Namibia’s Young Heroes… and charting new destiny for them
>> The following are key excerpts of the speech delivered by Retired Lieutenant-General MARTIN SHALLI at the First SWAPO Party Youth League (SPYL) Olupale Lecture Series on March 19, 2013 in Windhoek.
The name Olupale has its historical roots in the time when people used to sit around the African fire in the evenings narrating stories about cultures, traditions, life, ethics, threats, the economy and politics and so forth.
Unfortunately this does not happen anymore.
Today we spend time watching television or chatting on social networks which is well and fine given the times we live in.
The aim of this lecture series is to tell our story instead of allowing an invasion by non-participatory actors.
I am equally pleased to be the first one to deliver a lecture of many more to follow.
Let me start by putting the struggle for freedom and Independence into historical perspective by giving you a little flavor of some of the important events that took place prior to the actual war for liberation.
The war of resistance that was fought by our forefathers across the entire breath and length of our country is fundamental to our heroic struggle.
The Europeans had one aim only and only to conquer our land, enslave us and exploit our precious and abundant natural resources, nothing more and nothing less.
Our people throughout Africa put up a fight and resisted heroically against the invaders.
In recent history we have seen the skulls of our people being returned to Namibia only more than a century later.
The indiscriminate killing of our people clearly demonstrates the level of brutality the invaders unleashed on our people and the need therefore to fight back.
The formation of the Ovamboland Peoples Congress on the 19th of April in 1958 in Cape Town by Namibians working in South Africa and its transformation into the Ovamboland Peoples Organisation in 1959, both of which are the forerunners of SWAPO in 1960, is a direct response to the ongoing colonial bondage in Namibia and the repression that comes with it.
The aim was to bring together the Namibian people and in a coordinated fashion put an end to foreign occupation and colonialism.
We all know today and for a fact that this historical mission was achieved and at a cost.
The Windhoek massacre or the Old Location Massacre on December 10, 1959 invigorated our people even more and made things worse for the enemy.
It brought the majority of our people more and more closer.
At this point of our struggle, many young Namibians including Sam Nujoma, left the country to organise the struggle from outside our borders.
This is perhaps where the youth began to get actively involved in the struggle led by SWAPO.
Let me quickly remind you that today December 10 is marked internationally as Human Rights Day, something that has nothing to do with the Old Location Massacre.
Between 1962 and 1965 SWAPO began to arrange an armed liberation struggle by mobilising the international community and on the encouragement of some progressive African states.
Besides the political and diplomatic struggle, SWAPO decided to embark on the third leg of the struggle – the barrel of the gun.
That is why on August 26, 1966 the first shot heralding the launch of the armed liberation struggle was fired at Omulugombashe situated in the northwestern corner of Namibia.
The majority of the SWAPO combatants who were there were young. All of the six who had travelled from Tanzania were under 35 years of age.
The events in Portugal in 1974 had a great impact on the overall situation in Southern Africa.
What is known today as the Carnival Revolution led by General de Spinola on April 24, 1974 saw the fall of the Portuguese colonial empire thus opening up opportunities for many young Namibians to flee Namibia and join the struggle abroad.
I was among the group that left to join the armed liberation struggle in 1974.
This was the turning point in our struggle in that the thousands of youth that joined SWAPO abroad ended up serving in the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN).
The Tanga Consultative Conference that took place in Tanzania from December 1969 to January 1970 is also important to mention because it adopted the SWAPO Constitution and structures. These structures include the Political Bureau, the Central Committee, and the Wings. Wings are PLAN, the SWAPO Youth League, the SWAPO Women’s Council (SWC) and SWAPO Elders Council (SEC).
SEC had difficulties finding members initially because most members did not qualify to be called elders meaning they were too young to join.
There were times when the SWC had to co-opt males as members such as Helmut Angula, Tuli Hiveluah, and Namalambo.
Let us now briefly look at the period 1971 to 1974.
This period was characterised by strikes and student demostrations, omapokolo (makalani slashes) and the destruction of cattle pens both in Namibia and Angola.
This is the period when the SWAPO Youth League stepped in to fill the vacuum left after the leadership of SWAPO was rounded up following the Omugulugombashe Battle.
SWAPO activities were curtailed between 1967 and 1970.
