Geingob dragged into street renaming saga

08 August 2019 | Local News

More than a month after the Windhoek City Council gave the final green light to rename Bismarck Street in honour of the late Namibian liberation hero Simeon Lineekela Shixungileni, a local lawyer this week appealed to President Hage Geingob to urge the council to reconsider this decision.

In a four-page newspaper insert, Andreas Vaatz asks the president urge the councillors “not to pursue the name change of Bismarck Street to the unwieldy, cumbersome and long street name of Simeon Lineekela Shixungileni Street.”

Instead, he proposes the street be renamed Pohamba Street, because former president Hifikepunye Pohamba “is well known to all of us, we all know that he has done a lot of good things for Windhoek and the country and in my view, had this name been chosen, I think everyone in the street would have agreed to honour him for what he has done for the country.”

Vaatz has long objected to the renaming of Bismarck Street, as per the June council agenda, as well as threatened a lawsuit since the name was first proposed in 2014 by then Swapo Party Youth League member Job Amupanda.

Numerous others, mostly the owners of businesses located on the street, also unsuccessfully objected to the renaming last year, citing numerous factors, including the cost of changing branding and other business materials, the name's length and difficulty to pronounce.

Nevertheless, in June the council approved a 2018 resolution to rename Bismarck Street in honour of Shixungileni, or a shortened version of his name.

Amupanda yesterday praised council's decision, saying he was “delighted, better late than never”, that his campaign for the name change has finally reaped rewards.

He pointed out that the decision comes after Shixungileni, who passed away in 2014, died “in abject poverty” without being “recognised effectively in his lifetime”.

Amupanda stressed that the name change was not only in memory of a liberation hero who has received too little recognition in Namibia, but also an effort to unite Namibians and to work towards a united national identity.

“Bismarck ought to have been removed a long time ago,” Amupanda added, saying it was a “scandal” that his name was still honoured in Namibia, although the “crime of Namibia's genocide can be put at his doorstep.”

In 2014 he wrote to the council that it would be fitting to rename the street after Shixungileni “not only for the purpose of forging a national identity, but also to correct a wrong.”

He underlined further that Bismarck, as the “author of colonialism”, played a critical role in bringing “100 years of brutality, oppression, subjugation, loss of life, land, culture, and dignity” to Namibians.

Final decision

While the council took note of the objections, and investigated them, the City's street and place naming committee advised that renaming the street in honour of Shixungileni was “within the context of promoting a cohesive national identity and nation building.”

The committee said the renaming signified that “communities are prepared and willing to accept change that embraces community inclusivity and unity to promote local knowledge as opposed to narratives of ancient foreign origins.”

The renaming was in view of the municipality's aim of “accommodating the aspirations of the previously colonised people and promote production of knowledge on indigenous national leaders.”

Among several objections detailed in yesterday's insert, Vaatz claims that Bismarck was also a hero and an admired leader of one of the ethnic groups of Namibia, and it could be seen as unreasonable and unfair to rename the street for a hero of one of the other ethnic groups.

Moreover, he argues the new name is “long and most unwieldy”, and that it is “exceptionally difficult to pronounce and even less likely to be remembered.”

Amupanda yesterday said many of Vaatz's arguments were “disgusting”, including the assertion that Bismarck is a hero to German-speaking citizens of Namibia.

“We can't live in a country where Bismarck is called a hero,” Amupanda stressed. He added that anyone who regards Bismarck a hero “is embracing and nostalgic about colonialism.”

He also noted that it's insulting to argue Shixungileni is difficult to pronounce, considering there are many street names, including German names, that are equally difficult to pronounce for many.

Amupanda stressed that it is crucial to work towards decolonising the country, and Windhoek, by forging a space that allows Namibians to live within a space where they recognise their “own history and identity. We are not in Germany, we are in Namibia.”

Amupanda further suggested that the money Vaatz paid for the inserts and their distribution could be better spent on the poor, and particularly in addressing the lack of housing in informal settlements.