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Schleicher, Dr. Hans-Georg:

“Solidarity in a changing world – a reflection from outside the region”

Beitrag auf dem Kolloquium “Post-Liberation Southern Africa: Reviewing the Past, Examining the Present and Looking into the Future” aus Anlass des 20. Jahrestages des Southern African Political and Economic Series (SAPES) Trust in Harare (Simbabwe) 02.-05.12.2007

Firstly allow me to congratulate SAPES on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. I had the privilege to live in Harare when SAPES was established 20 years ago. It was a time when Southern Africa looked quite different. Harare was in the frontline of the liberation struggle. That frontline situation was omnipresent – there were bombs and other attacks by the racist regime from the South. And there was also an omnipresent solidarity with the South African and Namibian freedom fighters. Since the region has changed substantially, we are speaking about the Post-Liberation Southern Africa. The developments of these 20 years have been a challenge for an organization with such pretentious tasks like SAPES. It is good to be back and celebrate with you this 20th anniversary. Again congratulations.

I will focus my modest reflections from the outside on the solidarity aspect. Solidarity is a particular form of co-operation – grown out of particular historical conditions. I am speaking here as a historian but also as somebody who was and still is involved in this kind of co-operation – which is called solidarity. My experiences relate to solidarity in a changing world. I would like to make a few remarks on that change and its effects on solidarity before I go into details of a particular project of co-operation or call it solidarity between North and South. 

The liberation struggle and the decolonisation process has been one of the main features of the international developments in the second half of 20th century. In this context worldwide international solidarity with the peoples fighting against colonialism, racism and Apartheid has been one important interrelating aspect. I believe this international solidarity survived the national liberation struggle. This particular heritage of the struggle continues to be a feature of present developments and I hope that will accompany us into the future. International solidarity is not a one-way street. I can tell that as a historian bur also as somebody who was involved in respective efforts to a certain extent. I myself have experienced solidarity as an actor who was privileged to modestly contribute. And I myself have received solidarity – in those years.

Following the dramatic international changes in the late 1980s and early 1990s which included the collapse of the socialist countries in Eastern Europe and the unification of Germany, we in the former GDR considered a constructive and critical analysis of our own past important. Neither prejudice nor nostalgia was helpful when analysing facts or circumstances of the implosion of the GDR, but it was important to draw necessary lessons and conclusions from it. This is not the place to go into details. In the course of the unification of Germany many East German structures simply were dissolved. The ideological legacy of the GDR's Africa policy was rejected. But we felt it necessary to preserve such positive elements as international solidarity and striving for social justice and equality in international relations. In those days a sober assessment and evaluation of history was not always easy due to the complete collapse of the social system and respective structures in the GDR. There were problems and difficulties which had to be tackled and overcome. In order to substantiate our efforts to preserve the positive heritage research and publications were of particular importance under those circumstances.

We received support by friends and colleagues in West Germany, including those who in the past had been fighting for the same internationalist principles and goals. But I should not forget to mention one other important aspect – the support and encouragement we received from our friends and partners in the South. The first international symposium I have been invited to after 1990 has been the SAPES conference in 1993 here in Harare. I considered that also an expression of solidarity. We were asked to share our experiences and research results with our friends and partners in Southern Africa. It was just the logical consequence for us to publish one of our books on GDR solidarity with the liberation movements in Southern Africa here in Harare with SAPES books. 

In the GDR, solidarity with the national liberation struggle was a basic foreign policy principle in line of working-class traditions of the German labour movement. Solidarity also served as a vehicle for foreign policy interests of the GDR. Southern Africa was a priority area for GDR solidarity. All this took place in a world of conflict and was also determined by the constellations of the Cold War. Back home solidarity was part of the GDR society, its achievements, limits and deficits can be understood only in the context of the societal development and the international environment. As a historian I tried to analyse among others also the GDR solidarity with its successes as well deficiencies. One particular aspect to be analysed was the relationship between the centralistic structures and grassroots of solidarity in the GDR which was not always an easy one. Although solidarity was considered a mutual co-operation between comrades and partners based on equal or similar political and ideological goals, sometimes paternalistic tendencies could not be denied.

