We all need narratives to explain and claim reality. SWAPO’s narrative about independence in 1990 has always been that it came through the barrels of guns wielded by heroes, led by the Founding Father himself as a common foot soldier as documented by North Korean artists in that famous snapshot in stone.
We know that many factors, most of them of of a nonviolent kind, contributed to the liberation of our country, SWAPO’s diplomatic prowess and good luck certainly is one of them . The consequences of the hero myth are far from harmless.
The heroic tale celebrated bravery, righteousness and the spoils of victory but hid the fact that Namibians had come out of the war traumatised and paining. The pains were physical, psychological and moral because in the fight against the enemy one had been made to act like the enemy sometimes. The victors needed cleansing and healing in order to regain their full humanity but got the superhuman treatment instead. The pain had to be shoved back and hidden because it was not supposed to be there at all. So the war survivors had to live with secrets. Where sons and lovers were expecting love and commitment there was a vacuum, there was a violence that sometimes flared up from unknown sources. Fathers failed to return to their lovers and children after the war.If they did they were not really there. The heroes did not lead by example because they had failed to heal.
A hero myth that is vacuous can easily become fairy tale. When Ronald Reagan became president he had continuously played the war hero in the safe haven of Hollywood while his countrymen were putting their lives on the line. He was convinced to have been a GI Joe and had vivid memories of his own heroic exploits. The Namibians in exile were not all in the trenches, some led a privileged jet-setting life. This, however, did not prevent them from claiming the glory of the sacrificing exile.
Heroism is still seen as a man’s thing, in spite of the fact that women played a decisive role in all stages of the liberation struggle, from the Old Location to Cuito Cuanavale, from 1959 to 1989. They were, however, short changed in the celebrations and in the empowerment after the victory. The hero myth bolsters traditional concepts of male dominance and glorifies violence or makes it look acceptable.