Heroism: A Glance at Brendan Kangongolo Simbwaye

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By Bennett Kangumu Kangumu AS ‘All Roads Lead to Katima Mulilo on Heroes Day’ (New Era 8/8/2006), it is perhaps proper and fitting to reflect and celebrate the life of Brendan Kangongolo Simbwaye, a native of Namibia’s Caprivi Region and in whose honour a prominent building in Windhoek is named, the Brendan Simbwaye Square. A prominent person of his time and probably the most charismatic leader to come out of the Caprivi Region, his life and promising political career was cut short by the brutal apartheid machinery. He was arrested in 1964, with two others, Alfred Tongo Nalishuwa and Vernet Maswahu, and kept in perpetual detention mostly isolated because he was branded as a political agitator until his well orchestrated disappearance in 1972. This celebration of Simbwaye’s life however, is not individualistic.He shares his experience with a vast number of sons and daughters of Namibia who went missing during the war of liberation on both sides of the political divide. Many of these individuals remain just as (even inconclusive or estimate) statistical data of the impact of the war on the sub-region and Namibia in this respect. The life stories of these brave individuals are yet to find their proper place in Namibian historiography. Many of them might not.Their stories invoke memories of torture, detention, internal and external displacement and population flight, isolation, imprisonment, starvation, disappearance and death, actually massacres. On the other hand, their stories fill us with pride, for their bravery, sacrificial nature and bear testimony of the triumph of the human spirit over evil, oppression and apartheid. Following is an abridged time-line on the life calendar of Brendan Kangongolo Simbwaye, a teacher turned politician who founded the Caprivi African National Union (CANU), later to become SWAPO Vice President: – He was born in 1934 at Ndangamwa (Lukozi Village) near Malindi in the eastern part of the Caprivi Region. – He was a Catholic and deeply religious He was married and his wife, a trained nurse, is currently living in Katima Mulilo’s Ngweze township. – He started his schooling at Schuckmansburg Primary School (Standard A to Standard 2 or Grade 1 to Grade 4) and proceeded to the Holy Family Mission at Katima Mulilo where he did his Standard 3 through to standard 6 – both Std Six Lower and Std Six Upper. He completed his Standard Six Upper in May 1955. – He furthered his education at Lukulu Teacher Training College in Zambia where he completed a two-year primary teachers course in May 1957. He did Standard 8 by correspondence through Lyceum College, South Africa. – He started teaching at the Holy Family Mission in August 1957, responsible for Standard 4 (Grade 6). On top of being a Boarding Master, he was involved in learners’ recreation: football and athletics. – He resigned from teaching in 1963 to devote his entire energies to CANU with the purpose of terminating South Africa’s hold on the Eastern Caprivi Zipfel. – He left for Lusaka (Zambia) at the end of 1963, among others to seek support from the UN which was then involved in Zambia’s transition to independence; to cement ties with UNIP, which assisted with the printing of the first CANU membership cards. Met some SWAPO leadership on this trip to pave the way for a ‘merger’ between CANU and SWAPO. He came back at the end of March 1964. – He was arrested in mid-July 1964 (most likely July 14), at Mafulo (encampment) near Katima Mulilo, when he was about to address the first CANU rally together with Alfred Tongo Nalishuwa (CANU’s Youth Secretary).Vernet Maswahu (CANU’s Education Secretary) would join them in detention after being arrested on his way to take a petition to the UN in Lusaka, which got confiscated. – After sentencing, the three served their jail terms at the Windhoek Central Prison in 1964. A Ministerial banishment or removal order was served on Simbwaye and Maswahu as they were released from jaill, firstly to Ohopoho (Opuwo) in the Kaokoveld and then to Warmbad (Southern Namibia). Later the duo were transferred to a Halt Farm No. 379 near Welwitchia (now Khorixas). They were never to return to their native Caprivi without express Ministerial approval. – While at Warmbad, Simbwaye served two jail terms: one at Keetmanshoop Prison in 1965 and the other at the Windhoek Central Prison in 1966, mostly solitary confinement and spare diet. – On August 09, 1972, Simbwaye was granted a Special Permit by the then South African Minister responsible for “Bantu Administration and Development”, to visit Caprivi and say ”goodbye” to his mother. Indeed ‘goodbye’ he did because that was the last time he was seen, when