Solidarity is a common value with a long historic tradition. We remember vividly the importance of international solidarity during the liberation struggle. This importance has not been diminished in a changed world with globalisation and its challenges. More than ever solidarity is partnership and includes struggling for social change and for a social alternative. It requires global solidarity to face the challenges of this 21st century - it needs a globalisation bottom-up. International solidarity is part of the struggle for a new humanistic world order.

The developments of Post-Liberation Southern Africa are viewed in this context. Remembering the glorious past of an active and finally successful liberation struggle is one thing. Facing the new challenges of the post-liberation developments in a changed world is something else. There is the ambivalence of a historically based strong solidarity feeling and the difficulty to understand the changes and the new challenges in the region. We as historians have a responsibility to analyse such developments which have been partly transfigured or distorted, we have to identify the real problems. We in the North are well advised to do this in a close co-operation with our colleagues in the South.

I believe that international solidarity – and I am speaking of a two-sided affair –has never ceased to feature prominently – not only during the liberation struggle as part of the post-liberation developments as well. I am deliberately underlining the co-operative aspect, far from any paternalistic approach. That goes also for joint efforts to review our history. Let me cite a specific example in my particular field as a historian.

A few years after Namibian independence, we received a request from Namibia for supporting endeavours to secure historical sources on one specific and very important aspect of Namibian history - the anti-colonial resistance and the struggle for the liberation. Archives of the old colonial powers – Germany and South Africa – are well established partly also in Windhoek, but their focus was on the colonial history as being seen from the perspective of the colonizers. The view of the suppressed majority of the Namibian people was underrepresented or completely missing. More than 100 years of colonial rule have distorted the science of history as such and partly the historical consciousness of the people as well.

Resistance against foreign rule and domination stretching far back beyond colonial suppression is a major part of history. But this chapter had been badly neglected and distorted in colonial historiography. History books usually reflected the point of view of the colonial powers. This began to change only during the decades of the modern liberation struggle. The liberation movement itself put efforts into that. As far as Namibia was concerned democratically minded researchers came forward with results of their research on the colonial history of Namibia in both - East and West Germany. The solidarity movement helped to spread the message and to make the international community understand that the Namibian people waged a just struggle for their freedom.

But of course it needs the Namibian people themselves to research and study their history. And it needs respective sources. In the case of Namibia – as with other nations in the region – it was the involvement of various population groups in the early anti-colonial resistance and in the liberation struggle which has to be researched and documented. Besides the scarce written documentation there are many oral history sources with their stories yet to be told and written down. Invaluable untapped sources of history have yet to be discovered and utilised.

Together with my colleague Professor Helmut Bley of the University of Hannover I took up the Namibian request. We were able to acquire political and financial support from the German government to establish a project “Archives of Anti-Colonial Resistance and the Liberation Struggle” (AACRLS) in close co-operation with Namibian partners. We were well aware of the importance of such a project as far as the process of nation-building in Namibia is concerned. History should no longer being based partly on selective and one-sided historical sources and respective interpretations. History is all inclusive and not only the history of certain groups. The importance of the project as far as nation-building is concerned has been underlined not least in connection with the ongoing discussion on the genocide during the war of 1904-07 in Namibia. These discussions and its political repercussions also show the importance of history and of such a project.

As far as the German contribution in the AACRLS project is concerned we came in as partners, not teachers. We joined hands with our Namibian colleagues. The special archive was officially launched in 2001 and has been a purely Namibian project right from the beginning. The new archive covers the history of all persons and groups participating in the resistance against colonialism and in the national liberation struggle of the Namibian people. The project is attached to the National Archives of Namibia as a special collection and is situated on its premises, thus using and partly sharing existing technical facilities, but with a separate repository. The project has been brought to the people, beyond the few professionals in Windhoek, to engage motivated and interested researchers in various parts of the country. The main focus of research are important events and personalities of anti-colonial resistance and liberation struggle, the identification and description of historic events and locations, but also social and cultural problems directly connected to the main subject.

It was at the first workshop that the veteran Namibian freedom fighter Andimba Toivo ya Toivo made his point: “And as it is with all youngsters - in their quest for their very own roads of travelling to future important questions need to be answered: Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I heading to? This precisely is the point where the importance of knowing and understanding our history becomes obvious for all who wish to see the Namibian nation to develop on a solid base of common identity and values. This is also the point when we badly need the expertise of historians, archivists and documentalists …” Today that archival project is well established with Toivo ya Toivo, now 83, in the chair of the Steering Committee.

