Fermenting an Episode from behind a Personal Narrow Lense


By Dr. Rukee Tjingaete There are several isolated episodes in our history that still need documentation. I have been advised by many friends and comrades to document memoirs of part of the experiences that we shared during the different stages of oppression and resistance before independence. The objective of higlighting these episodes of the social movement is to encourage Namibians to open up and share their own individual experiences of which the total sum will enrich the contemporary history of Namibia. I was a participant observer during the early stages of student activism in the early 1970s, a period that helped to consolidate the social movement inside Namibia and South Africa to support the external wings of the liberation movements. The role of the students both inside Namibia and South Africa was indispensable. However, as I moved into exile, it became clear that the global factors were too deterministic to permit the dynamism initiated from the homefront. The result was isolation, escapism, surrogation and subjugation to a predetermined mode of thinking that resulted from the 1960s. We need to deconstruct contemporary liberation history and present it in small episodes and narratives in order for people to understand its total output. History is like a gigantic river that derives its size and strength from many small streams that enter and increase the speed of its flow at different entry points. Inside Namibia As for me, it all started in 1973 when a few of us sneaked out of Dobra to join a militant labour strike in Katutura. The intensity of activities that included the unleashing of dogs on the marchers by the system scared the hell out of me. I was fascinated by the steadfastness of a heavily bearded man, Rudolph Mohorutuo Ndjoze, who decided to face Captain Nell of the South African Police head-on while most of the crowd retreated away from the firing line. Rudolph walked up to Captain Nell who was screaming at him over the loud-speaker to stop. He advised the Captain: “If I were your boss today, I would have fired you for disobeying my orders to shoot and eliminate this man in front of you, Rudolph!” This event left me with trepidation and served as the first recipe for me to rebel against the system of apartheid. This step was not necessarily out of bravery, but out of a sense of curiosity and rebelliousness. Joining the rank of activism in Namibia exposed me to the birth of a new radical socio-political movement. High schools such as Dobra, Augustineum, Tses, Ongwediva, Okakarara and Martin Luther High became breeding grounds for the recruitment of militant youths to join the liberation movements. After this strike, we received at Dobra several surprise visitors, mostly at night from radicals such as Ezriel Taapopi, Reverend Khamo, Pastor Peter Naholo, Kapuire Kavari, Pastor Khamo, Daniel Tjongarero, Tauno Hatuikulipi, Uatjindua Ndjoze and many others who came to educate and mobilize us. I listened to every one of them as they spoke passionately for the liberation of our country. I still remember the intensity of Taapopi’s address as he urged students to overcome the fear of pain and a culture of passivity as the time had come to free Namibia. He left a lasting impression on me and many other students at Dobra. My spirit was also uplifted by the release of Gerson Hitjevi Veii from Robben Island, a hero that we came to know through the letters that he wrote out of prison to Chris Veii, his cousin at Dobra. Chris and I sneaked out of campus and went to Windhoek to hear Veii speak for the first time after he was released. Instead of enjoying praise after praise heaped on him by supporters, he shifted attention away from himself and instead urged the nation to demand the immediate and unconditional release of Herman Toivo ya Toivo who was still languishing on the notorious island. He talked about Toivo of SWAPO, Nelson Mandela of the ANC and Mongaliso Sobukwe of the PAC who were still imprisoned. I was inpired by this selfless militant to join the ranks of SWANU in 1973. Veii has remained my hero and inspiration throughout the years. In 1975 a student conference was organized at MLH. The list of speakers included Mokganedi Thlabanelo, Daniel Tjongarero, Martha Ford, Zephania Kameeeta, Tauno Hatuikulipi, Kahakihe Tjozongoro, Alpheus Naruseb and many others. The purpose of the conference was to mobilize and educate the youth. I was part of the delegation of students from Dobra that included Vekuii Rukoro, Bob Kandetu, Caspar Agapitus, Pius Asheeke and Alpha Thitiogiona. The conference was a resounding success, the first of its nature in Namibia, thanks to the likes of Vetumbuavi Veii, Ngondi Kamatuka and other MLH students’ efforts. I was very surprised to see that there were other high schools beyond Dobra, MLH and Agustineum that were politically active. I