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Remembering the pains of the past - Screening of Camp de Thiaroye in Windhoek

Andimba Toivo ya Toivo

Andimba Toivo ya Toivo and Head of AfricAvenir in Namibia, Hans-Christian Mahnke, at last weeks screening of Ousmane Sembene’s “Camp de Thiaroye”

Undoubtedly, the late Ousmane Sembene is one of the greatest filmmakers Africa ever had. This was proven again to the Namibian audience with AfricAvenirs screening of “Camp de Thiaroye” last Saturday at the Studio 77.
In 1944, the 1923-born Senegalese Sembene, like many young Africans of his generation, was called to active duty to liberate France from German occupation and subsequently was dispatched to the colony of Niger as a chauffeur in the 6th colonial infantry unit.

Upon his conscription in 1944, Sembene heard of an event, where the French army massacred several units of West African conscripts recently returned from the battlefield of Europe. What was essentially a demand by African veterans that they be paid the same wages as their French counterparts led to an attack on soldiers who had only recently been fighting the Nazis in Italy, France and Germany. In 1944, the French colonial authorities viewed returning African veterans as second class citizens and because the colonial administration was financially bankrupt, found it convenient to refuse their demands. The resulting mutiny by the veterans of Camp Thiaroye led to a full scale artillery attack on the camp.

Sembene used this massacre as the basis for his sixth feature film in 1987.
The massacre, launched in extreme long-shot by the stealthy approach of tanks in deep night, shatters. Even as one sits and watches, the film takes the legs out from under oneself.

Last Saturday, when AfricAvenir screened Sembene’s movie, it became clear that some Namibians experienced the same unequal treatment of colonial powers towards black and white veterans. World War II veteran Andimba Toivo ya Toivo spoke to the audience about his experiences after returning home to what was then called South-West Africa. The South African administration paid him a mere 30 £ for his duties, whereby it remains unclear until today, if it was the British or the South African government, who withheld his promised pay.
Johanna Kahatjipara told the listeners, how black Namibians were paid bags of oranges and a bicycle each, whereby white Namibians received their promised farms.   

Answering to questions from the audience, Toivo ya Toivo highlighted the fact, that this history and the unequal treatment of black and white soldiers in World War II hadn’t received the attention, these issues of racism and exploitation deserved. Requests by Namibian World War II veterans made to the British government remained unanswered until today.

by Hans-Christian Mahnke, 02.11.2009

Picture: Andimba Toivo ya Toivo and Head of AfricAvenir in Namibia, Hans-Christian Mahnke, at last weeks screening of Ousmane Sembene’s “Camp de Thiaroye”

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