National Culture in Post-Apartheid Namibia. State-sponsored Cultural Festivals and their Histories, by Michael Akuupa
Michael Akuupa's 'National Culture in Post-Apartheid Namibia' addresses the challenges of creating a 'national' culture in the context of a historical legacy that has emphasised ethnic diversity.
During more than 70 years of South African colonialism, the relationship of Namibians to their state was largely defined through the lens of race and ethnicity Terms such as "Ovambo," "Herero," and "Nama" were given ethnic content under German colonialism, but the borders of these categories were solidified under South African rule. The category "Kavango" emerged more gradually: colonial records refer to people residing along the Kavango River as Ovambo into the 1920s. Such ethnic confusion poorly served the interests of a colonial administration. And over the course of the colonial period, these categories were refined. Former political units were transformed into "tribal" entities and ethnicity came to dominate outside conceptions of Kavango;s residents. But such ethnic categories, interpreted through the lens of dominant, royalist histories, also resonated with local understandings of identity and belonging. Colonial officials administered the five former kingdoms along the Kavango River - Kwangari, Mbunza, Sham-byu, Gciriku, and Mbukushu - as a single unit. It became common knowledge that these five "tribes" had more in common with each other than with others around them - despite, for example, far more 19th-century interaction between the Kwangari kingdom and eastern Ovambo societies than between the Kwangari and the Mbukushu, their fellow "Kavangos." By the early 1970s, the South African Prime Minister argued that Kavango was a "beautiful country," defined by the river that ran through it. Meanwhile, the nascent Kavango Bantus-tan government could state, without controversy, that "there are five tribes in Kavango" and could stipulate that those forming the Bantustan government "must have knowledge of the customs and traditions of Kavango." Members of the Kavango parliament routinely spoke of "Kavangos" as a coherent category that needed no explication. This richly textured study by a talented young scholar explores what happened to this notion of "Kavango-ness" after Namibia gained independence. As Michael Uusiku Akuupa observes, what had been a "colonial identity project" aimed at separate development became "the bedrock from which contemporary identities have sprung." (156-7) By exploring the emergence of post-colonial "culture festivals," he is able to explore the nuances and contradictions of post-colonial identity construction. SWAPO;s constitution commits the party to "combat retrogressive tendencies" of tribalism, ethnicity, and regionalism (among other evils such as sexism and racism) - a stance based on the awareness that such categories had formed the basis of colonial divide and rule. As the ruling party after independence in 1990, SWAPO sought to minimize the salience of ethnicity in particular. The state's slogan, "One Namibia - One Nation," was an explicit counter-discourse to the ethnic politics of the Bantustan era. While the apartheid state had created cultural festivals, known as sangfees, to reinforce ethnic identities, the SWAPO government discontinued them in favor of institutions that reinforced a sense of unitary nationhood. Linguistic categories replaced ethnic ones, and the ethnically defined "homelands" were erased in favor of 13 administrative regions that, at least theoretically, cut across ethnic lines. When the Namibian government created an annual national cultural festival, five years after independence, it marked a rather stark departure from these earlier interventions in identity construction. Other policies, too, offered state endorsement of ethnic identity: in 2000, for example, ethnic groups and traditional authorities were granted legal recognition. The result, says Akuupa, is that by 2001 the national culture policy was "the total opposite of the political ideal at the time of independence" (43). Akuupa links this shift to the state's reluctant admission that, for Namibia's citizens, these ethno-cultural categories had meaning: people themselves embraced ethnic belonging over national belonging. [...]
This is an excerpt from National Culture in Post-Apartheid Namibia. State-sponsored Cultural Festivals and their Histories, by Michael Akuupa.
Title: National Culture in Post-Apartheid Namibia
Subtitle: State-sponsored Cultural Festivals and their Histories
Author: Michael Akuupa
Publisher: Basler Afrika Bibliographien
Basel, Switzerland 2011
ISBN 9783905758429 / ISBN 978-3-905758-42-9
Softcover, 17 x 24 cm, 242 Seiten
Akuupa, Michael im Namibiana-Buchangebot
National culture in post-Apartheid Namibia. State-sponsored cultural festivals and their histories.