was particularly impressed by the forthrightness and high sense of purpose displayed by the delegation from Tses headed by Maria Kapere and Bience Gawanas. Okakarara High School was represented by the likes of Kaomo Tjombe, Maru Tjihumino, Mekupi Tujendapi and Job Kaurivi under very difficult conditions as their school was literally occupied by the army who posed as teachers and administrators to control the students. The hallmark of the conference was the birth of the Namibia Black Student Organization (NABSO) that preceded NANSO. Back at Dobra, our delegation convened a report-back meeting to the students. We invited Pastor Peter Naholo to facilitate the meeting together with Pastor Kulzing of the Catholic Church. Overwhelmed by emotions, Naholo declared repeatedly: “We live in krotte! Man, we live in krotte!” We liked everything he said on that day. Dobra was under constant police surveillance for a long time because of the presence of PLAN fighters in the area. The legendary Heneleshi Kanisius of PLAN was said to be hiding in the area. South Africa I finished high school in 1976, despite the tension in the country and I consider myself lucky to have been one of the few students who were sent to Fort Hare on a scholarship of the Roman Catholic Church. It is perhaps time to thank the Church and my teachers at Dobra for this assistance as I was never a member of the Catholic Church. In fact, I did not belong to any denomination. I sensed that the RC supported me out of its commitment to education and solidarity. South Africa was hell on earth. The Namibian high school graduates who went to Fort Hare in that year were very lucky to find some big brothers and sisters there who guided and advised us on how to survive the imminent tension and unrest against the bacground of the following contextual factors: (1) The strategy of the PAC and ANC to make the country ungovernable. (2) The independence of Angola and Mozambique in 1975 that helped to intensify guerrilla activities inside Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. (3) A university that was located in the heartland of Steve Biko’s Black Conscioussness Movement. (4) My own inability to construct a single English sentence in overcrowded student halls that were constantly disturbed by student militias and hardliners who wanted to see the university closed. I arrived at Fort Hare together with Herman Blue Karimbue, Michael Hijamutiti, Victoria Nicodemus, Claudia Tjikuua and several colleagues from Caprivi. We were welcomed by Ephraem Kasuto, Marco Hausiku, Immanuel Ngatjizeko, Michael Kaitjindi, Casper Agapitus, Deon Nashenda, Lucia Hamutenya and Imbu Uirab. When the first student demonstration was called, I was perhaps the most excited Namibian student despite Ngatjizeko’s advice to avoid being on the forefront as things would turn nasty. I ignored his advice and joined the forefront of the “student militia” that was stoning and setting alight the passing vehicles on the main road to town. The security police were called in. The students formed a barricade against the approaching security police armed with sjamboks, dogs, helicopters, guns and teargas canisters. I wanted to subject myself to the highest test to see if I had overcome fear. When I was baptized with the first canister of teargas, I panicked. I came to learn later in life that fear is a mental state of helplessness that quickly disarms one’s muscles to resist any amount of pressure applied against the body. The solution to fear is to try hard to overcome that state of mind. For example, the police tactics to unleash dogs and teargas on the student demonstrators at Fort Hare was mainly to invoke fear and to soften us for the sjamboks and beatings It was for the first time that I realized that political demonstrations were not the same as playing tennis matches. They are rough. I ended up sleeping in a maize field away from campus before returning to the hall where everyone was rounded up. Ngatjizeko continues to make fun of me up to this day. Back home the police were waiting for us for questioning and sporadic “detention.” They would pick us up everytime there were clashes between PLAN and SWATF in the country. It became too hot here and I decided to go into hiding. The police specifically targeted my sister Eerike whom they paid regular courtesy visits for harrassment. To make matters worse, she was questioned for letters addressed to me from China by none other than Moses Katjiuongua and the late Che Ngaringombe urging us to leave the country for military training in China. It was during this time when I was captivated by the song: “If I had wings, I would have flown to Tanganyika to see those that I have desired for many years.” Botswana The song persisted in my mind so that I eventually went into exile in December of 1977. After almost six months of protective custody in Ghanzi and Maun, I arrived in