Why Does Namibia Honour Its Women On Human Rights Day - On 2 Days?

9 Dec 2023

The 10th of December is dedicated to human rights worldwide. Also and especially in Namibia, as it has declared the day a public holiday. However, Namibians primarily honour their women. And this year they are not limiting themselves to 10 December, but are continuing the celebrations on 11 December...

Why is the holiday officially called 'Day of the Namibian Women'? Because it commemorates the uprising in the Old Location in Windhoek, which took place on 10 December 1959.

The inhabitants of the settlement on the western edge of the city protested against the planned relocation to a new neighbourhood 5 km north of Windhoek. They called it Katutura, in OtjiHerero "the place where there is no staying".

They were also upset because the municipality was cracking down on shebeens, small pubs that sold home-brewed beer ('tombo'). An important source of income for many women. For the municipality, it was undesirable competition for the 'beer hall' it ran.

Prelude to the liberation struggle

In a peaceful protest march, women marched first to the administrator and then to the magistrate of the mandate power South Africa in Windhoek to hand over a petition. But both refused to accept it. Back in the Old Location, the protestors decided to blockade the municipal beer hall.

When the police intervened, the conflict escalated. 13 people were shot dead, including one woman, and 44 were wounded. Nine police officers were injured. It was the first violent action by the apartheid regime against the resistance of the black population, three months before the massacre in Sharpeville. For Namibia, it was the start of the liberation struggle: many leading figures, including Sam Nujoma, the later SWAPO leader and first president of independent Namibia, went into exile to organise armed resistance.

Thus, 10 December in Namibia honours the contribution of women to the liberation struggle and is a public holiday. There is also an exciting video clip about the Old Location uprising on the YouTube channel of Gondwana Collection Namibia.

Memorial stone at the Old Location cemetery, which today serves as a memorial site. 
Photo: Gondwana Collection Namibia


Remembrance also on 11 December

But why was 11 December added as a day of remembrance this year? It's because of Namibia's celebration-friendly rule: if a public holiday falls on a Sunday, it is celebrated on Monday - see the article 'Holidays' in our section "Travel advice'.

Outside the borders of Namibia, women are not commemorated, but 'only' human rights - and only on Sundays. Nevertheless, there is something special here too this year: it is the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

"This landmark document enshrines the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being - regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status", says the United Nations website. "The Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 and sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected."

Sven-Eric Stender

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