A private side of Andimba Toivo ya Toivo
Andimba Toivo ya Toivo is also a devoted family man with a unique sense of humour and a physical fitness regime that many who are a quarter of his age wouldn’t manage, writes his wife Vicki Erenstein ya Toivo
It is difficult to separate the private side of Andimba from the public one. By virtue of his vision, his sacrifices, achievements and his key role in modern politics in Namibia generally, my husband belongs to the Namibian nation. It is impossible to accompany to him to a wedding, to the service station or to the grocery store without being reminded of his iconic status. In a phone conversation recently, a friend challenged me, half in jest, as to why I referred to Andimba as “my husband” and not as “ya Toivo”, implying that I was somehow trying to trivialize the public stature of the man. However, there is a private side to the public man.
Andimba is devoted to his family. When he was arrested in 1966 for his role in the launch of the armed liberation struggle, he resided with his mother and the son and daughter of his late sister, whom he was helping to raise. When he returned to Namibia shortly before Independence, he took on the responsibilities, which I shared, of caring for his mother, then in her nineties and blind, and of raising his sister Ester’s two youngest sons, Isak and Philemon, both of whom still live in our home as young men.
In addition to his brother Nestor and his sister Ester and their many children and grandchildren, Andimba keeps in touch with the large complement of first and second cousins and their children as well as other family members.
Andimba is the adoring father of twins Nashikoto and Mutaleni, who are now 15, and the adoration is mutual.
He is uncharacteristically patient with them and pays particular attention to their moral and ethical upbringing.
He often emphasizes the importance of speaking to, and treating everyone with respect and courtesy.
I am certain that they will repeat to their children his oft-repeated statement “I don’t like liars and I don’t like thieves.” He attaches the highest degree of importance to education as the path to personal and national development, and he repeatedly counsels the girls, not always successfully, about the need to devote themselves to their studies.
He does not hesitate to attend parent-teacher conferences or other school meetings.
Although he had never experienced a “vacation” prior to Independence, Andimba gradually warmed to the practice of taking an annual holiday as a means of spending time together with the children and I.
Although most vacations have been spent in Namibia, either in Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, Ondangwa, or Katima, we have also had the good fortune to travel with the family abroad.
As a public man and father, Andimba has also exposed his daughters and nephews to a wide range of public activities in which he participates, such as Independence Day, Heroes Day and Africa Day celebrations, diplomatic receptions and public lectures, and to the many social events to which we are invited.
We recently travelled with the girls to Pretoria, where Andimba was awarded the Order of the Grand Companions of Oliver Tambo by the South African President. The same day included visits to the Mandelas and to then-Presidential candidate Jacob Zuma.
Andimba is one of the friendliest people that I have ever met. This has endeared him to many people throughout the country. In his travels as a minister, he befriended people in virtually every corner of Namibia, and he keeps in touch with them. He will not pass through a town without visiting a friend, even if he has not seen him or her for years. He has maintained the practice over the years of phoning people in Namibia and abroad, just to let them know that he is thinking of them (“Kandi nasha”).
He has also maintained contact with his old friends, some of whom he has known since the time of childhood, and he does not hesitate to number among his friends persons across Namibia’s political spectrum.
His visits to sick friends and bereaved families are countless and legendary.
He once learned that a family member had passed away in the north. Without verifying the information, he rushed to the north and found the “deceased” to be sitting outside his home, very much alive!
Andimba is curious by nature. He often interrogates a person whom he is meeting for the first time about his or her village of birth and family background. More often than not, Andimba knows or knew the parents or grandparents of the new acquaintance, particularly if he or she comes from the North, and can provide previously unknown information about the family. He is never afraid to ask questions about any topic of interest. He is also an avid reader of non-fiction and newspapers.
His curiosity makes him open to new experiences.
Although I am Jewish, I visited the Jewish synagogue in Windhoek for the first time because my husband told me that he had always wanted to visit a synagogue. About eight years ago, he went snow tubing with the girls and I on a Pennsylvania mountain. Recently, I was able to persuade him to attend the Biltong Festival, not because either of us particularly likes biltong, but as a cultural experience.
Humility and informality
Anyone who knows Andimba is aware that he is humble and informal. When he was a minister, he made a point of knowing as many staff members of his ministry as possible and his door was always open to staff.
He is content to attend public events and to sit with the crowd instead of being treated as a VIP.
His informality has startled many an ambassador in Namibia, when Andimba dropped by the ambassador’s residence, unannounced, just to say “hello”.
Sense of humour
Andimba has a unique sense of humour. To illustrate:
This story was told to me at the Biltong Festival by a man who used to work in the Ministry of Mines and Energy when Andimba was Minister. Andimba and the man were together in an elevator and Andimba asked him if he was going to his farm for the weekend.
The man said,” I don’t have a farm, Minister.”Andimba replied, “Then you’re a stupid Boer.” The man replied, “Are you going to your farm for the weekend, Minister?” Andimba replied, “I don’t have a farm.” The man answered, “Then you’re a stupid Minister.
The girls often ask Andimba to repeat his favourite joke: An Englishman and an African were eating chicken.
After finishing the chicken, the Englishman ordered ice cream, while the African continued to chew the chicken bones.
The Englishman said, “If you eat the chicken bones, what do you give your dog?” The African replied, “Ice cream.”
Andimba inspires many younger people with his devotion to physical fitness.
He rises each morning around 4 am and commences an exercise programme that includes walking outside and up the steep hill to our house, callisthenics and standing on his head while making quick scissor kicks (yes!).
He sometimes interrupts the session for Al Jazeera or “Good Morning Namibia.”
He also goes to the gym daily for exercise and sauna.
There is a lot more to be said about Andimba, the private person.
This will have to wait for the next birthday.