• Were you born in Kantema village, across the Kavango River from Nkurenkuru as alleged?
• Who were your parents, and can you show us your and their birth certificates?
And, as recently as October 3, 2012, the Namibian Sun quoted the firebrand Minister of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture, Kazenambo Kazenambo (KK), vowing to dig deep into his own pockets to investigate the origins of Dr Ngurare, who he called “a penniless political ghost whose background is shady”.
In 2009, the outspoken head of NamRight Phil ya Nangoloh, who himself is a victim of malicious ‘otherness’ politics, brought up Ngurare’s Angolan connection by mocking him about how he changed his name from Ngulale (a Nyemba/Chokwe pronunciation of his name). Of course, the subtext here is that by choosing to pronounce his name in Rukwangali, Ngurare who is of Nyemba heritage, is hiding his Angolan background. For starters, the vaKavango muntu see nothing sinister about how Ngurare chooses to pronounce his name because it is a common practice in that region that the same name can be pronounced differently in some of the local languages such as Kashiku (RuNyemba), Kasiku (RuKwangali), Kathiku (Thimbukushu),and Katiku (Rumanyo/RuSambyu).
But more noteworthy, the same line of Angolan names and background was used by the Namibian immigration and the Special Field Force between 1999 and 2004 at the height of the Unita rebels’ incursions to harass and intimidate people whose names sounded Angolan. Many people with Angolan heritage who lived along the Namibian-Angolan border in the Kavango region for many years were denied IDs. Some were deported to Angola or sent to the Osire Refugee Camp, and others disappeared mysteriously.
My interest here is not to defend Ngurare’s politics. What I am interested in is the politics of making Ngurare foreign due to his Nyemba heritage, an ethnic group that existed in the region now known as Namibia long before the Berlin borders were drawn. Call it Namibia’s version of the ‘birther’ conspiracy theory: Ngurare is not a Namibian, but an Angolan other. In the USA, the ‘birthers’, people who have been demanding President Obama release his birth certificate, believe that he is not an American due to his father’s Kenyan heritage and his foreign-sounding name.
The other is someone who is not like us, and sometimes it is a normal and innocent way to make sense of our environment. But most times the other - the unworthy other - is judged as inferior in relation to the status quo.
This same psychological process is behind warfare, terrorism, genocide, racism, tribalism, and other phobias. Other examples of ‘otherness’ that we have seen in an independent Namibia, actions Ngurare himself is guilty of, are the labeling of some people as hibernators, calling opposition parties as imperialist stooges, whites as Boers, the Omusati Clique, and other heinous name-calling meted out against gays and lesbians.
A personal disclosure is proper here. Ngurare and I come from the same Nyemba tribe and neighbouring districts in the Kavango region, he from Nkurenkuru and I from Mpungu. We would meet later at the Rundu Senior Secondary School in 1987, where we were doing our STD 8 (grade 10).
The genealogy has it that my mother was born in the Nkurenkuru area two days after they settled there from Mulemba village in Mashakaland in Angola (also the same day her father died). After the news came from Mashaka that my grandmother’s brother Shapi had died, the Nzovhukadi, my grandmother, who was concerned about the small baby boy left behind by his brother, along with her first-born Madara travelled back to get all the relatives, a journey that ended in the surrounding Mpungu villages of Ngandu, Keni, Silikunga and Kaguni where my siblings and I were born. The same is also true on my father’s side.
Probably like Ngurare, I have relatives who live on both sides of the Namibian and Angolan borders. But like many other kids of my generation in the Kavango region, the centre of my world is nothing other than muKavango and Namibian.
The trek of my family into Namibia was not the first for the vaNyemba people, nor is it the last. The Kavango folklore and oral histories not only tell stories of harmonious relations that existed among the various ethnic groups along both sides of the Kavango River, but they also acknowledge that the line separating their heritages is very thin.
I suspect that just like my and Ngurare’s descendants, many other people in Namibia have similar stories (in varying forms) that define their descendants’ journeys into what is present-day Namibia. Some crossed with passports and others without.
History and anthropological evidence tells us that Namibia was first populated by the San people, part of theKhoisan group, before all other groups that we have in Namibia today. But the San today are the marginalised other. Actually, one of the worst insults you can hurl at a Namibian is to call him/her a Bushman/mukwankara/muduni/kankala. So who is a Namibian anyway?
*Ndumba J. Kamwanyah is a public policy consultant and an Africa blogger for the Foreign Policy Association. email@example.com;