SWAPO unhappy with slow land reform
Q: Last week Namibians commemorated the 46th anniversary of SWAPO’s formation. SWAPO was formed on April 19, 1960. What was the situation like then in the country to necessitate the formation of a liberation movement? A: It is very important to give the historical background, as well as the aims and objectives of SWAPO. The major objective of the party was to liberate the country from minority white racists of apartheid South Africa. Whereas we were keen on a peaceful solution with the apartheid regime, the response of the minority white settlers was the rampant shooting of our people, first on the 10th of December 1959, just before SWAPO was formed. I was then the president of the Ovamboland People’s Organisation, which was the forerunner of the SWAPO party. There was widespread abuse of our people and we were defenceless against the white settlers. We did not even have a single pistol to be able to respond to the enemy’s firepower. They had sophisticated weapons from the Second World War, they terrorised our people in the old locations and so on and so forth. So eventually the situation got so bad that we were forced to think of ways to respond to the violence of the enemy and to liberate ourselves. Following the uprisings of December 1959, some colleagues and I were arrested. Some of my colleagues were deported to the then native reserves. I had a lawyer and each time I appeared in court, the magistrate would say my case had been withdrawn but I would be rearrested upon leaving the courtroom, taken to the police station, record a statement and made to pay bail to the tune of 10 pounds, at that time we were using the South African pound. It began routine and I had a meeting with the executive committee of the OPO and it was decided that I get out of then country, go to the United Nations and petition there. So on the 29th of February I went through the border of Botswana, into the then Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Tanganyika. By that time there was no political party in the region so there was nobody I could contact. However I met some workers from Nyasaland, now Malawi, who were working in mines in South Africa. At that time in central Africa, NDP of southern Rhodesia, UNIP in northern Rhodesia and Kamuzu Banda’s party were fighting against the so-called federation which intended to maintain white domination over central Africa. I was helped by NDP, then by UNIP and later by Tanganyika African National Union (KANU) led by the late Julius Nyerere. I met Nyerere in Dar as salaam when he had just returned from petitioning the United Nations with the late president Olivier of Togo and we discussed how to fight the white settlers. I went to Sudan, Accra Ghana, Liberia and later to the United Nations, where I appeared before the fourth committee the General Assembly of the UN in June 1960. Then we thought that petitioning the UN would be effective in forcing the apartheid regime of South Africa to agree with the UN to form a trusteeship for South West Africa as had happened in other former colonies. For example the British had agreed with the UN to form a trusteeship for Tanganyika and for Rwanda and Burundi the French had done the same. However the Boers refused, claiming that they were given the mandate by the League of Nations and since the League of Nations ceased to exist after the Second World war the bookers claimed that they had the right to incorporate Namibia into South Africa as a fifth province for the minority white regime of South Africa. On realising that the Boers were not cooperating with the UN, on the 26th of August 1966 we launched the armed struggle in Namibia, thanks to president Nyerere, who gave us a training camp. So the armed struggle took off and continued with intensity, combined with political mass mobilisation in Namibia, diplomatic activity at international level. We succeeded in isolating the apartheid regime of South Africa. In fact, we were so effective that South Africa lost its seat at the UN and SWAPO had a seat at the UN, albeit with no voting rights. Thus we defeated the enemy, leading to our independence. Q: Forty-six years on, what do you consider as some of the major achievements by SWAPO? A: Having achieved our major objective of liberating the country, the SWAPO party government set as its post independent objectives the development of infrastructure because Namibia was isolated even from its neighbours. The only way into our country was through South Africa, by road or by rail and by sea, of course. So we first constructed the Trans Kalahari highway which links Namibia to Botswana, Cape Province of South Africa up to Maputo and thus complete the Walvis Bay Maputo Corridor. We also constructed the Trans Caprivi Highway, linking Namibia to Zambia. A new bridge has been built over the Zambezi River to Zimbabwe, which leads all the way up to Malawi and DR Congo. We are now extending the railway line from Tsumeb to Oshikango to link Namibia by road and rail with Angola. The plan is to build another corridor from Walvis Bay to Angola by rail so that the whole of SADC is connected by road and rail. There is also a plan now to build a railway line from Zimbabwe, Botswana via southern Namibia to a new port to be built at Elizabeth Bay. We also to construct a new harbour in the north west of Namibia that will link up with the Trans Caprivi Highway. That harbour will serve landlocked countries that such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Northern Botswana, parts of Angola as well as Malawi and DRC. We also built the University of Namibia, the Polytechnic of Namibia, expanded the hospitals