Friday, September 21, 2012

Lessons from the formation of the Pan-Afrikan Centre of Namibia (PACON)

Lessons from the Formation of the Pan-African Centre of Namibia (PACON), formed August 1999. 

By B.F. Bankie

Germany retained possession of its colony, South West Africa, between 1894 and 1914 but during its brief reign, it implemented a policy of genocide, of the Hereroes and Namas in order to steal their land and secure its hold on the colony for ever.  Those not killed or pushed into the desert to die, were rounded up in concentration camps, a prelude to the institutionalising by Germany of such camps in Europe for the treatment of its enemies during the second European/Western world War.

The influence in the period 1920-25, of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) of Marcus Garvey, in South West Africa under South African administration, after the territory was taken away from Germany, after the first Western world War and given to first Britain and then to South Africa to administer on behalf of the League of Nations, is documented in the chapter entitled 'Popular Resistance in Namibia 1920-5' written by Tony Emmett in the book edited by Tom Lodge entitled 'Resistance and Ideology in Settler Societies', published in Johannesburg in 1986 and is also published in 'Popular Resistance and the Roots of Nationalism in Namibia 1915-66' by P. Schletwein Publishing in Switzerland in 1999.

According to Emmet the UNIA provided the ideological nexus around which the various strands of resistance coalesced and began to obtain the coherence of a South West African movement – a precursor to SWAPO.

The Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA and ACL) were launched in Luderitz in South West Africa in 1921.  By the end of that year, the membership totalled 311.  By January 1922 the Windhoek branch had applied to the local municipality for permission to erect a hall.  From Windhoek its influence spread.  Membership was drawn from the Herero, Nama and Damara.  By 1922 the Windhoek membership had increased to 871.  Suffice it to say that from these beginnings the Garveyist movement, to which the Rehoboth Basters aligned themselves, became a major force for emancipation.  In this period these forces of progress were unable to defeat South Africa militarily, but the seeds had been sown.  A fact attested by Namibian nationalists such as Sam Nujoma and Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo who, with others, later formed the South West Africa Peoples Organisation (SWAPO).  Garveyism was not isolated to Namibia but was found in other parts of Southern Africa.

The story of SWAPO which lead the armed liberation struggle in South West Africa and its leader President Sam S. Nujoma, is well told in his autobiography entitled 'Where others Wavered' published by Panaf Books, 75 Weston Street, London SEI 3RS, UK, a work running to 476 pages.

The Republic of Namibia acceded to independence on the 16th day of March 1990 under the auspices of the United Nations through a process comparable to the independence of East Timor (i.e. United Nations trust territories), in the Asia/Pacific area.

Namibia was not to escape the xenophobic experience of the Southern African countries post independence, especially those that had witnessed settler colonialism.  We had seen xenophobia in Zimbabwe in the early 1980's, later South Africa, in the years after majority government in 1994 was to be no different, with non-native Africans under threat.

The phenomenon of xenophobia in Namibia was apparent in 1991 and persisted into 1995 and thereafter, with varying waves of intensity.  In the early years some of us from Africa employed in government funded structures were labelled 'mercenaries'.  I recall at the New University of Namibia campus being called 'foreigner' by students.  The large Angolan community were especially victims of this persecution.  It was lead by certain elements in the political elite, apparently to keep foreigners, otherwise known as aliens, on the defensive, thus averting the possibility of 'swamping', with the initiative retained by government.  Apparently some of the new elites, perhaps remembering their experiences in exile during the liberation struggle, were enarmoured by the state/infrastructure of development they inherited on independence, at least in the urban areas, and did not want that 'spoilt' by an influx of 'sans papiers', degrading the environment.

By 1994, in the observation of the writer, with a civil war existing on the northern border of Namibia, in Angola, with South Africa under majority government, Namibia was increasingly involved in regional deliberations in the context of cooperation and could no longer look inwards, as its primary focus.  In 1994 the Pan-African Student Society (PASS) of the University of Namibia (UNAM) was founded as a non-political, non-sectarian, non-profit student cultural and intellectual movement, funded by the Office of the Dean of Students.  Ben Uugwanga played a role in its formation.  By 1996 President Nujoma had started advocating publicly the need for a more cohesive unity amongst African states and the African diaspora.  Nujoma had participated in the first All-African People's Conference held in Accra, Ghana in 1958 and had during the liberation struggle in South West Africa/Namibia supported the panAfricanism of the Convention People's Party (CPP)/Nkrumahist variant.

So the xenophobia of the first half of the 1990's was between 1994-9 reversed.  It did appear occasionally in hostile comments about African (never European) 'foreigners' from time to time, by certain government officials.  Indeed such comments made some wonder if there was not a certain ambiguity in the Namibian position.