Francistown where I found Rudolph Uatjindua Ndjoze and other colleagues. I was taken by Ndjoze and Tjitambi Marenga to a place called The White House in Blue Town. This building was sponsored by Kwame Nkrumah as a temporary shelter for refugees from Namibia and South Africa. I was extremely excited to learn that this historical place hosted many heroes of the struggle who passed through to Zambia and Tanzania. The list includes Sam Nujoma, Hifikepunye Pohamba, Jariretundu Kozonguizi, Moses Katjiuongua, Ewald Kanguatjivi, Nora Chase and many others. I felt that we were following in their footsteps. Francistown was completely under daily attacks from the Selous Scouts of Ian Smith. We escaped several bombings close to the White House, mainly targeting the ZANU and ZAPU guerillas that operated from this dusty town. I can recall a mortar attack into an open-air facility called Mopane Club which was launched from the rear of a hilltop into a dancing crowd. Although three locals died on the spot and many were wounded, many Namibians came away with few shrapnel. In the USA I left for the USA on a United Nations Scholarship in 1978 to join my colleague Ben Karamata at Eastern Mennonite College in Virginia. It was a very conservative college and therefore conducive for learning. I completed my BA Degree in 1982 in the area of communications, English literature and creative writing. Upon completion of my first degree, I migrated to New York City and enrolled at Long Island University for an MA Degree in literature and philosophy. New York was the haven for activists from El Savador and Nigaragua whose movements the Fara Boundo Marti International and Sandinistas were fighting against CIA-backed militia in their own countries. I was inspired and fascinated by the music, poetry and culture of the Latino people that always symbolized resistance against CIA-backed regimes in Latin America. The Guevara social movement and Latino culture had invaded New York’s inner-city life and popular theatres in Spanish Harlem, Broadway, Brooklyn and the Bronx. I frequented theatres, coffee shops, bars and clubs in New York, cultivating contacts and relationships with people who later became so helpful in many ways. One of these Latino friends gave me a small booklet called “Episodes of the Revolutionary Struggle” written by Castro and Che Guevara documenting the entire history of the Cuban Revolution from the day they took off from Mexico on a ship known as Grandma. Up to this day, I have been looking for a copy of that book without success. It is out of print. The anti-imperialist struggle was strong in the USA. It derived its strength from the growing peace movement that was emboldened by (1) The anti-apartheid resistance in Southern Africa; (2) the outcry against Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Grenada which he considered to be his backyard; (3) the assassination of John Lennon in New York City in 1981; (4) the brutal policing of the inner-city youths particularly from the Hispanic and African-American communities; (5) the intnsification of the nuclear race and many other global issues. The coming to power of Ronald Reagan and his policies had also left many youths disillusioned and fatalistic. I attended many peace rallies in New York, especially those held in Central Park. I sometimes became very restless and disillusioned by the fact that the USA did not present an effective platform to practically fight the apartheid system. Most of the activities took the form of lobbying and protest at the United Nations. I stopped going to the university and joined the hustlers on the streets of New York City. The comfort of a UN scholarship ended. I resorted to dangerous street life that sometimes involved “grabbing” food from the street vendors, selling joints and street gambling. I was mugged so many times in New York that I stopped counting. I lived close to the intersection between Madison Avenue and 35th Street, just about 200 yards away from Madison Square Garden. This also gave me a lifeline of selling tickets for major boxing attractions and live band performances organized at the famous Garden. This is the place that I had heard so much about when I was in Namibia. For me, it was the historical venue that featured the first bout between Muhamad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1971 that Ali lost on points. For an ordinary fool like me born in Otjijere, a small village in Epukiro, I felt that I was on top of the world. The Frontline States I was eventually recalled by the SWANU leadership to return to Botswana in 1983 where I joined hard-core militants like Usu Maamberua, Uatjindua Ndjoze and many other colleagues to form the SWANU Revolutionary Council to pursue the armed struggle. I was appointed its Secretary General at a meeting at Dukwe Refugee Camp. It was a hardcore SWANU group that I found in Botswana who demanded