Remembering a brutal past

13 April 2015

Prof Elke Zuern
2014 visiting professor in the Department of Political Studies

"Colonial era monuments offer visible reminders of the injustices of the past, carried into the present. For this reason, there are very clear arguments for their removal but also a pressing question as to how the brutal histories of violence, racism and injustice might best be remembered.

"Protests over the Rhodes statue reminded me of a similar debate in Namibia. For almost a century, a colonia–era monument stood overlooking Namibia's capital city. The Reiterdenkmal is a monument to the German colonial troops, the Schutztruppen, who fought indigenous resistance. Its plaque stated that it honoured the brave German warriors who gave their lives to rescue and preserve the land for king and empire.

"At the unveiling of the monument in 1912, the German Governor Theodor Seitz stated:

'The brazen Rider of the Schutztruppe, who from this site overlooks the country, announces to the rest of the world that here we are the masters and will remain so.'

"Only three years later, South African troops occupied Namibia, ending German rule. Still, the monument remained until it was moved in 2009 and then removed in 2013.

"On the grounds where the Reiter stood, a new independence museum and a genocide memorial were erected. While this is a welcome move, unfortunately, there was no public conversation over how best to remember and represent the injustices of the past. The Namibian government employed a North Korean firm to build the new structures, without opportunities for public input. But, creative actors were at work behind the scenes. Last time I was in Windhoek in late May 2014, I found the Reiter had seemingly retreated inside the German colonial fort. He was positioned to gaze at the new Independence Memorial Museum. This seems to be an appropriate final resting place.

"My hope is that local and international visitors are encouraged to step inside the fort to see the Reiter and that the museum provides visitors an overview of its significance in colonial and post–colonial history and debates, including demands for reparations."

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Monday Monthly

Volume 34 Edition 03

13 Apr 2015

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