The Heroes‘ Acre – A Dignified Resting Place

10 Jul 2020

Brigitte Weidlich

If you drive to Windhoek by car, you will notice an impressive white obelisk in the south, which stands out from the Auas Mountains in the background. The obelisk is visible from all directions and is part of a cemetery for national heroes that was inaugurated in 2002.

The "Heroes Acre" was built by the North Korean state company 'Mansudae Overseas Projects' in only 13 months. It is the official war memorial of Namibia and is open to visitors of the public. It is under the administration of the National Heritage Council, and serves to "maintain patriotism and national consciousness and pass on the legacy to future generations of Namibia", according to an official description.

A panoramic view of the Heroes’ Acre. Photo by: Memorials 2015-Blogspot

The origins of the Heroes‘ Acre

The construction of the war memorial cemetery was initiated by Namibia's founding president Sam Nujoma after visiting the heroes’ acre during an African Union summit in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1997, which at the time had been newly built.

The North Korean state-owned company 'Mansudae Overseas' was commissioned to carry out the construction work in Windhoek. The company also built several other buildings in Namibia, including the new Presidential Office, the Independence Museum next to the Old Fortress and the Military Museum in Okahandja.

The Windhoek municipality donated the piece of land of more than 732 hectares to the government about ten kilometers south of the city. The complex was designed by a team of North Korean experts in collaboration with the municipality, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the National Heritage Council and the Ministry of Public Works and Transport. The construction cost was approximately N$60 million (around 2 million euros). The entire project led to lively discussions - pro and contra - in the population.

A bird’s eye view of the Heroes Acre. Photo by: Brian McMorrow

Large dimensions in honour of the heroes

The actual monument site next to the military barracks is 287 meters long and 134 meters wirde with 174 graves. The facility is based on a symmetrical polygon, with a large square and a public grandstand with 5,000 seats, a platform for guests of honour, behind it the eternal flame. A line of stairs left and right lead uphill to the graves and the obelisk at the top.

There is a high, semicircular wall with metal sculptures that represent different stages of the Namibian liberation struggle. In front of the obelisk in the middle is an eight metre high statue of the ‘unknown soldier’, whose face is unmistakably similar to that of founding President Sam Nujoma. The monument and the entire wall sculptures were made in North Korea and then transported to Namibia.

White marble and black granite from Karibib on the edge of the Namib Desert were used to clad all concrete structures of the complex.

Behind the obelisk and the wall, further steps lead to a viewing pavilion with a restaurant.

The statue of the Unknown Soldier is 8 metres high. Photo by: Wikipedia

Other interesting features are the huge gate at the entrance, where parking spaces have been set up on almost 9,800 square meters.

The entire facility is surrounded by high fences and is constantly monitored by security personnel.

After only 13 months of construction, the Heroes’ Acre was officially inaugurated on August 26, 2002, in honor of the start of the armed liberation struggle on August 26, 1966.

"The blood of all our sons and daughters of Namibia has watered the tree of our freedom and will always be remembered by present and later generations of the Republic of Namibia," said President Nujoma at the inauguration ceremony. He emphasized that the war memorial is a “monument to all Namibians” and, regardless of ethnicity or religion, should remind all Namibians of the struggle for freedom.

Part of the wall relief at the Heroes Acre. Photo by: The Namibian newspaper

Only persons who are officially declared national heroes receive a burial site and a state funeral at the Heroes’ Acre. The first person to be buried there was Lieutenant General Dimo Hamaambo, Commander of the Namibia Defence Force. He passed away just three weeks after the inauguration ceremony. Early heroes of the liberation struggle, such as the legendary Nama leader Hendrik Witbooi, have received a symbolic grave with a tombstone.

Some prominent Namibians who were declared national heroes after their death preferred to be buried in their hometown. Others were re-buried posthumously during an official ceremony in 2015, such as Moses Garoëb, a minister in the first cabinet in 1990 and a high-ranking fighter in the Namibian Liberation Army (PLAN), Peter Mweshihange.

An exceptional case was the re-burial of German-speaking Namibian Anton Lubowski, a lawyer and a prominent member of the SWAPO Party in Namibia before independence. Lubowski was assassinated in front of his house in September 1989 with gun shots. The murder is still unsolved. After consulting his family, Lubowski was posthumously declared a national hero in 2015 by President Hage Geingob. His earthly remains were transferred from the cemetery in the Pionierspark township to the Heroes’ Acre during an act of state.

Already in 2014, the remains of  seven Namibians who had died in exile before Namibia's independence were transferred. They found their final resting place on August 26, 2014 in a moving ceremony at the Heroes Acre.

Since the war memorial was inaugurated in 2002, it has become a tradition for heads of state and other high-ranking visitors to Namibia to lay a wreath at the Eternal Flame at the Heroes Acre.


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