‘If things go on like this, lives will be lost’
Veteran Namibian politician Andimba Toivo ya Toivo speaks to Insight’s Tangeni Amupadhi
What have you been up to since leaving government?
ATT: After leaving the government, Akapandi Endjala invited me at J&P group. I’ve been working with them until 2007. I been also involved in the Namibian archives and until now I have been involved with the Red Cross Society, of which I’m currently the chairman. The Red Cross is a reputable organisation to help people in need. When we were incarcerated on Robben Island they used to come and help us. For the Namibian prisoners they used to give us R30 every year. Only the Namibians. It’s because we were away from our families and some did not even get visitors until we were released.
Now how do you spend your days?
ATT: I’m just sitting at home. And when they need me to go and do something for the Red Cross, I go. I just sit and wait to eat and sleep. Last year at the Swapo Congress you were among people standing for re-election to the Central Committee. Why did you stand? One would have thought you’d leave politics.
ATT: No, no, no. Politics is in my blood. Even you, you are also a politician but the difference between you and me is that perhaps I’m and active politician and you are a silent politician. If you don’t have a food, you complain. If you don’t have a roof over your head you complain. That’s politics. Politics is to better the lives of people while you are on this earth.
When will you ever decide you have had enough of politics?
ATT: No, no, no. Perhaps only when I’m not able to move. It is in my blood.
No sooner had the ink dried on your appeal to fellow Swapo members to be tolerant than the attacks on the RDP (Rally for Democracy and Progress) took place at Outapi. What did you make of that? Well, it’s a problem. I don’t know how it comes about. But as I say in my appeal to the comrades in Swapo, the leadership must take the lead. And if the leadership does not take the lead, things will go haywire.
If I have children in my house and they do nasty things, normally, traditionally I’d say ‘hey, young man, stop it’. If I don’t do that perhaps the children will think that I condone what they are doing. Similarly, if you have children doing nasty things you must bring them to order, if you don’t do that then they just feel they have the blessing from you. It is very unfortunate. I don’t know what is happening. The leadership must come forward strongly and bring these things to a stop.
What made you feel that you should issue a general public appeal?
ATT: I’ve done that because I felt that politics is the right of every Namibian. Every Namibian can form his or her party in the land of the brave. If we say we are a democratic society, then we have to tolerate one another. I myself, when we were in the liberation struggle, I never felt I’d be sitting with Dirk Mudge or Jan de Wet or Pik Botha. But when we attained our independence we said we have to adopt reconciliation because if we keep on being at one another’s throats, we are going to slaughter one another. Who will remain in the country? It will be the desert. Even now when we are at one another’s throats who are we going to protect? We have a constitution that says everyone has the right to form a party whatever he or she feels like. As long as these are in the ambit of the law. You cannot just do things outside the law.
We have seen that some of the people carrying out the attacks on their opponents are young people. Does this intolerance make you feel the country is in good hands?
ATT: Not at all. I don’t know what is happening with the young people, but they should toe the line of the party to which they belong. I believe all the political parties’ aims and objectives are to advocate political ideas within the law, not outside the law. What I see now, people are just doing things outside the law, calling one another names. If you are my brother or sister and you belong to your party, I belong to mine, so be it. That’s your choice and mine. That’s how it should be. What I see now is the creation of animosity between Namibians. And very soon, very soon if the situation is left to go on like this, lives will be lost. It will be unfair and that will be the tarnishing of the country we love.
Towards the end of last year there were reports you were joining a new party. Are you not worried by making this appeal that you’d be accused of siding with the RDP again?
ATT: That is rubbish. Complete and utter rubbish. Whoever said that, they did that for their own benefit. Nobody came to speak to me about that [joining a new party]. Well, if they say that it is their right to speak, but I said I’m a Swapo man. I do not belong to any other party.
How are your relations with the founding President Sam Nujoma and President Hifikepunye Pohamba?
ATT: What about that?
There are talks that your relations, especially with former President Nujoma, have been tense.
ATT: Well, not from my side. If that’s what’s in his heart I cannot tell. I know about my heart and there is no tension towards him.
And with President Pohamba?
ATT: I have no problem with him. I can even go and see him now if I want to. But as I said I don’t see what is in their hearts, I see what’s in my heart.
What should the role of the intellectual be in Namibia?
ATT: You are one of them, you should know better. Intellectuals if they are concerned with the future and stability of this country they should try to direct how people should behave in this land of the brave to live in peace and harmony.
Should intellectuals be independent of authority or should they be aligned to one or the other cause?
ATT: As far as I’m concerned there is no independent individual. Even if directly you don’t belong to any political party, within yourself you have a party to support. Within yourself you take a stand somehow. You cannot say you are not a politician and will be independent. As I said earlier politics is about trying to better the lives of the people. And you have to follow the political party that you think can best steer your cause. But is there room for the intellectual to do that in this country? ATT: Why not? Unless they shy away.
But people are afraid to say what they feel.
ATT: It is within your democratic right protected by the constitution of this country. If we are really concerned and truly a democratic society, what should you fear. State your views. Let people know who you are and what you stand for.
When are we going to see you life story [in book form]? You have done a lot that we could learn from.
ATT: Just pray to the good lord to keep you moving for some years to come until it comes.