to date, yet to be gazetted. 


But these wrangling, with obvious political overtones, date back to the pre-independence era when Riruako and company were regarded as ‘anti-liberation’ while the others, especially from the ‘royal houses’, were perceived as pro-liberation.


At independence, therefore, it seemed natural that the traditional communities with ‘royal blood’ gains automatic recognition under the new traditional communities’ regime; an outflow of the Kozonguizi Commission [which recommended a continued role by traditional communities within the new dispensation, if only for some of the blue-eyed ones because of their role during the liberation struggle era].


As a result, little regard has seemingly never been awarded to the historical credentials of some of these traditional communities other than their struggle credentials, either by way of the struggle continuum or by pro- and/or anti-struggle. Today, this legacy seems to be at the centre of the internecine war that has been raging within the Ovaherero, with the ensuing High Court case being the latest manifestation thereof.


As much as the centre of this has been the recognition dichotomy within the Ovaherero traditional communities, especially between the presumed royals on one hand and the Ovaherero Traditional Authority, with the former (Riruako) disowning his paramount state maintaining that the enabling Act for such authorities do not provide for “paramountcy” and that before the law, all such authorities are equal; the heads are all chiefs of equal standing. This is despite the fact that the Act does not preclude any traditional leadership arrangement.


This state of affairs has definitely rubbed on to all other traditional structures like the Red Flag. Consequently, Okahandja, which is the seat of the Ovaherero historical shrine, has turned out to be the latest platform for the ongoing internecine war and rivalries, especially between the Riruako camp and the ‘royal houses’ camp. 


In the not-too-distant political-cum-tribal history of the Ovaherero, this came to head with the withdrawal by Riruako of the National Unity Democratic Organisation (Nudo) from Katuutire Kaura’s DTA of Namibia in 2004.


Since then, the die of division has been properly cast among the Ovaherero, impacting on almost every traditional structure, including the annual pilgrims to the different historical shrines. The annual pilgrim of the Ovaherero to Okahandja in August - 26th or any other weekend close to this date - particularly pays homage to their fallen heroes and heroines and other eminent persons from this community, which has, as result, become a bone of contention.


Competing camps have been jostling for ownership or preponderance over the programme of activities for this weekend, not to mention the historical exclusiveness to shrines and the Red Flag Commando in Okahandja, as highlighted by the latest notice of motion to the High Court by the Royal House of Maharero.


Given the age-old jostle for dominance between the two camps (until 2011), the Maharero Royal House camp has [seemingly] ceremoniously presided the fire at Commando No. 1 of the Red Flag in Okahandja.


But since 2011, it no longer seems to preside over such. The fire was also relocated from its usual place - east of the commando hall building - to the west under the understanding that usually, such a fire in the Ovaherero custom is meant to be located in front of the homestead, with the front door of the main house of the homestead facing west.


Also, someone else from the Chameleon Totem, other than the Kudu Totem of the Mahareros, has since presided over this fire. This is as far as the Maharero Royal House Traditional Authority has gone, hence its current notice of motion in the High Court.


“We look forward to exposing the distortions of history and half-truths contained in the sworn affidavits submitted to court by the applicant. We shall do so by presenting an impressive line-up of respected historians, academicians and intellectuals to rebut the aforesaid concoctions as nothing else but premeditated, politically-engineered sectarian and divisive hogwash aimed at driving the wedge disunity between the Maherero clan (and its small/declining group of supporters) on one hand and the broader/growing Ovaherero community led by Paramount Chief Kuaima Riruako on the other,” vows Rukoro in a statement.


Well, whether the impending court case gives final closure to this matter or not, the long-running internecine war within the Ovaherero community remains.


If the recent experience of the Ovambanderu is anything to go by, formal courts cannot and would never provide any closure to traditional matters. The Ovambanderu have, since 2005, been engulfed in court battles, which first started as a constitutional challenge but has since culminated in endless legal battles for succession, recognition and what-have-you. This resulted in a High Court judge observing that this community’s traditional authority is dysfunctional. Despite numerous court battles and verdicts, the Ovambanderu community remains as divided as ever with little glimmer of hope of ever unifying.


But what fruits would be born from the legal battles, given the seeming entrenched positions of the belligerent next of kin, who more than traditional, are deeply rooted in political shenanigans, coupled with political leanings and are at best based on superficial, meaningless, myopic, self-centered, self-defeating and opportunistic tendencies and cravings? PF