the police picked him up in the late evening from his mother’s house, at Limbeza Village (Kabbe). Ten Quotations ascribed to Brendan Kangongolo Simbwaye: – ”If you were in my shoes, you would feel it that it is intellectual massacre, mental oppression and moral torture to keep an elite on the farm out from public life, detained secretly and indefinitely, without legal representation” – (Simbwaye in a letter to Advocate Israel Goldblatt, dated June 10, 1969). – ”The Administration ascertains that I should get employment, and who can employ a politician?” – (Simbwaye in a letter to Advocate Israel Goldblatt, dated July 18, 1966, reacting to an offer of employment by government, at a monthly rate of R18 if he denounced the struggle). – ”I made such legal petition in a formal way testing the legality of South Africa’s government. If she ever has legal jurisdiction to hold political freedom fighters in secret detention indefinitely, without proper legal representation. And in defiance of the UN Resolution on SWA” – (Simbwaye to Goldblatt, June 10, 1969”). – ”It is my fundamental legal right to get redress in the courts if I feel oppressed, or illegally detained by the authorities.It is done anywhere, it is done in Rhodesia and in South Africa and it can also apply to the citizens of SWA…” – (Simbwaye to Goldblatt, June 10, 1969). – ”We don’t recognise the Court. We want to be tried internationally on an international level. We can only submit to the United Nations” – (Simbwaye and co-accused Vernet Maswahu and Alfred Tongo Nalishuwa, to the presiding Magistrate at Katima Mulilo, August 1964). – ”I don’t hate the White man, that I never do. I said I believe in a multi-racial government in South West Africa.That the Whites and the Blacks must live together.” – (Simbwaye to the presiding Magistrate in March 1966, at Karasburg, reacting to accusations of contravening Proclamation 15 of 1928 which prohibited the promotion of any feeling of hostility between those classified as Europeans and non-Europeans. He was sentenced to an effective six month jail term). – The State Witness in the above trial accused Simbwaye of having said the following to the people at Warmbad: ”Julle is te sleg, julle is toe. Julle moet vergaderings hou en saamstaan. Julle moet veg teen die boere. Julle kan kilppe en ysters vat om te veg. Julle moet die boere met klippe vrek gooi. Ons sal Windhoek brandsteek en sal al die boere vrek maak. Die wat oorbly, sal onder ons werk, en self vir ons kinders ‘baas’ sÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚ª. Julle moet teen die witmense veg, en ons sal julle wapens gee. Januarie, sal julle ander dinge sien. Julle en die Roomse Vader is mos toe. Bantoestans is dood, Angola, Suidwes-Afrika, Mossambiek en die Republiek sal in Januarie val.” (State Witnesses, March 1966). – ”To make me stop, cut off my head. Separate it from the rest of my body, only then will I keep quiet. I don’t see the future of the country the same way you see it.” (Simbwaye to the authorities on being offered freedom in exchange for him agreeing to denounce politics. This he told people in the village on his return in 1972). – ”It is better to die, I don’t care about the money.” – (Simbwaye to the Priest in Charge at the Holy Family Mission on his resignation as a teacher in 1963). – ”When you choose to liberate your country, as leader, you should be the one to die first. And not your followers.” – (Simbwaye to fellow CANU leaders at the Native Commissioner’s offices in 1964). – Notes: a) Mafulo is situated less than a kilometre north-west of the Katima Sports Complex, at a site where Zambezi Motors auto clinic stands today, commonly referred to as Highway Service Station just off the Trans-Caprivi Highway. It was a site originally used as a rest camp for the two chiefs of the time when visiting Katima Mulilo. It would grow into the first Black township of Katima Mulilo. This is where CANU had their first office, a thatched hut which they called ‘Freedom House’.What a coincidence that this year’s celebrations are held in the stadium standing less than 500 metres away from where Brendan Simbwaye was arrested in July 1964. b) Material for this piece is extracted from a larger study by the author on the life of Brendan Simbwaye under the auspices of the Archives of Anti-Colonial Resistance and Liberation Struggle (AACRLS) Project, a project of the National Archives of Namibia. Errors, omissions and views expressed herein remain the authors’ and not necessarily those of the AACRLS. c) The author, Bennett Kangumu Kangumu, is currently a PhD Candidate in Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town (South Africa), with research interests covering the political history of the Caprivi Region.