The Namibian (Windhoek)

23 July 2013

Namibia - More Divided Than Ever

AFTER years of struggle for independence, freedom and justice as well as many lives lost; the hope to freedom and justice seems to have faded.

In 1966, small guerrilla groups were sent into Namibia from Zambia to erect a training base inside the country. While the guerrilla contingents were still entering Namibia and some had already reached their destination and were setting up a training camp in Omugulu Gwombashe/Ongulumbashe, Sam Nujoma and one of his lieutenants, Lucas Hifikepunye Pohamba, also left Tanzania for Namibia to "face" the enemy. They landed in Windhoek on 20th March 1966 and were placed in police custody for some days before they were released and returned to Zambia. What had happened during their stay in police custody has remained a mystery as neither of them would tell.

Coincidentally, documents containing detailed information about the names, plans, and guerrilla training tactics started to circulate among the Ovambo traditional authorities who were collaborating with the South African apartheid regime in tracing the guerrillas who entered the country from Zambia. The documents were said to have been stolen from Nujoma's briefcase by a South African agent in a hotel in London after Nujoma's return from Windhoek.

In August 1966, the guerrilla camp at Ongulumbashe was attacked and many guerrillas captured. The Swapo political leadership inside Namibia was also imprisoned.

Questions still linger as to why the South African authorities let the commander-in-chief and his lieutenant go but arrested other politicians and foot soldiers.

Following the attack on Ongulumbashe, between 1966 and 1970, Swapo inside Namibia was all but dead and buried.

During the early 1970s in Walvis Bay, a group of young Namibians including myself therefore decided to break the political silence that was imposed upon the Namibian nation by South Africa's apartheid regime. One of our first actions was to organise a general strike to end the contract labour system. The 1971-2 strike paralysed the country's economy.

The Swapo Youth League was born out of this general strike of 1971. Its founder members were: Jerry Ekandjo, Thomas Ndali Kamati, Thomas Paulus Kaimbi, Jerry Jackson Negonga Nangutuwala and myself, Keshii Pelao Nathanael. The aim of the movement was to promote the Swapo leadership in exile and to mobilise the youth of Namibia to stand up against South Africa's apartheid occupation. It must be mentioned that Swapo Youth League started its activities from the ground as the mother body was broken after the 1966 crackdown.

By 1973, in a another crackdown attempt, the apartheid authorities and the Ovambo traditional authorities arrested the leadership of SYL and its supporters across the country. Many of those arrested in the north were left in the hands of the Ovambo chiefs to be punished. They were severely flogged. Those in the south received prison sentences.

This act opened a new chapter in the minds of the SYL leadership. We were no longer convinced that a peaceful solution was the only option to bring about the liberation of our country. We had to leave the country to join the armed struggle against the occupation forces. In June 1974, the first group of SYL leadership crossed the border into Angola for exile in Lusaka, Zambia, followed by thousands of young Namibians.

What greeted us at Swapo's headquarters in Lusaka was a shocking experience. We had expected to find Swapo well-organised and disciplined. Instead, we found a body in disarray and were disappointed. Swapo in Lusaka was run like a private club of few individuals, as if it was purely a profit-making organisation.

At the time it did not have a constitution or written rules. An iron hand was the only rule in Swapo. This state of affairs encouraged the SYL leadership to demand that a congress be held in order to put the organisation in order - a demand not adhered to by the top four leaders.

The refusal to hold a congress led to gross human rights violations by the Swapo leadership between 1975-1989. Over 4 200 people who were in Swapo dungeons in Angola are still missing to this day, which raises the question whether Swapo is the right party to steer Namibia democratically?

When Swapo took over power with the help of the United Nations in 1990, the hope for a sustainable change was incredibly high among Namibians, blacks and whites. Today the reality is obviously a different one. In Swapo, it has never been about the country or the people first. It has always been the individual egos first, the party second and the country and its people last.

Now, 23 years since independence the Namibian nation is as divided as ever. The gap between black and white is widening. The government is doing nothing to bridge that gap. Black ethnic groups are picking at each other and the government has turned a deaf ear to that. The majority of Namibians are living in extreme poverty while individuals in Swapo are engaged in self-enrichment schemes. Unemployment among the black youth is very high.

During apartheid, people lived in decent homes. Today, black people are left to rot in shacks. Lack of qualitative education is one of the stumbling blocks to development. The inability by Swapo to conduct a true reconciliation process to deal with its dark history remains a stumbling block towards reconciliation.

Is Swapo running a government of the people against the people? Namibia needs a responsible government in order to steer the country to sustainable freedom and democracy. A government that makes an effort to unite black and white Namibians as one nation. We need a government that works hard to bridge the gap between the ethnic groups, as it is not enough to loudly shout slogans like One Namibia, One Nation without meaning them...

* Keshii Pelao Nathanael was a founding member of Swapo Youth League and its first elected president. He lives in Sweden.

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