New Era (Windhoek)

14 December 2012

Namibia: Ben Amathila - the True Patriot and Campaigner for Social Justice

ADDRESSING the National Assembly on the 17th of April 2007, Ben Amathila eloquently cautioned his fellow politicians to prioritise the provision of security, be it food, education or income for all Namibians in order to lead Namibia into a just and sustainable society.

"All of us strive to build a wall around us which provides security. We sent our children to school in order for them to live a secure life in future, because we know very well that without education, financial security will not be attainable. Without financial security we know we will not have food security and without food security, we may be tempted to do wrong things in order to get food or shelter," reads Amathila's statement to the National Assembly.

He added: "A person who is well provided with all forms of security is more tolerant and understanding of others' points of view. If only we can bequeath all our people with all tenets of security we will have hope enough to build our country." Implicit in Amathila's assertion is that social justice in Namibia will only be attainable if all people in Namibia have food, shelter and access to means of income. He is indeed a true patriot and campaigner for social justice.

Amathila is noted to have been born on the 1st of October 1939, in Walvis Bay. During his childhood years, he attended primary education at the Rhenish Mission School in Tsumeb. After completing primary school in 1954, he went on to study at the Augustineum Training College in Okahandja. However, due to harsh economic conditions Amathila dropped out of Augustineum Training College in 1958 and decided to join the contract labour system. "He was forced to work in the Walvis Bay Fish Oceana Cannery from 1958-1962," writes Klaus Dierks in the Biography of Namibian Personalities.

Being part of the contract labour system, Amathila was not aloof to the political developments of the late 1950s that eventually culminated in the formation of the Ovambo People's Organization (OPO), a semi-trade union organization that advocated for the improvement of the employment conditions of contract workers, mostly from the former 'Ovamboland'.

Amathila became one of the founding members of OPO in 1958. His involvement with OPO coincided with a strike at the company where he worked and as a result Amathila was fired from his job and remained unemployed for three years. He "was fired from his job at Walvis Bay Oceana Cannery, blamed for being the ring leader in strikes there. He was unemployed for three years during which time he worked toward the creation of Swapo as chairman of the western region," writes Dierks.

In 1966, Amathila joined his fellow Namibians who since the Old Location Massacre on the 10th of December 1958 began to flee the country into exile.

After staying for a short period in Botswana and Zambia, Amathila went to Tanzania in 1968 where he was appointed as Swapo Treasurer General.

According to Dierks, Amathila was instrumental in "organizing the Tanga Consultative Congress where he was elected as Deputy Secretary for Education and Culture".

Amathila had an illustrious political career both as a member of Swapo and leader of the Namibian nation.

Summing up his political career, Dierks wrote that "in 1971, he was appointed as Chief Representative for Scandinavia, West Germany and Austria based in Stockholm". Amathila was elected as Secretary for Economics at the Swapo Enlarged Central Committee Meeting held near Lusaka in 1976. He became Secretary for Economics on the Swapo Central Committee in 1989.

In preparation for the December 1989 national independence election, Amathila is noted to have been the regional head in the Swakopmund Election Directorate and he also served as a member of the Constituent Assembly during that time. After independence, he was appointed as Minister of Trade and Industry, a position he served for three years and later on moved to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

At one point he also served as Speaker of the National Assembly and in 2007 Amathila retired from active politics.

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