Exile biography and un-national history: the story of Kaufilwa Nepelilo

Exile biography and un-national history: the story of Kaufilwa Nepelilo

Author: 
Williams, Christian A.
Publisher: 
Taylor & Francis Group
Date published: 
2016
Record type: 
Journal Title: 
Journal of Eastern African Studies
Source: 
Journal of Eastern African Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1, February 2017, pp. 151-165
Abstract: 

In the history of Namibia's liberation struggle, Kaufilwa Nepelilo's story is largely unintelligible. As one of hundreds of contract laborers to leave Namibia during the early 1960s in search of opportunities in postcolonial Tanzania, Nepelilo soon found himself living at Kongwa, the site of the first guerrilla camp granted to the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) and other liberation movements then supported by the Organization of African Unity. A reluctant "freedom fighter" at best, Nepelilo's account of life at Kongwa focuses not on preparations to liberate Namibia from colonialism but rather on escalating tensions between rank-in-file guerrillas and the camp command. Nepelilo's story is not a well-worn "dissident" narrative either, however. In contrast to this narrative, which introduces Kongwa in the context of SWAPO's 1968 "Kongwa Crisis," Nepelilo focuses on the inequities of camp daily life over seven years. Moreover, he highlights other personal experiences of exile which have fallen outside repeated narratives, including his motivation for traveling to Tanzania in the 1960s, his imprisonment in Tanzanian and Zambian jails in the 1970s, and his repatriation as an "Angolan refugee" in the 1980s. As I maintain, the discrepancy between Nepelilo's story and Namibian struggle histories reflects both the politics of exile in contemporary Southern Africa and the times and places where exiles lived in Africa's frontline states. Nepelilo's story has not been "silenced," however. Rather, it has been repeated often among friends who share stories about their experiences in exile to establish valuable relationships. The biographical details articulated in such stories may easily be drawn into a new national history. At the same time, they have the potential to push against nationalism altogether, allowing for different forms of historical narration and new insight into struggle pasts and their transnational legacies.

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CITATION: Williams, Christian A.. Exile biography and un-national history: the story of Kaufilwa Nepelilo . : Taylor & Francis Group , 2016. Journal of Eastern African Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1, February 2017, pp. 151-165 - Available at: http://library.au.int/exile-biography-and-un-national-history-story-kaufilwa-nepelilo