By Jonanes Katanga
I deemed it necessary that I give more details of my account of= political developments in our country as to what actually transpired that gave root to the establishment of the mighty SWAPO that finally brought political independence to Namibia.
I need to put the history of this country in the right perspective in order to give clarity to issues that currently prevail in our society on which I want to reflect.
It should be correctly understood that the Ovambos and Hereros were the first in this country to organize sound political parties, namely OPO and SWANU – the former for the Ovambos and the latter for the Hereros. I can speak with confidence about the conditions that prompted men such as Toivo ya Toivo and Theophilus Mutumbangela to establish a political party (OPO)
that gave birth to SWAPO.
OPO by its name Ovambo People’s Organisation could not suit the aspirations of the Namibian people of that time, because the pain and pressure that forced our leaders to form an organization of the oppressed was felt not only by the Ovambos, but by all non-white residents of the country.
OPO changed to become SWAPO so that all oppressed Namibian people could speak with one voice for the sake of our motherland in the hands of the occupation regime. The main theme of this formation was unity and inclusiveness.
What Made People Go to War
Issues that brought about this political development were real and painful experiences particularly for contract labourers from the former Ovamboland.
Labourers used to leave their homes for 1-3 years to come and perform hard labour in the mines, railways and on whites’ farms, for which they were paid pittance.
With their little wages they managed to buy clothing and a little this and that, such as soaps and other toiletries, but when they returned home to Oshivelo (Namutuni border control) they would find white officials who would check through all their belongings.
Here, officials removed all soaps, cologne, perfumes and deodorants from labourers’ luggage – they were told that such luxuries were only for whites and their missus.
If they found long trousers in your luggage or a shirt with long sleeves they would cut off one leg and from a shirt they would cut off one sleeve. This was a ‘normal’ practice – because you are black you have no right to wear a long trousers or a shirt with long sleeves, no matter how hard you have been working or how long you have been saving to afford it.
Most of us who survived that time can still remember names such as Shongola, Nakale, Kambatutu (who was later on dislodged from Oshikango by early Plan fighters), De Wet and Odendaal. These were the white administrators who sustained this oppressive machinery. Thanks to our leaders in OPO who wrote letters to the United Nations to complain about such practices, these were later stopped.
However, whites had another plan that only came into operation when they told chiefs and headmen. They erected fences and told our traditional leaders that all our cattle needed to be assembled in fenced camps for reasons that were not explained to us. We smelled a rat and organized through our newly formed political leadership to destroy those camps.
It was getting more and more clear to young black people in our regions that if we did not stand up to fight the oppressors we would continue to live as slaves in our own land. I personally was part of the youth who burnt down these camps, my other comrades in this undertaking were men like Simon Kaukungwa, Set Kaukungwa, Kayupa ka Mwatotele, Hangula ya Kapitiya, Asser Ndadi and Olavi Nailenge.
Oppression in Independent Namibia
Most of us who experienced the bitterness of the past can hardly look indifferently at things as they unfold today. Yes, good things are there, but should we turn a blind eye to those that are really bad? Probably no.
Let us look at how our Government treats people who live in villages marked for the development of towns and those whose crop fields are affected by the railway that is currently under construction in the north.
Government officials responsible for these developments do not care about the emotional or economic well-being of the people who live on the land that they want. They give little money for them to go and settle anywhere else without considering the actual loss they inflict on them in terms of proper compensation.
The value of land to its people remains crucial even after independence. When we collectively fought for our motherland, we did it in the belief that we cannot expect to be recognized as a nation when our land remains under foreign occupation while we just looked on.
It is the land of our forefathers and that is one sentimental element that
called us to set it free. The same sentimental element is even close to home when you live in a crop field that was toiled by your generation before you (in case of those who inherited their land from parents).
People are uprooted and the community’s social support network is totally destroyed with no mercy at all.
Another element is purely economical. Some of these people whose land is taken from them for Government’s development programmes came to these fields when there was nothing and had to work hard, clear thick forests to make homes for their households. Then they were young and strong to do the work, buy livestock and improve land quality to make it proper for cultivation. Now in their old age, they are ordered to move and give room for development.
It is said that development is also in their favour, because it will create employment. But no truth is told that employment is only for those who are employable and most of them are not. Meanwhile, they are chased off their lands into open areas that are left unoccupied because they are arid and even developers themselves do not want those areas for the said development, so they are taking land from the poor and ignorant people.
Even if there could be any better areas to go to, most of these people are no longer young and strong as before to start all over again. When they are ordered to leave their land the Government pays them as little as N$300-500 while gaining millions when they sell this land to town developers.
Is this really fair? If our own Government does not care for our well-being then who should?
Despite all these misgivings, as a nation, we strive to retain our pride in our leadership. The 18 years of Namibia’s independence has been time for a rigorous test of the leadership of this nation on the core values, namely unity, equality and justice that SWAPO has been propagating.
It is upon any ordinary citizen of this country to tell how our leadership has fared in this test. What do we say when those we thought are our leaders responsible for upholding national unity we fought for are now openly aligning themselves on tribal lines?
Were they only paying lip service to the unity they once propagated and made us to believe in something they themselves cannot relate to?
Nepotism in the government system was first brushed aside as rumours spread by the enemies, but now everybody tells you that: “It is about who you are and whether you know people in the right positions.”
The Anti-corruption Commission is a dog with no teeth to bite, the media reveals. Those “in the right positions” have lost it all: Patriotic and Christian values, so the nation is at the mercy of this ruthlessness and the writing is on the wall. We are heading into total deterioration.
Problems of Today Have Far-reaching Implications
Soon after independence, parents in this nation were informed that it is wrong to employ corporal punishment when rearing children. In a positive view, it was agreeable if there was no better way to bring up children into law-abiding citizens.
Unfortunately in our case, corporal punishment that has been known traditionally as essential in keeping children in order has been abolished and nothing replaced it. This left parents powerless and the naturally stubborn children on their own.
And then you ask what has gone wrong with our culture and traditions where children have listened to and respected their parents, now that many young people are incarcerated and others are early on drugs, their misuse of alcohol and eventually indulging in immoral practices that land them in evils such as HIV/AIDS.
Finally, I would like to draw attention to aspects of historical importance that are slowly dying with first hand witnesses of apartheid brutality.
I happen to be one of the people who were directly affected by the former regime’s brutality and suffered a lot of hardships of the war. Like many others, we received no recognition and nobody bothered to approach us to take record of what we went through. Those of us who are still in life have so much to contribute to the history of this nation pertaining to events of the liberation struggle.
Fellow Namibians such as former Plan fighters who we collaborated with to ensure that links between Plan fighters and communities inside the country are maintained for the smooth running of Plan operations seem to have forgotten about us.
I personally used to transport young people who wanted to join Swapo outside and did that competently, because I knew routes that were safe where the enemy could not cause trouble. Men in Defence such as Martin Shalli, late Dimo Hamaambo, Shikololo and Malakia Nambundunga know these things very well. However, today nobody looks back to recognize our efforts.
It is like people were only needed for the war to be waged, but in time of peace recognition is for the chosen ones. Where is justice and equal rights? Let us remember where we came from. The journey was not easy and we all fought for a better life for ourselves, not for the chosen ones and each of us has only one life.
May the leadership of this nation give this situation a second opinion?
J P Katanga