By Paul Shipale
Much was said about the late Comrade Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo but allow me nevertheless to put some facts into proper perspective and to pay my tribute to a legendary leader and co-founder of Namibia’s modern liberation struggle.
In order to understand the title of my article, let us revert back to a discussion paper titled: ‘Identity and Power-Based Conflicts in a Postcolonial State’ written in 2011 by Sa Belo J. Ndlovo-Gatsheni of the Nordiska Afrika institute, Uppsala.
The study examines the roots of the crisis of nation-statism by critically looking at the nature of the colonial state as a racialised bifurcated structure within which ethnic fault-lines emerged, contributing to the fragmentation of nationalist movements.
It also describes the leadership struggles and the use of ethnicity to account for some of the divisions within the liberation movements based on a case study of Zimbabwe.
According to the study, in Zimbabwe, they formed the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (SRANC) which was later succeeded by the National Democratic Party (NDP), formed on the 1 January 1960 in Salisbury (Harare). The NDP leadership was dominated by nationalists of Karanga ethnic extraction, with Joshua Nkomo as president.
A split within NDP occurred, partly over issues of regional identities. Nkomo managed to contain a major split in the NDP but it was banned on 9 December 1961.
The NDP was succeeded by ZAPU within six days before it was banned on 20 September 1962. ZANU was born as a separate party at the inaugural congress held in Gweru in August 1963, with Reverend Ndabaningi Sithole, as its founder president.
Thus, nationalists consistently had personality clashes and quarrelled over the question of leadership.
At the end of the day, they fragmented into those who were called radicals, revolutionaries and patriots, versus those who were dismissed as puppets, reactionaries, ‘Tshombes’ and sell-outs and ethnicity further complicated the process, together with consistent attempts by some nationalists to discredit the nationalist visions of others as reactionary politics or outright ‘selling-out’ of the nationalist revolution.
Thus, as Ngwabi Bhebe has explained, under the shadow of exile, the ghost of tribalism wreaked havoc within the nationalist movements, stealthily eating the sons and daughters of the revolution and causing unnecessary divisions which have led to some being forgotten as nationalists.
For instance, such political actors as Ndabaningi Sithole and Abel Muzorewa have continued to languish outside mainstream nationalist history.
The popular view was that they represented reactionary politics and were bent on compromising the ideals of the national liberation struggle.
In the case of Sithole, as part of the preparations for the Unilateral Declaration of Independence of 1965, Ian Smith’s government decided to imprison and detain every leading nationalist political actor within the country, irrespective of whether they belonged to ZAPU or ZANU. Sithole was one of those imprisoned in 1964.
It was during his trial for the crime of attempted assassination, which carried a death sentence, that Sithole under cross-examination publicly renounced the use of confrontational politics and the armed struggle in order to escape conviction and possible execution.
Having been rejected by ZANU and ZANLA, because of the denunciation of the armed liberation struggle, Sithole travelled abroad as a moderate nationalist. When he finally returned to Rhodesia in 1977, he formed a new organisation known as the African National Council (ANC-Sithole) and at times as ZANU-Sithole.
Later, Sithole linked up with Muzorewa to push for an internal settlement.
However, Sithole failed to recoup his political fortunes in the 1970s as Muzorewa overshadowed him in terms of grassroots support. His political fortunes continued to decline, to the extent that he ended up as leader of a very insignificant party known as ZANU-Ndonga, ethnically supported by the Ndau in Chipinge.
On his part, Bishop Abel Muzorewa emerged from the pulpit into nationalist politics in 1972, when he was asked by the detained leaders of ZAPU and ZANU to lead African opposition to the Pearce Commission that was linked to the Smith-Home Constitutional Proposals, because he was regarded as neutral, having not been involved in the politics of the split of 1963.
Muzorewa’s deep religiosity and opposition to violence as an instrument of struggle, however, minimised his chances of acceptance by those who had resolved to liberate the country through armed struggle and just like Sithole before him, Muzorewa was snubbed by nationalists.
But Muzorewa had managed to build a political profile and support inside the country that sustained his United National African Council (UANC), which pursued the goal of peaceful negotiations with Ian Smith from 1977 onwards, culminating in the signing of the 3 March 1978 Agreement and the short-lived Zimbabwe-Rhodesia government with Muzorewa as prime minister.
In popular and mainstream nationalist narratives, Muzorewa and Sithole are sell-outs and puppets who compromised with Ian Smith to produce false independence as opposed to genuine independence. Unlike Muzorewa and Sithole who are more like the Shipanga and Kalangulas or Ndjobas, the late Comrade Toivo ya Toivo was a revolutionary.
In 1957, the late comrade Andimba Ya Toivo and other nationalists such as Emil Appolus, Fanuel Kozonguizi, Andreas Shipanga, Maxton Joseph Mutonguleme, Jacob Kuhangua, Solomon Mifima, Otillie Schimming Abrahams, Kenneth Abrahams, to mention but a few, founded the Ovamboland People’s Congress (OPC) on 2 August 1957 at a barbershop owned by a Namibian, Timothy Nangolo at 35 Somerset Road, Green Point in Cape Town, South Africa.
