New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: Living At the Same Time With Theo-Ben Gurirab

opinion

THE last time I was with Uncle Theo-Ben Gurirab before he escaped into the unknown life of exile was at the coast - the harbour town of Walvis Bay, where we were both working for the Metal Box company manufacturing tin containers for the then abundant fish in our zone of the Atlantic Ocean.

All the local fishing companies were supplied with tin cans made by Metal Box. One weekend, he simply disappeared into thin air and gossipmongers had a field day, some bubbling with rumours saying he had been arrested on his way, while trying to jump over the fence marking the boundary between Namibia and neighbouring Botswana.

Let me take you back to Augustineum Government Training College at Okahandja where I met him in 1958 when I used to deliver my cousin John ya Otto's laundry - since he was thoroughly spoiled by my mother, Martha Nangombe, who was a single parent. Her husband, Alfred Kondo Nangolo, was murdered by members of the notorious South African Police (SAP) in Windhoek in June 1955, while I was still a youngster.

John who was an orphan, received the service I have just mentioned plus pocket money on a monthly basis from my mother. I continued to see and talk to Gurirab since that time, and what an uncle to talk to! He was articulate, humorous and highly intelligent - a real fountain of knowledge. Before I completely leave it out, I joined the college in 1959 as a student. We have thus come along a long way and we still chat about this, that and other things.

Gurirab made it into exile going as far as the United States of America, studied and represented the Namibian liberation movement with Hage Geingob, Hidipo Hamutenya plus others, but the three that I have just listed here were the key representatives. Hage Geingob left the USA for Africa to open and lead the education programme for young Namibians. For example Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana was a student at the now defunct United Nations Institute for Namibia (UNIN) in Lusaka, Zambia where Geingob was the director.

When he was representing Namibia at the UN in New York, he would come on an over-night flight via London I think, reading an interesting, newly published book that he had just purchased at the airport. He would finish reading it before he landed at what is now known as the Kenneth Kaunda international Airport of Lusaka, Zambia. I became the proud and happy recipient of such books and my library grew. How I knew that he was in town and at which hotel, remains and will stay a secret until I divulge my method one day.

At independence Gurirab became the country's chief diplomat - the first Minister of Foreign Affairs I mean. Delivering a speech somewhere at a gathering, he said that "one day I will become a president when I grow up...." Therefore Hage Gottfried Geingob, watch out! I will end today's piece with a Chinese proverb that says: You can't stop the birds of sorrow fluttering in your hair, but you don't have to let them nest."

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