The Struggle Continues? The Spectre of Liberation, Memory Politics and ‘War Veterans’ in Namibia


  • Lalli Metsola

    1. is a researcher at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland (email: For his PhD, he has researched and published on state formation, citizenship and political subjectivity in Namibia through the case of ex-combatant ‘reintegration’. Recently, he has also done research on policing, violence and the rule of law in Namibia.
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  • My sincere thanks go to all my informants, my research assistants Gideon Matti and Likius Ndjuluwa, as well as Tobias Hagmann, Didier Péclard, Martin Doornbos and the anonymous reviewers who commented on earlier versions of this article. I also wish to thank the Department of Sociology of the University of Namibia, to which I was affiliated during fieldwork, and the Academy of Finland and the Kone Foundation for funding.


Memory politics continues to define the socio-political landscape of post-colonial Namibia. Interpretations of the country's recent political history are used to contest and legitimize current social and political relations. This article examines these issues as they appear in the negotiation of recognition and benefits between ex-combatants and state and ruling party actors. A dominant narrative of national liberation, associated with the ruling party Swapo, casts Swapo ex-combatants as heroes. This has propelled recurrent ex-combatant demands to the forefront and relegated those who fought on the South African side to a secondary category of ex-combatant ‘reintegration’. At the same time, this frame constrains ex-combatant remembrance, pushing aside contentious memories that might lead to a more critical historical consciousness. Although telling a story of the emergence of a unified nation, the liberation narrative actually is an example of a far more exclusionary form of nationalism that uses the vocabulary of national belonging to make distinctions between citizens, and thus justifies practices of inclusion and exclusion. Its strength lies in its ability to link current material politics with emotionally compelling narratives of identity.