After attempts by the late Comrade Eliader Tuhadeleni and Reverend Hamutumbangela complaining about SWANLA in 1954, in September 1958, the late Comrade Andimba Ya Toivo sent a message both as a tape-recording concealed in a copy of the book Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson, and a letter to the UN through Professor Mburumba Kerina, together with the late Reverend Michael Scott.
The letter was read by Professor Kerina to the Fourth Committee of the General Assembly.
After this petition, the South African Special Branch ordered him to leave the country within 72 hours.
On the 4th of December 1958, together with the late Jariretundu Kozonguizi, Ya Toivo left Cape Town and arrived in Keetmanshoop to talk about forming a national organisation with the late Phillipe Musirika as it was stated by Dr Kandando and former Prime Minister Nahas Angula.
Meanwhile, after a successful strike in Walvis Bay in January 1959 and with Ya Toivo deported to the north, the time was ripe for a workers’ movement in the country and on 19 April 1959, together with the late Comrade Jacob Kuhangua, Dr Sam Nujoma launched the Ovamboland People’s Organisation (OPO) as he narrated in his book Where Others Wavered on pages 54 and 55.
Dr Nujoma as the OPO president was deputised by the late Nelengani with the late Comrade Jacob Kuhangua serving as Secretary General.
OPO was able to recruit many members after addressing mass meetings in the compounds mainly in Windhoek, Walvis Bay and Tsumeb.
Thus they were able to galvanise the workers and formed a mass movement of the workers which was supported by teachers and the peasants in rural areas.
In December 1958, Comrade Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo travelled from Windhoek to Tsumeb and his train with Dr. Nujoma crossed each other and they never met when the latter was given a tip by Nelengani that the Special Branch was after him and he boarded a cargo train transporting copper to Walvis Bay.
Meanwhile Ya Toivo was arrested and detained at Okaloko by Chief Kambonde but OPO grew stronger in the north where Ya Toivo and Mzee Kaukungwa were mobilizing our people.
After the events of 10 December 1959 and numerous arrests, Dr. Nujoma was advised to leave the country by OPO in order to go and petition the UN together with Kozonguizi, Professor Kerina and Reverend Michael Scott and he left the country on the 29 of February 1960.
Realizing that the country needed an organization that represented all tribes, OPO was renamed SWAPO by instructions of its Founding President, Dr Nujoma, in a letter sent from Monrovia where he met Professor Kerina as we heard from Dr Tjiriange at the launch of his book.
Dr Nujoma was elected in absentia as President of SWAPO. In fact, we heard at the memorial service of the late Comrade Mzee that he nominated the Founding President Nujoma to be the President.
As such, the stories by those who claim that they do not know how Dr Nujoma became President are devoid of any truth.
In 1961 Dr Nujoma attended the third All African People’s Conference in Cairo and asked President Nasser to assist him with training of combatants.
In 1962, our combatants were trained in Egypt and the World Court’s failure to deliver a judgement in 1966, removed the last pretext for holding back the launching of the armed struggle which took place on the 26 of August 1966 at Omugulugwombashe.
Hundreds of people were rounded up for interrogation and torture and 37 of them were put on trial on 7 August 1967, including the late Comrade Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo, under the Terrorism Act which was made retrospective to 1962.
After a brief stay in Namibia, after his released from Robben Island where he spent 16 years, the late Comrade Andimba Ya Toivo, true to his words in the Pretoria Trial that he will never betray his comrades who took up arms, he did not join Shipanga’s SWAPO-D and the interim government but joined his comrades in exile and subsequently was elected SWAPO Secretary General in 1984.
When he was challenged for the position of Secretary General by the late Comrade Moses Garoeb who emerged victorious from such a contest, Ya Toivo accepted defeat in humility and never formed another party.
As such, unlike Mishake Muyongo, Andreas Shipanga, Pastor Cornelius Ndjoba or Peter Kalangula and others, the late Comrade Ya Toivo was a true revolutionary in every sense who never wavered and a humble and down to earth man who always wanted to know if he knew your parents, probably as a recollection or reminiscence after 16 years on Robben Island.
It is thus my submission that unlike other liberation movements which had leadership and personality clashes based on ethnicity, the SWAPO leadership managed to stay together thanks to the modesty, humility and foresightedness of our leaders.
Not a single one of them fought for a position but were patriots, nationalists and true Pan-Africanists who never looked at ethnic origin nor fought for self-enrichment but believed in selfless sacrifice and the struggle of our people led by Dr Nujoma with a majestic sense of purpose to its logical conclusion.
Surely, we are all entitled to our opinions but facts should remain facts.
Let us honour Ya Toivo by either erecting a bust at Parliament or naming the Ondangwa Airport after him.
May His Soul Rest in Eternal Peace and his legacy live on.
• Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.