A man of the Namibian people

Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, who died at 92 on 9 June 2017, was one of the founders of Namibia's modern liberation movement that led the fight for political independence.

Comrade Andimba Herman Toivo ya Toivo grew up during the time of the South African colonial regime in Namibia. He was drafted to serve in the Second World War, like many Namibians of his generation. Upon his discharge from that war, he became a contract farm worker and experienced first hand the terrible conditions of contract workers. He always said that this played a major role in his decision to get involved in the movement to liberate Namibia. His politics have always been rooted in concern for workers and the underprivileged.

Andimba then completed his education at Odibo, qualified as a teacher and taught for a while. Thereafter, he moved to South Africa where he worked in several capacities and tried to earn a better living.

Having observed the similarities in the suffering of the Namibian and South African people, he began to work closely with the African National Congress, the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA; later called the SACP), the Liberal Party, and other progressive forces  working towards the defeat of the Apartheid system.

While in South Africa, he began to organize with other Namibians working in Cape Town – less than 100 people – and together they established the Ovamboland People’s Congress. This was later transformed into the Ovamboland People’s Organization and eventually into the SWAPO Party of today. What transpired in-between and to-date is history as we all know.

However, I would like to take this particular opportunity to confine or rather highlight my reflections on my personal interaction with Andimba. Andimba could be described as a non-assuming and highly principled personality, who had great faith in the cause of his people, and who was an anchor for activism and friends around him. In other words, he was a rallying point, committed to the common good.

This was reflected by his ongoing political activism in northern Namibia when he was deported from South Africa. His home became a mobilizing centre even though the enemy thought that they had demobilised him with their actions. It was reflected in his famous speech during his trial in Pretoria when he told off the South African judge with these famous words:

We are Namibians and not South Africans. We do not now, and will not in the future, recognise your right to govern us, to make laws for us in which we had no say, to treat our country as if it was your property and us as if you are our masters.”

He refused to accept that the Pretoria regime had the right to try him and his co-accused.

It was further reflected in his refusal to comply with prison regulations on Robben Island that would have improved his conditions, because he did not accept their right to imprison him in the first place.

Andimba was arrested in 1966 and put on trial in South Africa in 1967-68 with more than 30 Namibians. We know that the South African regime introduced the hated Terrorism Act specifically to deal with Namibian liberation fighters. The President of SWAPO, Sam Nujoma, then instructed me to proceed from Dar-es-Salaam to London, to urgently set up the SWAPO representation in UK, covering the rest of Western Europe.

My first task was to mobilise international public opinion against the South African regime in Namibia and to raise awareness of the ongoing trial of our people in Pretoria. We worked to ensure that the trial was properly observed and not allowed to take place in secret. In this respect, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other organizations were fully deployed at that time to constantly monitor the welfare of the Namibian political prisoners in South African jails.

When I was compiling some details about Namibians imprisoned in South Africa, I spoke to Albie Sacks, who was by then my neighbour in London. Albie told me that Andimba Toivo ya Toivo and him had belonged to the same mountain climbing club in Cape Town and they had regularly interacted. Albie Sacks is now a retired judge of the South African Constitutional Court.

Across Europe, trade unions, church bodies, political parties and legal associations protested against the trial and maintained a watchful eye on developments. This was a major stage in the development of international solidarity for the people of Namibia. In particular, the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the Namibia Support Committee and the International Defence and Aid Fund played prominent roles along with SWAPO.

Amongst the various manifestations of this solidarity, was the decision by the Students Union of the University of Hull, UK, to appoint Andimba as the Vice-President of their union, in solidarity and support for him and other Namibian political prisoners at that time.

When Andimba was released, in 1984, he joined the rest of us in exile and undertook a familiarization tour around the world. On one of these tours, he visited the UK, and that is where I first met him. He insisted that he must visit the University of Hull, to express his thanks in person to the student union.

Andimba dedicated his long and active life to the cause of the people of Namibia. He had a vision that Namibia would be a country whose proud people could determine their own destiny. Part of this vision was achieved during his life time, but he was committed to more than just political freedom. He was committed to social and economic justice for all, anchored on the improvement of the lives of ordinary people, to which SWAPO has been committed since its foundation.

As we celebrate Andimba’s life, one can say without hesitation that he served this great country until his last breath. There was no moment in his life when he was not fully engaged. Even last week, he was actively involved in the conference on Africa’s solidarity with Cuba.

Across the country, within the ranks of the SWAPO Party, and beyond, we celebrate  Andimba as a calm, peaceful, easily approachable, unifying force. He had all the attributes of a fatherly personality to the nation of Namibia, one who was respected within and beyond the country.

In this regard, the best tribute we can pay Andimba is to continue to work hard so as to maintain peace and stability and, keep this country of ours on a path of continued transformation and sustainable development.

  • Remarks made at the family residence of Toivo Ya Toivo in Windhoek, Namibia, 12 June 2017.

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