Sima Luipert, a fourth generation survivor of the Nama and Ovaherero genocide, works as a Director for Development Planning at the Hardap Regional Council and she serves, in her private capacity as a Nama woman, as Patron for International Affairs on the Nama Traditional Leaders Association (NTLA) Technical Committee on Genocide, a task assigned by the Nama chiefs in Namibia. In addition to the wide range of knowledge she holds about human rights and rural development, she is extensively self-taught and the knowledge she holds about German colonialism comes from years of reading and connecting the missing pieces of information about the atrocities that her grandmother narrated through bedtime storytelling. Her journey is also shaped by her childhood and young adult experience of a brutal apartheid regime, as well as the increasing marginalization of the Nama communities throughout the last 33 years of Namibian independence.
“Development as Dispossession: Understanding Nama and Ovaherero Women”
Too often, African women are conceived of one-dimensionally. Historical narratives of the Nama and Ovaherero genocide rightfully note the ways in which African women were brutalized, reciting facts about sexual violence and the cruel scraping of the skulls of the dead in imperial German concentration camps—but still, solely as defenseless victims of imperial aggression. Yet neither in history books nor academic articles are these women ever noted as active participants in resisting imperial violence. But through an intersectional and community-centered conception of indigenous womanhood, I will engage this persistent characterization of Nama and Ovaherero women as defenseless as this omission is intimately related to and driven by how European colonialism casts African women as accessories to the barbarisms of their male counterparts.
My fundamental question is: how do women fit within the narrative of a colonial justification of their oppression designed by colonialism? And how does the narrative of development aid feed this destructive narrative. Why are women portrayed as victims and never as heroes or even as architects of cultural bridges? Further, how does this historical miscasting animate European overtures of so-called “development aid” since independence, where development is a structure of charity that perpetuates and preserves the same racist world order that produced imperial genocides such as the one that occurred in German Southwest Africa? My presentation engages the intimacies between paternalistic retellings of Nama and Ovaherero female suffering and development as a system of patronage to former colonies that facilitates ongoing dispossession.