Calling for more leaders like Ya Toivo

“I’m greatly disappointed by the current situation of tribalism in Namibia. I fought against tribalism, but today I’m hearing people mentioning Ndonga, Kwanyama, Damara, Herero and so on. My message to you, Kazambire and your peers, is that tribalism shall take you nowhere. Many countries went to war because of tribalism. I’m a different person, I helped setting out Swapo to unite Namibians under that organisation and I didn’t ask favours or position for having done that. I went to jail for many years and I was ready to die and to suffer physically, emotionally and psychologically for the sake of this great nation. I am now done with my mission and very frail. I’m at the airport with my ticket now, waiting for the plane to come so that I go home to meet my friends, Tobias Hainyeko and others. I will soon leave it in your hands. Young ones, remember, tribalism will take you nowhere.”

This a quotation taken from a national television interview with the late liberation struggle icon Herman Andimba Toivo ya Toivo. It was 2011 when Namibia’s ruling party Swapo (a party Ya Toivo helped found) was heading to its 2012 elective congress. At the time the tribalism debate in the country was heated to the extent that even Members of Parliament and Cabinet ministers instigated a notion that minority tribes in the country were being deliberately marginalised by government and the ruling party.  It was a difficult period where comrades who shared trenches during the liberation struggle, more than 20 years after independence, were now turning against each other mainly based on their tribal orientation. Ya Toivo, knowing well that some in the ruling party were using tribalism to forward their political agenda, was one of the few national leaders who spoke out against such behaviour.

As the world celebrates the life of this giant, it is imperative that we say that Herman Andimba Toivo ya Toivo was part of a rare breed of politicians and a rare breed of liberation heroes. The breed that chose to sacrifice their personal comfort, power, positions and wealth for the greater good.

A breed that did not feel entitled to state resources and positions. At 93, Ya Toivo was still working to earn a living for his family. He chaired a board meeting the day he, to put it in his words, boarded his plane home.

In 1984, when he was released from Robben Island, many in Swapo claimed “the real leader of the revolution” was now free and should take his rightful place as the president of Swapo. But the dedicated servant in him did not rock the boat by demanding the position. In fact, Ya Toivo was content to serve as party secretary general under President Sam Nujoma, as long as he was serving his party. After independence Ya Toivo was again content to serve as Minister of Mines, Minister of Labour and Minister of Prisons before retiring. Many expected him to be elevated to more significant posts of Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister or even Speaker of the National Assembly. But again, he was just too eager to serve his nation regardless of the position he held in government. Interestingly despite a number of people calling him the “real leader of the revolution”, Ya Toivo never mounted an attempt to challenge the then party leader Nujoma for that position. At the age of 80 this giant decided to retire from government despite having had the option to stay on. He rather continued serving the Namibian nation through humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross Society of Namibia.

Parallels can indeed be drawn with Zimbabwe’s Joshua Nkomo, a gentle giant who passed on on 1 July 1999. Popularly known as Father Zimbabwe during the country’s liberation struggle, many, including the white oppressors, thought Nkomo would be the leader of the new Zimbabwe at independence in 1980.

But after his party did not garner the majority in elections, he was content in serving as a cabinet minister under then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe.

Nkomo knew no tribe, but was a true patriot who always wore the national and African interest on his sleeve.  Even after the signing of the 1987 Unity Accord between Zanu and Zapu following years of internal disturbances, Nkomo selflessly put the interests of the Zimbabwean people first and chose to serve, first as Senior Minister and then as Vice President, a position he held until his death.

As we pay tribute to Tatekulu Ya Toivo and his selfless service to the people of Southern Africa and the world, we call upon all politicians in the region to emulate people of his calibre.

We live in a SADC where the so-called revolutionaries are prepared to turn a blind eye to those looting state resources, just so they can keep their ministerial positions. Many have forgotten what it means to serve for the greater good.

With the likes of Ya Toivo flying home, SADC more then ever needs true believers like them to further carry the torch.

June 2017
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