Monday, October 31, 2011

Heroes Acre: More Than the Eye Can See

Charlotte and Carin

Week 7

Our history class ventured a little south of Windhoek to the famous Heroes Acre, a monument dedicated to Namibia’s liberation struggle. In Namibia, there are still issues with how Namibia’s history is remembered and preserved. As might be expected, Namibia’s process towards democracy, independence, and liberation from the politically and socially repressive government system was far from easy. Commemorating this journey with Heroes Acre reminds all visitors of the sacrifices of the Namibian people, as well as the influence of the political party, SWAPO, throughout the struggle. A grand vision made to represent stability and unity today.

(Photo 1: A section of the frieze at Heroes Acre depicting the narrative of Namibia's liberation struggle)

Through its deliberate design, Heroes Acre presents Namibia’s history in a way that embodies patriotism, pride, and nationalism. Heroes Acre has become an official war memorial of the government of Namibia, designed as a symbol of power and loyalty to democracy. The monument itself has several components that the viewer walks through to reach the final destination that overlooks Windhoek. The journey begins with the eternal flame burning at the foot of monument; this flame burns for all those who fought for the liberation. Then there are several layers of graves, both real and symbolic, of important figures during the liberation such as Dimo Hamaambo and Mose Tjitendero, important and influential SWAPO members during the struggle. Finally at the top, there is the marble obelisk, symbolizing a sword, and bronze statue of an unknown soldier—but one who greatly resembles leader of SWAPO and first president of Namibia, Sam Nujoma. There is also a frieze at the back wall that narrates the history of the struggle and celebrates the diversity of people who took part in the process including Namibians of all tribal backgrounds: the young, the old, women, academics, etc.

Heroes Acre, though honoring the men and women who bravely headed Namibia’s incredible liberation struggle against South African apartheid rule, also indicates SWAPO’s problematic political control over Namibia’s memory of the liberation struggle. During the liberation struggle, SWAPO engaged in torturous treatment against innocent Namibians in what is now referred to as the “Spy Drama.” As Siegfried Groth reports in his groundbreaking account of the SWAPO and the Namibian Churches’ behavior during the liberation struggle Namibia: The Wall of Silence, “SWAPO Security Service developed into a cruel machinery which mercilessly hunted down its victims” (Groth 100). The victims were members of SWAPO wrongly accused of being South African spies who were tortured in terrifying underground dungeons in Angola, Zambia and Tanzania. The accused were forced to admit on video tape that they were spies, the tapes of which were then distributed amongst SWAPO and Namibian Church leaders to prove why the detainees deserved brutal imprisonment and despicable treatment. Former president and leader of SWAPO during liberation Sam Nujoma himself visited one of these prisons and harshly accused the prisoners of betrayal and furthered not only the false propaganda against the prisoners but also validated and authorized their horrific imprisonment and in many cases, death.

So what does this have to do with Heroes Acre? Although people such as Groth have tried to bring the “Spy Drama” issue to the forefront of Namibian politics and have tried to bring recognition and reconciliation for the victims of these SWAPO prisons, the SWAPO government has continuously refused to take ownership of their actions against innocent Namibians, and have thus promoted a “wall of silence” on the issue. This refusal to take ownership of SWAPO’s grave misdeeds and their insistence on promoting a one-sided positive view of the liberation struggle has largely influenced many Namibians historical memory of the liberation struggle and of SWAPO today.

Today, the history of SWAPO’s totalitarian behavior during Namibia’s liberation fight for independence is masked by the grandeur of the monument of Heroes Acre. For the families and victims of the Spy Drama, Heroes Acre’s blatant focus on celebrating SWAPO and honoring Sam Nujoma for their brave efforts against South African rule overlooks the painful truth of SWAPO’s cruel and merciless treatment of many Namibian men and women during the liberation struggle. Monuments arguably cannot do much more than promote one (celebratory) sentiment of a historical memory, but paired with SWAPO’s larger failure to take ownership of the more unsavory complexities of the liberation struggle, the monument serves as a blaring reminder of this political crafting of Namibia’s historical memory. It represents an attempt on behalf of SWAPO to promote a politically pre-packaged view of the liberation struggle, thus changing history and how we view Namibia's progression to independence.

(Photo 2: Heroes Acre Monument - liberation soldier representing all those who fought for independence, but who also suspiciously resembles Sam Nujoma)

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