and the schools. Q: How have you managed to remain at the helm of the party for 46 years and still command respect among ordinary citizens and colleagues within the party? A: Well, the SWAPO party leadership has been always collective. This is what enabled us to get tom where we are. It is not a one man show. It is really a collective effort by all in the party leadership. Q: What plans do you have for the party now that you have more time to devote to leading it? A: First of all I will intensify efforts to continue mobilising the masses of the people to join SWAPO and make the party a strong one that will always win elections over many years to come. Q: How do you intend to rejuvenate the party and get the youths more involved to ensure continuity? A: SWAPO has its affiliations: the youth league, the women’s council, the elders’ council and the National Union of Namibian workers which are affiliated to the party. So you can see that SWAPO is really a mass movement. All we have to do is maintain the momentum. Q: How important was the land issue when you took up arms to liberate Namibia? A: Very important. Infact, although Namibia is big in terms of land size, only about 30 percent of the land is suitable for agriculture and most of it was in the hands of minority whites. Q: Are you happy with the pace of land redistribution in Namibia? A: No. We have a policy of willing seller willing buyer to acquire land to resettle the landless but where it is impossible to acquire the land under this policy, the government has a policy of expropriating the land and distributing it to needy Namibians. This is a very slow process but the government intends to intensify the process of expropriating the land from the white farmers because there are absentee landlords who own land here but live in Europe and that is not acceptable to the SWAPO party government. Q: At the last SWAPO congress in 2002, a decision was taken to almost immediately expropriate about 190 farms owned by absentee landlords. What became of this grand plan? A: Well, the pan is on. The expropriation is taking place also and some Namibians have already been resettled at some of the farms but as I said, this is a very slow process; the government is intensifying the process of expropriation and also buying land from cooperative whites. It is very important for the minority white farm owners to know that if they have to live in Namibia they must make sure that there is peace and stability and that every Namibian has a piece of land to be able to produce for themselves and the nation. Q: Are you happy with the manner in which Namibians who have benefited from your land redistribution programme are utilising the land? A: Yes. Namibians have been cattle farmers, literally from time immemorial and many of those who got land are using it. Many still need it. As I have said, Namibia is big in size, but only a small portion of that land is productive. The rest is desert, semi-desert or mountainous and therefore unsuitable for and farming activity. The bulk of the arable land is still in the hands of the minority white settlers. Q: How would you describe SWAPO’s relationship with other revolutionary parties in the region? A: Very cordial. We have sister parties that include Zanu PF of Zimbabwe, MPLA of Angola, ANC of South Africa, FRELIMO of Mozambique, UNIP of Zambia, and CCM of Tanzania with which we developed ties during the struggle and continue to work with along with organisations such as the African Union in our quest to attain economic independence, eradicating poverty, disease and ignorance within our own country and the entire SADC region. We are still behind as a continent so the AU has a task of assisting all member states to develop their economies for the benefit of all on the continent. Q: How do you spend your time when you are not doing party work? A: I travel around the country and I am also taking a course with the Faculty of Geology at the University of Namibia so I am quite busy. (Dr Nujoma is reading for a MSc degree in developmental geology). Q: What aspects of your studies do you enjoy most? A: I am enjoying every bit of it. Geology is an eye-opener. You learn about the formation of the earth, causes and effects of earth movements, volcanic activity, earthquakes, and tsunamis and so on. For me it is very important to know about the formation of my country. Recently I joined students in the Faculty of Geology on a field trip to a number of places including the highest mountain in Namibia, which is full of marbles and granite. So we sit on riches but are unable to exploit these riches because we were deprived of education by the colonialists who occupied our country. So it is very important to do something in life. I would like to urge all Namibian youths to study science subjects such as geology, engineering, surveying and others so that they will be able to exploit their natural resources. Namibia is known to possess 95 percent of the world’s gem diamonds. Five percent is produced by the Russian Federation. Namibia is rich but people are still living in poverty because we have a shortage of educated and trained or skilled workers. We have to spend more on education and training. I am setting a personal example. We have now embarked on the second phase of our struggle, which is economic independence and it requires education. Q: What are your comments on the challenges facing Namibia, including HIV and AIDS? A: Well, the young people must learn from the programmes of our Ministry of Health and Social Services to be able to avoid getting into situations in which they can end up being infected by the virus that causes AIDS.