Open letter to the MYNSSC, MICT, NBC, One Africa: Filmmaking as a interpretation of historical events : The return of the Namibian skulls to Namibia in 2011

Sara Baartman Screening AfricAvenir 2009 Gurirab, Katjavivi

History is always an exercise in looking back through glasses clouded with the dirt of our present moment. Despite differences, both historians and filmmakers approach the materials of the past with one major similarity. Both possess attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs – entire value systems – that colour everything they express and underlie the interpretations by which they organize and give meaning to the traces of the past. These processes of interpretation have to be taken into account when looking back on written history and film documents.

Historians and filmmakers interpret their subject. Thus we as readers and audiences have to abandon the notion of presented data and films as a document or mirror of empirical reality. There is no such thing as objectivity. One’s perspective and value system determines the product.
Acknowledging this means, to also accept the fact, that film products by Europeans and Africans must look different, considering they different backgrounds, cultures, value systems, e.g.

In 1990, Theo-Ben Gurirab, then President of the 54 session of the United Nation General Assembly, urgently appealed to the UN member states in New York: “The horrors of slavery and destruction wrought upon Africa and its peoples cannot be forgotten. Now is the time for reconciliation and healing. Such an act of mutual affirmation will never be truly complete unless Africa’s sacred relics, icons, art works and other priceless cultural objects are returned lock, stock and barrel to their rightful owners. Today these stolen African treasures adorn public museums, libraries, art galleries and private homes in foreign lands. They must come home to assuage the pain and anger in the hearts of the succeeding generations of Africans.” Twenty years later his calls were heard.
    
End of May 2011, some of the numerous Namibian skulls, having been stored and kept in Berlin for no rational reason since their theft during and after the colonial wars of the German Kaiserreich, will be brought home by an important Namibian delegation consisting of Government officials, relevant traditional authorities, and royal houses.

The delegation will hold certain ceremonies in Berlin, to give justice to this important step in the national liberation and decolonisation process, a process which didn’t just end with Namibia’s official independence in 1990 but is an ongoing process until today.
 
German and maybe other international TV stations like ARD, ZDF, and BBC will follow the handing over procedures and will interview key members of the Namibian delegation. These dominant European media will interpret this milestone of Namibia’s decolonisation process according to their attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs. Can Namibia, as a nation willing and in need of reclaiming and rewriting its own history, afford to rely only on these interpretations by German TV stations? Is this sufficient for a nation, which just launched a National Pride campaign last week? Clearly not!

There is a need for a Namibian TV crew, be it from NBC or One Africa, and or a Namibian documentary filmmaker, with a proven track record like Cecil Moeller, Tim Huebschle, Richard Pakleppa, and Hidipo Nangolo amongst others, to accompany the Namibian delegation. This Namibian TV crew or filmmaker shall document a Namibian interpretation of these procedures of such historical dimension. Future generations of Namibians have the right to know and learn from a Namibian interpretation of these developments. It’s their history too!

I want to call into our memory the great achievements of the South African filmmaker Zola Maseko, who made the two critically acclaimed documentaries “The Life and Times of Sara Baartman” (1998) and “The Return of Sara Baartman” (2003). These two film not only shines the spotlight on the topical issue of the repatriation of body remains and artefacts forcibly removed by the European explorers and colonialists, but also the strident pseudo-scientific mythology of race which became the vital ingredient in European imperial theory. "I think Sara Baartman, for me, is sort of symbolic of what happened to Africa as a whole. She was a physical exhibit and proof that they looked at us and decided that we were less than human and therefore they could enslave and do anything they wanted with us," says Maseko.

His two moving chronicles are milestones in the history of South Africa’s documentary filmic memory.  One even won “Best African Documentary“ at the 1999 FESPACO African Film Festival, the most important film festival on the African continent.  Until today both films play an important role in South Africa’s efforts to rewrite its own history, giving it a true South African interpretation.

I therefore hope, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Technologies, the Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sports, and Culture, NBC, or One Africa, have made provisions for a Namibian TV-team and/or Namibian filmmaker to accompany the official delegation to Berlin, in order to secure a Namibian interpretation of these important events. This interpretation has validity and must not be forgotten when preparing for Berlin. Dear Namibian officials, keep in mind our needs and the rights of future generations. We all need a balanced record of the events in Berlin. Don’t let us only rely on the West and it’s images. We owe this to the victims of the colonial wars and its concentration camps. But we also owe this to future generations of Namibians. It is an urgent necessity, yes, even an imperative.

Believing in the possibility of decolonizing the TV and cinema screens,

Yours,
Hans-Christian Mahnke
AfricAvenir Windhoek
www.africavenir.org

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