Windhoek — NAMIBIAN anti-apartheid activists incarcerated on Robben Island during the liberation struggle were all tortured and dehumanised by the colonial authorities.
However, the magnitude of the gruesome experience they endured varies among individuals. There are cases where individuals were subjected to extreme dehumanisation, torture and much more interrogation than other fellow inmates, but they all never wavered.
They stood their ground against the colonial officers and if need be, very aggressively. One of them was renowned liberation struggle icon Toivo ya Toivo.
Commenting on Toivo's experiences in the Robben Island prison, Kagiso Pat Mautloa, wrote: "Toivo remained in his cell totally isolated. He was denied all reading materials as well as the company of his fellow prisoners. We feared for his sanity. We smuggled news to him. And we urged him to lay a complaint against the conditions of his incarceration."
Mautloa continued: "On one occasion the National Commissioner went to Toivo and asked him whether he had any complaints. Toivo remained silent. The commissioner then told Toivo that if he were to request his removal from the cell so that he rejoins us, he would facilitate this. Toivo had a simple response: 'You put me in this cell. You have the power to get me out of it. When you put me here you did not do so as a result of a request by me. I see no need for me to make a request for you to move me from this cell'."
To a certain extent, Mautloa's account reaffirms Toivo's unwavering dedication and courage in the midst of extreme inhuman conditions he experienced during incarceration.
Toivo was born on the 22nd of June 1924 at Omangundu village in the present day Oshana Region. He attended primary school at the Finish Mission.
He later moved to Ongwediva Industrial School where he attended classes for three years and went on to study at St Mary's where he graduated as a teacher in 1950. He then worked as a teacher until 1951, when he left for Cape Town.
Being in Cape Town meant that Toivo like any other Black in South Africa at the time would not be spared the wrath of the apartheid colonial administration. This eventually prompted him to join fellow revolutionaries against the apartheid administration.
Whilst in South Africa he is noted to have had contacts with individuals and organisations mobilising for the revolution against the apartheid administration. In 1957, he co-founded the Ovamboland People's Organization (OPO) and by extension SWAPO.
Just a year after founding OPO, Toivo played an instrumental role in the initial efforts to alert the international community about the conditions Namibians were subjected to under apartheid.
"In 1958,Ya Toivo smuggled out a tape protesting against the migrant labour system and South African occupation, inside a copy of the book Treasure Island," noted Professor Mburumba Kerina in the Guide to Namibian Politics.
Unfortunately the book was intercepted by the South African authorities and as result Toivo was banished from South Africa and placed under house arrest in the former Ovamboland.
He nonetheless continued his political activities through SWAPO.
Just after the first military clash between SWAPO's military wing, the South West Africa Liberation Army (SWALA), and the South African security forces at Omugulugombashe on the 26th of August 1966, Toivo, amongst others, was arrested and sentenced to Robben Island Prison.
Even though Toivo was tortured and dehumanised during his time in incarceration, he is noted to have never compromised his commitment to the total liberation of Namibia and was always ready to fight against his oppressors.
" From time to time the warders would assault prisoners. Three warders led by a head warder, Carstens, entered Toivo's cell and the head warder descended on him, battering him with a series of vicious baton blows. Toivo retaliated with a single blow and he brought the head warder to the floor," wrote Mautloa. Taking no nonsense from the prison warders Toivo was also known for his consistent principle that Namibia, then South West Africa, must be referred to as Namibia, a statement that implied "terrorism" to the colonial administration at the time.
At one point when Jimmy Kruger, the then South African Justice and Prisons minister interrogated Toivo saying, "So you are from South West Africa?" Toivo interupruted Kruger and corrected him saying, "Namibia."
He was released from prison in 1984 and after independence he served in various capacities as government minister and one of the senior leaders of SWAPO Party.