Ya Toivo epitomises selfless courage and steadfast resolve in the fight for justice and human dignity
By Jerobeam Shaanika
The search for freedom and independence in Namibia has tested the resolve of many patriots to fight for justice and human dignity that have for too long been denied to our people.
Many demonstrated courage and responded to the call without hesitation, to fulfill the mission, which the era of their generation imposed on them.
This is in line with the challenge issued by Franz Fanon that “each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.”
This was a generation of people with little academic qualifications, but were schooled in principles and focused on the task before them, despite the harsh condition they were subjected to.
As Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo said during the trial in Pretoria, “a man does not have to be formally educated to know that he wants to live with his family, and not where an official chooses to tell him to live; to move about freely and not require a pass; to earn a decent wage; to be free to work for the person of his choice for as long as he wants.”
They fulfilled the mission of their generation with distinction. They answered a call beyond duty and gave more than was expected. It was a heavy burden, yet they carried it, without complaining and sacrificed without asking so that the generations after them could harvest the benefits.
This is so because each era has a different call of duty and certain expectation; in Andimba’s era it was sacrifice; and each generation has to distinguish itself in time, or doesn’t, as Fanon said.
Dr Martin Luther King Jnr said it more appropriately that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”. Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo epitomizes that courage and steadfast resolve in the fight for justice and human dignity, more defined by where he stood in times of great challenges. Equally, he exemplified the very best of the generation that endured hardship to ensure that no generation of Namibians will again experience hardship. When I was asked to contribute a short homage to the late Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo a giant, I pondered whether I am worth to tie or untie his shoelaces? I consented so that perhaps I could pay homage in whatever little possible way.
The passing on of Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo reminds us of a challenge of Franz Fanon that each generation must discover its mission and that in the end will be judge by its deeds and actions whether it has fulfilled or betrayed the mission its time.
It is a laborious and a herculean task to write about a hero who had transformed the ordinary to extraordinary. It is like making a camel go through the eye of a needle.
The attempt here is not to write a complete history about him, but to reflect briefly on a life that personifies courage and determination in the face of difficulties.
The journey of Ya Toivo started on 22 August 1924 at Omangudu in northern Namibia. Obviously, one can say that his life was defined by the sense of duty and the willpower to overcome difficulties.
He was guided by a sense of responsibility and lived a life that seemed to have conspired to place him at critical historical moments.
During World War II, Ya Toivo voluntarily joined the army of the Union of South Africa to fight what he said was a threat by the dark clouds of Nazism and risked his life to face the German bullets.
After the end of the Second World War, Ya Toivo and many others who served in the Union Army of South Africa quickly discovered that white South Africans who refused a call to battle against the Nazis had more rights and privileges than the blacks who risked their lives to save the Union of South Africa.
Perhaps that ignited a desire for Andimba Ya Toivo to fight for justice and human dignity. Due to the thirsty for freedom and hunger for human dignity, Ya Toivo co-founded the Ovamboland People’s Congress (OPC) in 1957, forerunner of the Ovamboland People’s Organization OPO, which eventually became SWAPO.
Determined to expose exploitative migrant labour system in Namibia, he smuggled a tape hidden in a book to Mburumba Kerina to be presented at the UN hearings in New York.
That act earned him a deportation from South Africa and banishment to northern Namibia.
Fate continued to conspire with circumstances to yet again place the late Andimba at critical historic juncture.
Banishing him to northern Namibia did not curtail his ability to organise and to mobilise until the first shot was fired at Omugulugombashe on 26 August 1966.
After that historic event, he and many other Namibian patriots were arrested and were tried in the first trial under South Africa’s Terrorism Act of 21 June 1967, but applied retroactively to 1962 to cover their case.
Ya Toivo’s appointment with history came during the trial “The state v. Tuhadeleni and 36 others”, in which he appeared as Accused No. 21.
During the trial, he challenged his accusers “We are Namibians and not South Africans. We do not now, and will not in the future recognize your right to govern us, to make laws for us in which we had no say; to treat our country as if it were your property and us as if you were our masters.”
His courage to speak up as expressed through the statement from dock, inspired a generation of Namibians to do more than they ever thought were capable of doing. He was given a jail sentence of 20 years at Robben Island.
He and many of his compatriots went to jail because of their conviction that justice was for all.
Significantly, hope always produces ripple effects of article of faith. The late Ya Toivo made a prophetic statement from the dock, “I know that the struggle will be long and bitter. I also know that my people will wage that struggle, whatever the cost.”
Truly, the struggle was long and bitter, but the determined people of Namibia fought the struggle by all means until the culmination point of victory.
After being released from Robben Island, he spent the last years of the liberation struggle in exile in Angola.
We are grateful to Comrade Ya Toivo for the service to the country and its people as SWAPO Secretary-General and after independence as the Minister of Mines and Energy, Minister of Labour and Minister of Prison and Correctional Services as well Member of Parliament.
The late Ya Toivo also served as Chairman of the Namibia-Cuba Friendship Association until his death, played a vital role in deepening and strengthening the friendly relations between Namibia and Cuba.
There are useful lessons we can draw from the life of Comrade Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo that even in the darkest hour of our lives we must not give up hope.
This correlates with what was said by the Prophet Isaiah 42: 3 “a bruised reed he shall not break, and the smoking flame he shall not extinguish: he shall bring forth justice.”
Even when our souls seem to be torn apart, we must not give up hope for a rest beyond the river.
The greatest challenge for our generation is to discover and define the mission of our time, as Franz Fanon said to fulfill it or to betray it.
We dare not betray the mission of our time, but we must strive to run our relay race and pass the button on to succeeding generations.
Every time we bid a farewell to a hero, we must rededicate ourselves to the task of holding higher the flame of freedom, which they lit under harsh and difficult conditions.
Evidently, the ultimate measure of Comrade Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo, no doubt is where he stood in times of great challenges and tribulations.
Our generation is, therefore, challenged to make the appropriate sacrifices to assemble a great vault of opportunities to benefit future generations.
We will always remember Comrade Andimba Ya Toivo as a patriot who has contributed so much to people and to the country for which he has suffered greatly and served well.
Each patriot played an appropriate role not in competition but in a genuine collective effort to liberate Namibia.
The firmament above has gained a bright shining star and the flame of freedom has lost another holder.
May the glows of the flame of freedom continue to radiate brightly epitomising the life of Comrade Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo.
• Dr Jerobeam Shaanika is the Namibian Ambassador to Cuba