The movement towards the formation of a Namibian panAfrican centre took place in this context.  Such an idea was mooted in the letter of Joshua Kaumbi a UNAM student, copied to Ben Uugwanga, also a student at UNAM, addressed to Minister Nahas Angula M.P. Minister of Higher Education, Vocational Training, Science and Technology dated 8th October 1998.

Several draft ideas on the establishment of an African Centre in Windhoek, had been developed.  Given the many years of South African administration South West Africa/Namibia had witnessed the apartheid system; indeed it is said that the Odendaal Plan of 1963 in the territory was the percursor of the implementation of the Bantustan system in South Africa.

Post independence there existed a German cultural centre in Windhoek.  Minister Angula proposed that the process of establishing an African cultural centre in Windhoek commence with a major consciousness – raising meeting in Windhoek.  This Conference was to be called 'The African Origins of Civilisation and the Destiny of Africa'.  Thereafter the next stage was to be the formation of an Interim-Steering Committee.  After which a national Workshop would convene to obtain public reaction and input to the Centre idea.  Finally ideas coming from the Workshop would be engrossed in the foundation document of the Centre and a Cabinet Memorandum would be drafted to secure government's support and financial assistance.  This strategy was agreed at a meeting held 29 January 1999 at the Ministry of Higher Education, Vocational Training, Science and Technology, chaired by Minister N. Angula, Minister of Higher Education, with B. Uugwanga and B. Bankie, Legal Officer of the Law Reform and Development Directorate of the Ministry of Justice.  It was also agreed to request H.E. the President, Sam Nujoma to be the Patron, which he accepted at a meeting at State House on 17th May 1999.  Further meetings at the Ministry with the same personnel took place on 17th February 1999, 11th March 1999, 31st March 1999 and 23rd April 1999. 

Funding towards the launch of the Africa centre was sort successfully from the private sector and parastatals. 

The Conference was held on 24-25 May 1999 at the Safari Hotel complex in Windhoek; the 25th May being Africa Day – a national holiday.  The proceedings were broadcast live on national television throughout Namibia, they were also published in book form by Gamsberg Macmillan Publishers in 2000.  Guest speakers were J. Kaumbi, J.K. Molapong, H. Geingob, N. Angula, M. Makgoba, H. Hamutenya, L. Hangula, M. Shalli, K. Prah, T-B. Gurirab, S. Adei, D. Nabudere and B. Uugwanga.  The Conference was hosted by PASS and 'the Group of Concerned Individuals'.

The National Consultative Forum (NCF) took place at the Government Auditorium in the Government Ministerial Park in Windhoek on 10th July 1999.

On the 14th July 1999 the main circulation newspaper, the 'Namibian', in a story captioned 'Nujoma invites Africans across the World to settle in Namibia' stated that the President had made such an offer at the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Ceasefire Signing Talks in Lusaka, Zambia on the 13th July 1999.  The President was quoted as stating that 'Namibia is ready to share its vast tracks of land' with Africans living in the United States and Europe.

On the 24th July 1999, a meeting took place in the Conference Room of the Ministry of Justice with A. Strauss, Deputy Director of Culture in the Ministry of Basic Education and Culture present, with U. Kaumbi Technician of the Municipality of Windhoek, Minister Angula, B. Bankie and M. Naruseb, Personal Assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  The Charter, to be finalised by A. Strauss, for the Pan-African Centre of Namibia (PACON) was to be drafted from the transcript of the NCF, which would include the objectives, structure, Board of Trustees members, logo etc.

Cabinet approved the establishment of PACON in the week of the 16th August 1999.  The Cabinet decision was no. 20th/03.08.99/006, the Notice issuing on 20 August 1999.  Interim Board of Trustees members were Minister N. Angula, Ms. S. Kuugongelwa, Director of the National Planning Commission, Dr B. Ndjoze-Ojo Lecturer, University of Namibia, Mr U. Kaumbi, Mr B. Uugwanga, Ms. M. Hinda Financial Consultant, Mr J. Kaumbi, Mr M. !Naruseb, Mr V. Tonchi Lecturer, University of Namibia, Mr J. Tjitjo Staff member of the Municipality of Windhoek and Mr A. Strauss.

From its registration No 21/2000/001 dated 14 January 2000 with the Registrar of Companies as a company, not for gain, PACON was active.  It invited the PanAfricanist Prof. Horace Campbell of Syracuse University, New York to deliver a series of addresses on the theme 'PanAfricanism and African Liberation in the 21st Century' to coincide with the 10th Anniversary of Namibia's independence falling on 16 March 2000.  Runoko Rashidi the African-American historian, writer and public speaker was invited and did deliver a series of talks and slide shows on the theme the African Foundations of Humanity and Civilisation in Windhoek on Africa Day 2000, and in Walvis Bay, Keetmanshoop, Katima Mulilo and Rundu.

