Shark Island is a sacred graveyard

01 December 2021 | Opinion

FESTUS MUUNDJUA

I am writing to continue raising my objection to and detestation of the commercially driven motive of using Shark Island as a tourist attraction under the gimmicks of creating employment and development.

Going by the horrific history of that place, which was used by the Germans as a concentration camp for the Ovaherero and the Nama prisoners of war during their Genocide war of 1904 – 1908, I shall hereby reiterate what I have earlier stated that “Shark Island to us, the Nama and Ovaherero descendants of the 1904 – 1908 … is a graveyard.”

But that was not all there is to it. It was a butchery for the prisoners of war who were brought there to die of starvation and the unforgiving cold weather of the very cold waters of Southern Atlantic Ocean. After their death, the bodies of some of them, including that of Gaob Cornelius Frederick and a seventeen-month-old Nama girl were decapitated and taken to Germany. The bodies of all those dying were simply pushed off the rocks into the ocean surrounding the rocks, as there was, and still there is, no sandy area in which to dig proper graves.

My contention is that being a rocky butchery and from where the bodies of the dead were thrown around it for the Sharks or as if it was a way of disposing them, and where their remains are still lying on the ocean floor, makes Shark Island not only a declared “National Heritage Site”, but also, and in our Nama/Ovaherero Culture, a sacred, holy and indeed a graveyard.

For the Tourism Ministry, and “in consultation with the National Heritage Council”, to put up tourists attraction structures like Bed and Breakfast, bars, braai areas, camping sites, an amusement stage and a half-moon like seating area on a place that we regard as a graveyard, is the highest expression of insensitivity by those in the Ministry, the National Heritage Council and indeed those business tycoons, whose primary motive will be business-as-usual to make money.

This insensitivity or the “business-as-usual” adage is accentuated by the Ministry saying that there is “Nothing unusual about camping at Shark Island” or “It is a practice done all around the world.”

Shark Island is not an ordinary camping site like at our own Brand Berg or Table Mountain in Cape Town or Mount Everest in Nepal or to be converted into a place of all sorts of unsavoury things, funfair and merry-making. It is a sacred, holy and a graveyard, and should deserve a better and a more dignified respect.

It should rather be used to attract historians, historiographers, researchers, students and academics to study and write about the genocide history of it.

And for that matter, a day-tour, like at Robben Island, should suffice, to discourage a picnic-like atmosphere at such a place, being, in my version, a graveyard, which ought to be consecrated rather than desecrated.

I have been to Shark Island (11 March 2020) with the late Paramount Chief of the Ovaherero, Adv. Rukoro, and saw “private houses”, as we were told, built on the part of Shark Island near the entrance. What right or Title Deed do the owners of those houses have, and, if any, issued or authorised by which authority, if Shark Island is part of the off-shore islands belonging to the State and Government of the Republic of Namibia? In other words, who could have had the right to “privatise” a portion of Namibia to the owners of those houses and flats?

Our forebears who shed their blood and sacrificed with their death to stave off German Settler Colonialism could not have done so for the future benefit of a handful of business tycoons who care less or perhaps not even at all about the Nama and Ovaherero Genocide, but who put their stomachs (economic interests) above their conscience.

Lest I be misconstrued as if I am against tourists visiting Shark Island per se, I should say: On the contrary. They must come on a day-tour, and only to be met by people who are well-versed in the Ovaherero and Nama Genocide History in general, and about the horrendous history and stories of Shark Island, in particular. Such narratives should include visuals of the bones that are lying on the ocean floor, dug out and stored in that Light-House to be converted into a Shark Island Genocide Museum – the name I am proposing straightaway.

Finally, I would like to propose to the line-Ministries, the National Heritage Council and the business communities, with vested interests, to jointly convene an all bona fide stakeholders meeting to discuss the utilisation of Shark Island.

To narrow down on the issue of the “bona fide stakeholders”, I think it is only fair and proper to suggest the legally-gazetted Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA) and the Nama Traditional Leaders Association (NTLA), and using the principle of a “CLASS ACTION” in law, in order to prevent an undeserving bunch of opportunists – just as nowadays everybody, even the undeserving, would like to have a say about a so-called “The Namibian Genocide”, despite the fact that “Genocide” is defined in terms “an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, (an) ethnical … group, as such.”

Allow me to conclude by saying: “’n Ander persoon se dood moet nie ‘n ander persoon se brood wees nie.” (My translation: “Another person’s death must not be another person’s bread.”) It means, let Reparations be to the deserving actual victims – the Namas and the Ovaherero, and not a free-for-all gift.

I rest my case.

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