New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: Eliaser Tuhadeleni - the Fierce Music Man (1918 to 1997)

Windhoek — Eliaser Tuhadeleni was a deeply and devoted religious man who effortlessly found a balance between his spirituality and a compulsion to fight for freedom.

Eliaser "Kaxumba ja Ndola" Tuhadeleni was born on January 1, 1918 at Eengava in the Ohangwena Region.

After completing his primary education first at Eendola and later at Omundudu, he went to work for the Finnish mission at Ongwediva.

He later became a cattle herder at a farm south of the veterinary cordon fence in northern Namibia, but returned to school at the Engela Boys Boarding School, where he also learnt carpentry and bricklaying.

After finishing school, Tuhadeleni went to Oranjemund to work as a contract labourer at the former Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM), now Namdeb.

There, the Swapo Party wrote in its eulogy of Tuhadeleni's life, he emerged as a leader, first for his love of singing, which led him to start singing lessons among fellow workers, and later more as a political figure.

In January 1948, Tuhadeleni married Priscilla Ndahambelela. Seven children were born from this union.

Also in 1948, Tuhadeleni met Andimba Toivo ya Toivo at Oluno in Ondangwa while he was selling guavas.

The two met again in Cape Town in 1952 where Tuhadeleni went to work in a butchery. While there, Tuhadeleni was exposed to the Communist Party of South Africa, the Indian Congress and the African National Congress.

In 1953 Tuhadeleni and Toivo returned home, with two pianos in tow: One for the church congregation in Endola, and one for Tuhadeleni's private use.

Back home, he was strongly influenced by the Mandume Movement, a movement that had secretly organised resistance against the apartheid South African occupation of Namibia.

Tuhadeleni began to sensitise people of the migrant labour system, mobilising them against it. His tactics, said Swapo, entailed face-to-face meetings, open letters under the pseudonym 'Onghuwo yEpongo', which means the clarion call of the downtrodden.

Some of his letters were sent to Reverend Theofelus Hamutumbangela of the Mandume Movement for translation and dissemination to the outside world.

As a result, Reverend Hamutumbangela was exiled to Windhoek.

Tuhadeleni would later become one of the founding members of the Ovamboland People's Congress (OPC) that was later to become the Ovamboland People's Organisation (OPO), and still later Swapo.

The founders of OPC rallied against the migrant contract system, which propelled the organisation to launch full-out battle against South African occupation.

This did not sit well with the powers that be, and as a result, in 1962, four political companions of Tuhadeleni were arrested for holding a Swapo rally.

On the day of the four's trial, Tuhadeleni and Mzee Kaukungua went to represent their compatriots. A scuffle ensued, and the two were also arrested.

Kaukungua wrestled police guards who fled the scene, leaving behind keys, which he used to unchain his fellows.

But harassment from the authorities was relentless, to the point where Tuhadeleni was branded an anti-Christ by a pastor at an Engela church.

Tuhadeleni is reported to have stood up from the church bench, saying: "I am not anti-Christ! I am preaching the gospel, freedom from slavery and colonial bondage. You are misinforming the congregation about me, meaning that you are in bondage - both your heart and your body, thus making you unsuitable to preach the gospel of salvation."

While addressing a Swapo rally at Omafo in 1962, Tuhadeleni was attacked by tribal guards of headmen fearing the growing political fervour for independence.

With blood dripping from his face, he reportedly defiantly continued holding his hand up in a sign depicting 'Africa is ours'.

But, said the Swapo report, Tuhadeleni remained popular and influential. He was the one who pleaded - successfully - for the release of Toivo and Jacob Kuhangwa when they were chained by the Ondonga kingdom.

But he also found himself in chains against a tree at the homestead of a headman of Eenhana for campaigning against the Odendaal Plan that aimed to balkanise Namibia into Bantustans.

The exposure to the elements while chained down, would cause him to develop asthma that afflicted him until his death. Tuhadeleni continued his protests against the establishment of Bantustans, as well as the introduction of the Bantu education system.

Tuhadeleni assisted the first PLAN combatants who arrived inside Namibia in the 1960s, helping them to establish training camps inside the country.

He is reported to have been one of the first volunteers of PLAN to be trained inside the country, and as a result of his leadership qualities, he rose to the rank of political commissar of the Omugulu-gwOombashe detachment.

He took part in the historic Omugulu-gwOombashe battle of August 26, 1966. Tuhadeleni and John Otto Nanghudu later attacked the station of the Native Commissioner for the Oukwanyama area at Oshikango.

He was later arrested by the South African authorities, and tried under the Terrorism Act of 1967, and sent to Robben Island.

He was later sent to a mainland prison in South Africa because of his asthma, and released in December 1985.

After independence, Tuhadeleni was twice awarded the Omugulu-gwOombashe medal for his contribution to the liberation movement.

He died in the Katutura hospital on November 28, 1997.

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