Whereas PACON, its Trustees Board chaired by U, Kuambi (soon to be appointed Chairman of the Board of the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation) had established an Eminent Persons Board constituted by Minister N. Angula, Prof. K. Prah  Director, Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS), Cape Town,  Ms. S. Kuugongelwa and Minister J. Mutorwa M.P., Minister of Basic Education and Culture,  however the 'Namibian' in its issue of 8th March 2001 reported that Joshua Kaumbi and Ben Uugwanga, members of the Board of Trustees of PACON, had resigned due to differences of opinion with the leadership.

On the 01st July 2002, PACON House in Central Windhoek, located at the corner of Robert Mugabe Avenue and Schanzen Weg, was formally inaugurated by its Patron Dr. S.S. Nujoma.  The contact details of PACON are - The PanAfrican Centre of Namibia (PACON), P.O. Box 4323, Windhoek, Namibia, Tel. 264-61-232681,  Fax 264-61-240791,  E-mail

A number of lessons were learnt from the PACON experience in terms of direct panAfrican activity in Africa.  On most occasions one had a feeling of loneliness, whilst in action.  Whereas there was comprehension and understanding on a certain level, there was an abiding feeling that one was constantly being left, even by national leaders, to take the initiative, with the possibility of denial, if a particular line of action proved untenable in the existing social climate.  There was scope for initiative and leadership, but that scope had its own dynamics and was not to be overstepped.  One was all the time 'under observation.'  Being encouraged as an outsider, to act – but with enough scope for denial, to be denied by colleagues or national leaders, as acting without a mandate.  In a sense this is the usual dilemma of leadership.  It was, of course, a privilege to participate in national activities in the post colonial state – more especially because one knew the levels of tolerance within these states for non-native Africans.

One's participation was rarely, if ever, acknowledged.  This became a routine, where a PACON activity was reported in the press, especially the state sponsored press, with a list of participants, with one's name omitted.  I remember sitting by a national leader during a particular activity and he reciting the names of those who had made it possible and to my embarrassment, in the presence of all, my name was not mentioned.  One was conscious that the government beurocracy was unable, for a number of reasons, to deliver the aspirations of the majority of the people.

So it became a rule-of-thumb in all panAfrican activities in Southern Africa to act through locals and by that I mean, never to be 'seen' to lead, but to contribute by suggestion to locals who would then act.  Often times to act openly incurred reactions of latent xenophobia, not from one's colleagues, but from on-lookers.  In all this one took the risks because of a belief that there was support at the highest level of the state.

Another regularity in the panAfrican experience in contemporary Africa was that one had known many participants in the liberation struggle in southern Africa during their 'struggle years'.  There were a number of these who rose to prominence on their return home.  Quite a number of these did not wish to be reminded of their former status – indeed they might not wish to meet anybody from, say West Africa, who reminded them of former times. A noted exception in my experience was Nahas Angula, who I had first met around 1984 when he was SWAPO Secretary for Education and I was acting Head of the Ghana Diplomatic Mission in Angola.  Working in the PACON structures we interacted as comrades, despite his higher ministerial rank.

The loneliness of the panAfrican activist, was something earlier activists must have experience – people such as Henry Sylvester Williams in South Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century.  A panAfricanist in the field is always acutely aware that he is a pioneer in all his interactions.

During the PACON project only Ben Uugwanga articulated to me the correct appreciation of my situation – being expected to act whilst knowing the possibility of denial.  I saw panAfrican action as the best support I could give, over-and-above my work assignment at the Ministry, even as I experienced hostility from those opposed to African progress – and there were many of these, even amongst the Africans.  In the post apartheid situation many were those who had been compromised by that system and found themselves unable to transform their habits after majority government.

In general experience has taught that the major actors within the African unity movement are not states but panAfricanists.  This distinction, based on fact, needs to be made.   Increasingly it appears that the panAfricanist owes her/his loyalty not to the individual neo-colonial states, which have singularly failed to realise the ideal, apart from the decolonisation of southern Africa, but owes her/his allegiance to the African Nation, an entity broader than the state, extending as it does to the diaspora.  For the panAfricanist who works towards advancing the ideal in Africa sooner or later risks coming into conflict with the state.

PACON, is essentially a state vehicle with all the limitations that entails.  In that sense PACON, depending on the constitution of its leading structure, symbolised as it is, in the vision of the Namibian and Organisation of African Unity/African Union(OAU/AU) flags flying side-by-side, with the playing of the Namibian and OAU anthems (state sponsored panAfricanism), probably represents the best-case panAfrican structure able to exist in the neo-colony.

September 2002

Sudan Sensitisation Project (SSP)

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