SPYL did a lot to intensify the campaign against the regime. The regime responded with terror, random arrests and brutal torture all of which did nothing to dampen the spirit of the Namibian youth or stop the wind of change blowing across the country.
The people who carried out this phase of the struggle were youth. The sheer commitment and determination of the youth helped a great deal to revive the activities of SWAPO inside Namibia and thus complimented the struggle being waged from outside the borders of Namibia.
Summing it all up, these activities were mutually inclusive.
I believe the military activities of PLAN on the field of battle and messages coming through Radio of Namibia stations abroad inspired and encouraged many to continue the struggle against foreign domination and apartheid regime.
This brings me to the actual armed liberation struggle between 1966 and 1989 – a period spanning 23 years – and youth participation.
It can be argued that naturally the youth had to be at the forefront of the armed struggle due to various factors such as their numbers.
To give an idea of what I am talking about let us look at this statistics: PLAN had roughly 20 000 men and women bearing arms, and 95 percent of those were youth. This represents about 40 percent of SWAPO exiles.
Average age at different stages: 1975 was 22, 1980 was 24, 1985 was 27, and by the end of the war in 1989 was 30. What does this tell us?
It tells us about active youth involvement and at grand scale, plain and clear. It also quite clearly explains to us that the youth bore the brunt of the war and that those whose blood waters our freedom are overwhelmingly the youth, close to 100 percent.
Is that not a great sacrifice by the youth of this great land, Land of the Brave, towards the attainment of freedom and independence that we enjoy and continue to enjoy today? The answer is a resoundingly simple yes.
We should also not forget the struggle the youth battled inside Namibia through platforms such as student and labour movements and through various church denominations and church umbrella organisations.
To top it up, the combatants of PLAN needed the constant support of the youth in the villages, mainly young girls who cultivated the mahangu fields, pounded mahangu and cooked for them.
Young men and boys provided information essential to the execution of the just cause.
The majority of them were either SWAPO members or supported the cause for liberation otherwise I do not see how they would have gone to such lengths.
For this reason many patriotic young Namibians suffered greatly at the hands of the racist and brutal criminals of the white fascist and racist regime. Many lie in unmarked graves throughout the Land of the Brave.
The liberation of Namibia came at a great cost. People, mainly the youth, had to fight and die for it. We must guard and protect the achievements of our revolution at all times and at all cost.
This year we mark our 23rd year of Independence which accords us another opportunity to reflect on our achievements as we navigate into the future.
As a nation we have set ourselves strategic and operational goals with clear timelines such as Vision 2030 and National Development Plan 4.
The good news is the youth of today do not need to pick up guns to fight. What you need to do is use modern tools to successfully liberate yourselves from the bondage of poverty, under development and unemployment, just to mention but a few.
These are challenges and in those challenges lay opportunities. We are fortunate to be blessed with abundant natural resources and we also have the human capital.
What are we doing with these resources? Continuing to export them in raw form without value addition is not helpful.
We cannot allow Africa to be the richest continent whilst its people are the poorest of the poor.
The youth bore the brunt of the liberation war and today 23 years on are bearing the brunt of the economic revolution.
Look at the figures of unemployed youth – unacceptably high. The survival of the youth today is also threatened by HIV and AIDS, and by many social evils such as alcohol and drug abuse, and gender biased violence.
The youth must drive and participate in the economy and thrive from it. By the way who is at the forefront of our struggle for economic liberation?
Who is the Commander-in-Chief and who are the troops? Are the troops adequately trained and properly equipped for the task?
These are pertinent questions we must ask ourselves.
Look at our geo-strategic position in the world. We have Brazil and the US to the west, South Africa to the south and Angola to the north and the rest of SADC states in between.
For that reason we need a service oriented economy able and capable of servicing the larger economies of SA, Angola and beyond.
Look at the number of IT companies in the world today with assets worth millions and millions of dollars. You don’t need to be an oil, copper, uranium, diamond or beef exporting economy to achieve that.
Who are the people catching our fish, building our roads, dams, aerodromes, even state house? Why? We simply have no trained manpower to undertake such projects.
We have no enough doctors, nurses, teachers, legal professionals, accountants, quantity surveyors and the list goes on. This skills gap must be addressed soon rather than later and this is my strong view.