nothing less than the armed struggle. It was very difficult times for us to achieve this objective because the movement had failed to gain support from the OAU Liberation Committee or individual African states. The failure of the SWANU External Wing before us was like a ghost that haunted the party that first needed to be exorcised. To make matters worse, we did not have records of their activities, finances, contacts and minutes of thir meetings. We found SWAPO in charge, as the only sole and legitimate movement of the Namibian people recognised by the UN, the Non-Aligned Movement and the OAU. In fact, the SWANU Revolutionary Council and Mission Abroad did not waste time challenging that recognition because we knew that it had been earned on the battlefield. The only option was to do the same if the movement was to gain recognition. Our first task was to reorganize a movement whose entire leadership had returned to Namibia under very sinister circumstances. We restructured the party branches abroad to take the armed struggle more seriously and to channel support to the Botswana Branch. We were blessed by the presence of party operatives in countries such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Liberia, Ghana, Cyprus, Canada, USA, United Kingdom, Germany and Austria who provided innitial support. We sneaked several times into Zimbabwe to engage ZANU-PF to train our cadres. When President Mugabe visited Botswana in 1983, we were eventually invited by the ZANU Youth League to send some of the Revolutionary Council leaders to Harare to explore possibilities of support. Since most of the top leadership like Kozo, Nora and Moses had returned to Namibia, ZANU had almost lost touch with events surrounding the movement. In Harare, they interrogated us for many hours everyday about why Kozonguizi went back to Namibia. They wanted to know why Katjiuongua had joined the Multi-Party Conference. We convinced them that our legitimate leaders were Gerson Hitjevi Veii, Vekuii Rukoro, Kuzeeko Kangueehi, Imbu Uirab and Uatjindua Ndjoze. Our new relationship with ZANU also helped to change the Chinese attitude towards the movement. We were invited several times to the Chinese Embassy in Gaborone to explore support although it was clear that 90% of its support went to SWAPO. We developed underground contacts with sympathetic countries that were willing to train us. Through these contacts the party’s top leadership was invited (tickets fully paid) and travelled to Nigaragua, Libya, Zimbabwe and China to prepare our entry into the armed liberation struggle. Meantime, the Revolutionary Council also dispatched several of our best cadres to Cyprus with the intention of linking up with the Palestinian Liberation Movement (PLO). Through their contacts, the PLO donated typing and printing machines to the movement that we then used to launch our first publication: the SWANU Revolutionary Torch which was edited by Vitura Kavari, the Information Publicity Officer of the RC. I even launched another publication called Patji with support from students at the University of Nairobi in East Africa. It was a very stupid move, because we kept drawing more attention to our activities. The dilemma of the party was simple: When we kept quiet our friends said that the party was dead or inactive. When we publicized the party, it was very likely that SWAPO, as a competitor, would use its sophisticated diplomatic machinery to persuade countries that wanted to support us not to do that as they would violate the OAU and UN resolutions that recognized the movement as the sole and authentic representative. It was a Catch-22. We were followed several times by people that we suspected to be South African operatives in the Frontline States. They were mostly camouflaged as journalists who wanted to subscribe to our journals. I recall one day when a South African agent traced us in a hotel in Gaborone and offered to pay us R20,000.00 (twenty thousand Rand) for two hundred copies on a quarterly basis. We turned it down. One of my comrades threw coffee in his face while scoffing at him. We nearly got involved in a fracas with a potentially well-armed South African operative perhaps in the company of many others. On the diplomatic field, SWAPO completely outperformed SWANU. It was a well-established institution that occupied several observer positions on most international organizations. Therefore, how matter hard we tried to present ourselves as a credible alternative movement, the stigma attached to our party as a minority-based movement did not help our cause. The OAU was keen on avoiding the repeat of past mistakes in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola in which the recognition of more than one movement had led to bloody civil wars after independence was achieved. I have no doubt today that it was a wise and sensible strategy. In mid-1984, we decided to