Namibian artist Tuli Mekondjo created a portrait of Mekulu Njokonona for the exhibition ‘Finding Memories: an everyday archive of Independence’ which took place online in February 2021. This exhibition was an activation within the Everyday Archive of Independence, which is a digital space for the everyday, family photos and personal memories. Official narratives and photo-journalism from this time in Namibian history often focused on capturing the pain and suffering of this era. While these narratives play an important role in helping us remember the past they also tell only part of the story.
The portrait of Mekulu Njokonona by Tuli Mekondjo is a mixed media artwork that evokes a sense of care and respect for the person represented. Mekondjo’s artwork is an artistic response not only to the idea of the everyday archive of independence, but to the interview with Mekulu Njokonona that the artist undertook for this project. The considered approach taken to the visual and conceptual aspects of this artwork and interview, speak to the personal and intimate nature of an archive, and indeed of the stories held within an archive.
“Meekulu Olivia Ndadilepo “Njokonona” Haufiku, affectionately known as “Meekulu Njokonona’’ was born in 1934 at Engela. She narrates her life, from the time when she was a young girl growing up and looking after livestock in the village and witnessing the war and apartheid in SWA Ovamboland, Namibia. Meekuku recalls when their homestead was bombed by a SADF war plane. She then had to experience working as a laborer in Swakopmund and at Ai-Ais and she describes how she had to have relevant “working papers” or a “PASS” in order to get employment. I asked Meekulu where she got her nickname, “Njokonona”/History from, she replied stating that it came from the History of war, when they used to talk about the war at a homestead while sipping on some tombo. Independence to Meekulu, is freedom of movement in an Independent Namibia, without the need to show her “PASS”. She urges the new leaders to hold on to peace, to have good governance and for Independence to reign. Meekulu also asked us a question: “What is Independence to us all, all of us that is new?”