Many black people suffer from a self-imposed inferiority complex, which has become so entrenched in the psyche that they do not even know who they are anymore, they even refuse to write or read their own mother tongue at the expense of foreign languages, Professor Joseph Diescho says.
He adds that so entrenched is the inferiority complex that not many “trust their fellow blacks to [safely] pilot a plane”.
And to drive home the point, Diescho points at ‘odelela’ – the red and black striped material – that has become the most accepted identity of Aawambo speakers at the expense of their own traditional garments. He argues that not many people understand that the material, and the garments made from it, now regarded as traditional attire, actually came with Finnish missionaries to Namibia. “It was the cheapest material they could be given to bring along,” he says, purely because the material was “for mentally-retarded patients. So, if they tried to escape they would be spotted [in it]”.
“How do we get out of black inferiority to discover who we are?” he asks, during his presentation at the inaugural leadership conference organised by one of Namibia’s respected academic and political commentators Dr Hoze Riruako.
To drive the point home even further Diescho juxtaposes the acceptance of ‘odelela’ as traditional attire of Aawambo with the Khaki military uniform worn by Herero men as theirs.
“I have more confidence in the Herero traditional outfit, the khaki uniform than odelela. There is a history that makes me feel strong. There was a day, when during the genocide, a group of Herero men decided to combat with the Germans. They killed a few German soldiers and when these soldiers were lying dead, these Ovaherero men – Ovarumendu, went and yanked the uniforms off the dead bodies and put them on and walked home,” he says.
“That is a statement,” Diescho says, whereas the odelela’s journey into the acceptance of the Aawambo consciousness as traditional attire, is a tad tainted by neo-colonialism.
Odelela attire, Diescho regales the audience, came with the Finnish missionaries arrival in Owamboland in the 1800s, where there were no textiles readily available.
“It was the cheapest material the missionaries would be given to bring to Owamboland. If you go to Olukonda, [in] the great Ondonga, there is a museum. Apparently, that material was [to dress] mentally retarded patients, so if they tried to escape they would be spotted,” he narrated.
As such Diescho argues “odelela [ought to be] modernised to fit our situation but not only [worn] for a show when there are foreigners or when there are weddings.” “Wear it as a cultural dress,” he maintains.
Riruako’s leadership conference, which took place in Windhoek, spurred dialogue on transformation leadership and leadership for change.
It was there that Diescho expressed that the black inferiority complex is very deep here and “we are fuelling it all the time ourselves.”
The inferiority complex, Diescho contends, makes many a Namibian feel inadequate because they are looking at what others have – be it houses, furniture, clothes, cars and even positions. Many fail to understand that all men and women are born equal and what people accumulate in the course of their lives does not make them superior.
He suggests that the context must fundamentally change and such a change requires a strong political will and can take generations to overcome.
“It was the same everywhere in the world, in Cuba, Malaysia and Singapore, they were also oppressed. You won’t have black inferiority complex in Nigeria and Ghana anymore, you have something else – maybe too much assertiveness. There came a time when the leadership stepped in and said- this is who we are,” Diescho says.
The most outspoken academic opines that it is becoming less common in neighbouring Zimbabwe and South Africa, but is still deep-rooted in Namibia, because the country does not have the appropriate role models to combat the black inferiority complex, saying those at the forefront of leadership are more white than black.
“Take a school in Oshikushashipya there deep in Uukwambi. A [Cabinet] minister goes there to talk to the community. Who comes to perform for the minister? It’s the children. And for the first time they see the minister, who is black like them, and has long hair like the hair of white people in the pictures. That’s the end of that black child. The black girl is dead right there. She will think ‘I can never be like that’. She goes home and looks at her mother, who has shorter hair and the minister of local government comes and she has multi-coloured hair. Can you imagine what this child is internalising here? ‘The world is not for me’.”
He further argues, “You need the leadership to address it very seriously. If you go to Rundu where I went to school and you find it clean, you must be convinced that the President is coming my friend – they don’t clean. If a minister or president is coming, we behave better. If Barack Obama (outgoing US president) [were to] come here, we will go shopping but we know we are not going to meet him. We will go shopping to look better because someone is in town.
It means we have been interfered with, we are not ourselves and the context must be redefined on our terms and it’s not there yet.”
He says black inferiority complex will take generations and serious efforts to overcome, however, he says Zimbabweans are fast overcoming such a crisis because of President Robert Mugabe.
“Zimbabweans are overcoming it faster than the rest of us, because Robert Mugabe can face the world with intelligence – he is wrong sometimes – but he fears nobody. Remember last year when there was an India-Africa Summit in India, the heads of state were wearing skirts to look like Indians. Mugabe said ‘no no no… we don’t wear skirts in Zimbabwe’,” he maintained.