By Timoteus Mashuna
SINCE the 1970s, the international community, local leaders, liberation movements and religious groups in Namibia increasingly became critical of then South Africa’s apartheid administration of Namibia. However, on the contrary, South Africa rather continued to intensify the implementation of apartheid policies at the expense of the black communities.
The race policy in particular was enforced and whoever dared to question it risked one’s life, if not dubbed as “agitator”, “communist” or “terrorist”.
However, this did not deter the self-sacrificing individuals such as Paulus // Gowaseb to stand up and openly criticize the inhumane apartheid policies and the unjust treatment of Namibian people.
//Gowaseb is one of the few Namibian religious leaders who categorically made it clear to the South African administration that apartheid was not the best political policy for Namibia.
//Gowaseb is noted to have been born on the 18th of April 1922. He began to receive religious education from the Rhenish Mission Society in 1956.
In 1969, fourteen years later after joining the Rhenish Missionary Society, he was ordained as a pastor for the Evangelical Lutheran Church. He served as a moderator pastor and as pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran congregations, in Windhoek, Okahandja and Usakos.
Despite being a religious figure, //Gowaseb also took keen interest in political issues that affected black communities in Namibia.In 1971, //Gowaseb together with Bishop Leornard Nangolo Auala, jointly issued a statement denouncing South Africa’s administration of Namibia.
The statement by the two religious leaders supported the 1971 ruling of the International Court of Justice that South Africa’s administration of Namibia was illegal and criticized a number of apartheid laws and regulations.
Critical of the homeland policy, //Gowaseb and Auala wrote that even though the South African government had always maintained that the race policy it implemented promoted and preserved the life and freedom of the population, the fact is that the non-white population was continuously being slighted and intimidated in their daily lives.
“Our people are not free and by the way they do not feel safe.”
They further stated that “we cannot do otherwise than regard South West Africa, with all its racial groups, as a unit”.
Similarly, //Gowaseb is one of the church leaders who co-signed letters, one to the South African Prime Minister, John Vorster, denouncing South Africa’s ill treatment of the Namibian people and another to the South African Administrator General (AG) condemning the manner in which the police conducted their investigations and the AG’s failure to investigate charges of torture by the police.
Besides his staunch opposition of apartheid as expressed in letters he co-signed with other church leaders, //Gowaseb, together with Bishop Auala went an extra mile to meet John Vorster on the 18th of August 1971.
However, the meeting is noted to have ended in deadlock, as Vorster rather asserted his “government’s determination to proceed with its separation policy” in defiance of suggestions by the church leaders that the divisive homeland policy constituted a violation of human rights.
Even though the anti-apartheid sentiments expressed by the likes of //Gowaseb could not shake South Africa’s political ideology at that time, they nonetheless served as catalysts to political developments that eventually unfolded in the country.
Matthew //Gowaseb in his book entitled Triumph of Courage writes that the letters “gave impetus to the liberation movement, both internally and externally, leading to the biggest strike in the country’s history in 1972”.
//Gowaseb served as ELCRN’s vice-president from 1972 until 1979. In 1988, he retired both from politics and church and moved to his farm where he stayed until his death on the 7th of May 1991.