Looking at the project today it already has been a success story. AACRLS acquired personal papers, documents and photographs etc. as voluntary donations from members of the Namibian public as well as from NGOs and other institutions. Oral history interviews, tapes, cassettes, videos and films as well as posters add to the diversity of material. Source materials can be used beyond historians and scholars for instance in schools and classes. History Clubs have been established in 14 schools and educational events and excursions been promoted. Thematic discussions on historic events of the anti-colonial resistance and the liberation struggle have taken place in the Namibian public beyond the circles of historians and experts for the first time. Exhibitions have been shown.

The project has received substantial support and material from the outside. Collections have been acquired from the German Bundesarchiv, the UN Archives and from archives as well as private persons in South Africa, Germany, Britain, Sweden and Netherlands among others.

The AACRLS in Namibia includes many small research projects with the additional effect that quite a number of Namibians are involved or confronted with this part of their history. But this is also where the problem is – the lack of manpower. Capacity building is an ongoing and seemingly endless task of the project. Another important aspect is the co-operation with other archives (besides the National Archive) in Namibia. Very important is the co-operation between NAN/AACRLS and the SWAPO Party Archive & Research Centre (SPARC), which has been officially opened just a short time ago. There is already co-operation by sharing facilities and in training. Avoiding competition and duplication of work is one particular aspect. Other partners of co-operation are the archives of the various churches in Namibia.

For us on the German side this project is also part of our history, not only because of the interconnection by the period of German colonial rule in Namibia. More important in those early times there was also solidarity with and support for the Namibian people by Germans whom we are looking at as our forefathers in the anti-imperialist struggle and solidarity. Later on Germans have been deeply committed and involved in supporting the liberation struggle, both in the German Democratic Republic and in the solidarity movement in West Germany. The German commitment in the archival project shows that the German people are aware of those special historic ties. Another important aspect is the Namibian-German co-operation in the true sense of the word. The Namibian ownership of the project is guaranteed. Besides official support from Germany there is an active commitment of German as well as Swiss historians at non-governmental level.

I see two important aspects of the AACRLS project beside the main task of covering the other, the underdeveloped part of Namibian history. That is the mobilising effect with the involvement of many non- or semi-professional Namibian historians like teachers, students and other interested people with a regional network throughout the country right into the rural areas. Toivo ya Toivo called it the Namibian conquering of Namibian history. The other aspect is the international co-operation. The AACRLS is functioning through close networking nationally and internationally.

International networking focuses on country committees which have been established in those countries with close historic connections to Namibia. So far such committees are existing in Germany/Switzerland, Finland and Russia. South Africa is a specific case where a formal agreement on bilateral cultural co-operation facilitates the return of Namibian historical source materials and records still located in South Africa. There is a close co-operation between the respective institutions in both countries.

I myself am a member of the Country Committee Germany/Switzerland. Our main task is support for and co-operation with the AACRLS in Namibia. Primarily we are looking for the acquisition of archival material and historic sources of German provenience which is of importance to the Namibian archives. One major area is the history of the anti-colonial resistance during the German colonial rule, where we focus on private documents of German colonial officers and officials. Another important area is the more recent liberation struggle, where we concentrate on documents of solidarity organisations and institutions, which supported the Namibian liberation struggle. That includes private papers from individuals who worked closely with SWAPO as teachers, doctors etc. I myself was approached by Germans who have been involved in the training of Namibians during the liberation struggle and who came forward and offered their personal papers for use in the archives.  

Our Country Committee has been able so far to identify and partly also to acquire a number of collections on aspects of the history of the Namibian liberation struggle. We have made arrangements for a special Namibian collection in the German Bundesarchiv for those documents which are given to us with the provision to keep them in Germany. The arrangements include that a complete copy set of the documents will be provided for the AACRLS in Windhoek. Another aspect of our co-operation is support for publications and exhibitions in Namibia.

The AACRLS project is still very young, but I feel it is on a good way, particularly because it is a partnership project. I also came here to this colloquium to meet colleagues and friends from other countries in Southern Africa and hopefully exchange experiences on their approach as far as history and historiography is concerned. Probably there might be chances for future co-operation in that field.