Every Fourth of May, when the people of Namibia and Angola – and indeed of all of Southern Africa – commemorate Cassinga Day, it is difficult not to draw parallels with how the world has approached the comparable case of the Jews and the Nazis over the last 75 years.
Every child is taught about the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the Nazi political and military machine.
Indeed, the attempt by Germany to wipe out Jews in World War II – about 40 years after the dress rehearsal attempt to wipe out the Ovaherero and Nama in Namibia – attracts far more attention than the fact that Russia lost around 20 million people in that war. Who cares, after all – they were just communists, right?
In the same way, who cares about the massacre of the Ovaherero, the Nama and Namibian civilians at Cassinga on May 4, 1978?
But let us go back to the foundation of our case.
Just a few months after Germany and its allies were defeated in World War II, the international community witnessed the start of the Nuremberg trials.
The Nuremberg trials essentially established the basis for international law as it is known today within the context of human rights abuses, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
At Nuremberg, 22 men were put on trial – one of them in absentia – for their roles in the Nazi atrocities. Three of the accused were acquitted, and of the 18 present who were found guilty, 11 were sentenced to death by the hangman’s noose.
The big idea behind the Nuremberg trials was that the world would not let such violations of human rights, such mass murders as those perpetrated by Germany, slide without people being called to account for their heinous actions.
And the concept stuck – to some extent.
Since the Nuremberg trials, Nazi criminals have been pursued far and wide – from Europe, to South America, to Australia – so that they face justice for what they did to the Jews.
And on top of that, millions of dollars have been paid out in reparations to Jewish victims by various governments for their complicity in the holocaust and Nazi-era looting.
The blood of the Jews is truly precious. They must worship a superior god to that of other people who have suffered atrocities – before and after the Jewish Holocaust – at the hands of Western powers.
On May 8, 1945 – the very day that the Nazis surrendered in Europe to allied powers that included France – the French began the Sétif Massacre in Algeria.
And irony of ironies, the massacre started when around 5,000 Algerians went out into the streets to celebrate the end of the Nazis. There was hope that the French would realise that their own oppression by the Germans was just as bad as France’s oppression of Algeria.
Instead, the French military and police shot people dead in the streets of Sétif. Then the air force was deployed to bomb villages as an exclamation point.
The official French figure for those dead in the Sétif Massacre and the exclamation point bombings of villages is 1,020. Historian Alistair Horn put the figure of fatalities at 6,000 – a number even his moderate colleagues agree is on the conservative side. Radio Cairo said the death toll was in the region of 45,000.
In 2005, 60 years after the massacre, France issued an “apology”. That was it. No Nuremberg-style trials. No calls for justice. Just an “apology”, 60 years later.
Would the people of Algeria be wrong to think that their blood is of less value than that of Europeans?
We can also talk of the events of November 23 to 25, 1977 in Chimoio, Mozambique when the Rhodesian regime launched “Operation Dingo”, which was an attack on a refugee camp housing Zimbabweans who had fled the colonial atrocities in their homeland.
Thousands died that day. And not even an apology has been issued. Never mind talk of reparations.
Is the blood of Zimbabweans of less value than that of Europeans?
Which takes us to what happened on May 4, 1978 when apartheid South Africa launched an aerial raid on a refugee camp, this one housing Namibians who had also fled the horrors of occupation and colonialism back home.
That attack happened at a place called Cassinga in Angola.
The estimates of the defenceless people who died there ranges from between 600 and over 1,000.
As the people of Namibia and Angola marked Cassinga Day this past week, there were no international calls for justice. There were no recriminations for the atrocity. There was no talk of an apology by those responsible.
For much of the rest of the world, May 4 was just another day. After all, the blood of Africans is not as red as that of Europeans.
Is it any wonder why Germany has found it easier to try and atone for what it did to the Jews but has serious problems when it comes to the case of the first holocaust of the 20th century, the massacre of Namibians?
It is a trend that has played itself out on countless occasions over the centuries in all places where Western powers have sought to assert themselves as superior to non-whites.
Ask the people of My Lai in Vietnam. Ask the Aborigines of Australia. Ask the Maoris of New Zealand. Ask the indigenous inhabitants of North, Central and South America.
Cassinga Day should be a reminder to Africans that the West does not view them as equals, that the West believes ours is the blood of lesser folk.
More importantly, Cassinga Day is a reminder to Africans that they need to start asserting their rights under international law.