Joseph Diescho should be applauded for highlighting the explosive issues of tribalism and racism which Namibians do not discuss enough. His emphasis on tolerance and national unity should be heard by all of us.
However, I would like to differ with some comments. One of the main reasons why tribalism is so strong in Namibia is because Namibians do not seem to understand the historical origins of these categories. Educating ourselves about where tribalism comes from is crucial as a means of countering it.
Focusing on ‘Coloured’ people, Diescho is quoted as having said: ‘This is why the ‘coloured’ person was regarded as better because he (sic) was almost white (sic)...’ Now, if this is correctly reported, it certainly borders on tremendous ignorance and/or the perpetuation of racial prejudice. It is vital to set the historical record straight since it is this kind of false analysis that keeps tribalism alive.
The fact is that the term ‘Coloured’ was promoted by British imperialism after the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley. The category was meant to imply that there were no indigenous Khoi-San people any longer and therefore imperialism could claim ownership of the wealth. The tribal label had nothing to do with being ‘almost white’ or with being ‘better’.
We should not recycle the racist arguments of the apartheid fascists. It is also true that Diescho is not the only one with such outdated views. Recently, I have, on two separate occasions, heard black Namibian women say: ‘I don’t like Coloureds.’ It is indeed time to address the deep-seated tribalism in the country before some Namibians become victims of machetes.
Diescho also presented a misreading of Charles Darwin like so many others who confuse the Social Darwinism of the right-wing and the brilliant scientific theory. Racism originated long before Darwin during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The real link is between racism and the emerging capitalism. And we should also discuss the role of the African collaborators who benefited from the slave trade and from colonialism.
It is so simplistic to blame all Europeans when it was really the European merchant capitalists who benefited the most.
Diescho’s unproblematic use of a tribal category in reference to the Kavango people also reflects this superficial approach of his. Perhaps other Namibians can write about the historical origins of different tribal labels so that we inform each other and take away the mysticism around these divisive (historical) categories.
Tribalism is always kept alive by a (middle class) leadership competing for its own interest. It is not about the prosperity of the people because tribalism leads to further and further divisions. At grassroots level the people suffer together and it is this solidarity that creates a natural bridge over the artificial barriers of tribalism.
However, only a working class leadership can take this solidarity forward and maintain national unity. The problem of tribalism is so much about the self-aggrandisement of the middle class leaders.
It should also be pointed out that the people will seek refuge in tribalism when democratic institutions fail. Democracy has in particular not reached the rural areas of this country and the people there are being bullied by the tribal authorities.
Diescho reportedly stated that he does not have a solution to tribalism. If this is true, then he was not the right person to speak on the topic. It is so imperative that we initiate an anti-tribalism national program. One solution is the harmonisation of indigenous languages which is a vital strategy in countering the scourge of tribalism.
We should begin to seriously debate the harmonisation of, for example, Oshiwambo and Otjiherero, Lozi and Tswana, etc. It is also time to start with the re-standardisation of Afrikaans and integrate the three versions of the language. Tribalism must be fought against.