SWAPO Party’s Liberation Years Archived

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The SWAPO Party Archive and Research Centre (SPARC) is capturing nearly 30 years of the history of the political organisation. New Era went to have a look at the progress so far made.

By Catherine Sasman

WINDHOEK

Following a SWAPO Party Politburo decision to have the history of the party recorded and preserved, a decision was taken to establish an archive, the SWAPO Party Archive and Resource Centre (SPARC) in 2003.

A history committee formed out of members of the party’s Politburo was established to oversee this project.

“One of the important issues was to gather materials the party has gathered over the years,” said Per Sanden, who was contacted by Hidipo Hamutenya, the then coordinator of the history committee at political level for the mammoth task.

Sanden’s involvement with SWAPO started in the mid-1960s. As a member of the Solidarity Movement in Sweden, the young Sanden first came into contact with the SWAPO movement when the then president of SWAPO, Dr Sam Nujoma, first visited Stockholm in 1966.

Sanden was later invited to visit the Caprivian Front where PLAN was operating in the early 1970s after subsequent trips by Nujoma and other political leaders to Sweden.

As a young man, Sanden came to the Caprivi Front with a Swedish television station, to film the activities of PLAN.

This became a critical documentary at the time, which highlighted the apartheid South African regime’s involvement there.

“It created quite a spectacle when it was released,” said Sanden.

“South African troops had destroyed a village in Caprivi, which it denied. The South Africans invited us to go back and witness the situation ourselves. We felt the International Red Cross and SWAPO should be involved to secure the safety of everyone involved. This request was rejected by the South Africans, and we were not allowed to come,” remembered Sanden.

So much so was the uproar over the Swedish television documentary, that a local newspaper, the Windhoek Advertiser, at the time produced a cartoon of Sanden and his crew which it run on a front page, with the words, ‘Dead or Alive!’

“This was the first and only film made on the conditions at the front at the time. It was shown all over the world and this made SWAPO known worldwide to a great extent,” said Sanden, sitting in the office SPARC.
This film is in the SPARC archive.

On the walls of the centre are blown-up photographs Sanden took of his time at the front, and youthful photographs of the SWAPO leadership in exile. A photograph on the side of Sanden’s desk depicts him in deep conversation with Nujoma dressed in battle gear sitting under a tree.

Having followed PLAN activities for some years, SWAPO again asked Sanden to train exiled party members in video recording and photography in Angola and Zambia.

Most of his students, said Sanden, have in the meantime died, “for all kinds of reasons”, with only a very few living and working in Namibia, such as Permanent Secretary of the National Planning Commission Mocks Shivute, Oshana Regional Councillor Erastus Uutoni, and Vicky Ashipala from the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation.

Over the years of documenting the liberation movement, Sanden has built up an impressive archive of his own on SWAPO activities.

It was because of this and his past involvement with the SWAPO movement, that he was approached to guide the setting up of the archive.

Today, at the SPARC office in Promenade Street in Windhoek, five young Namibians under the supervision of Sanden, who is technically advising the setting up of the archive, are meticulously putting together and digitising the documentation so far gathered – currently counting more than three million, said Libolly Haufiku, who was involved of the project since the beginning.

The collection process was meant to travel all over the world, including to international offices formerly held by SWAPO in Moscow, Stockholm, London, New York, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola and India.

“There were probably about five more SWAPO offices worldwide,” said Sanden.

The team assembling the materials, he said, made a big find when they heard of three huge metal containers that contained documentation from Angola: the Luanda office, as well as the military head office in Lubango, and other parts of that country.

“These containers were brought to the military base in Ondangua at independence where it rested for 16 years,” said Sanden.

In the 16 years since it was taken to Ondangua, no one took much notice of the content of the containers, except a security guard who was assigned to look after the containers.

“When I learnt of the containers, I got curious and tracked it down to where it was all these years and we brought it to Windhoek,” said Sanden.

What they found, he said, was a mess. The metal constructions took a beating from being exposed to the sun and rain, and with the movement of the containers, on opening these, boxes and files left in cabinets were all in disarray. It took two months to sort out the documentation held in these files.

Other materials have been gathered from the office of Solidarity organisations, personal collections of individuals and organisations, other worldwide archives, the United Nations, or any other source that have had contact with the liberation movement.

Sanden’s collection gathered over decades, also form part of the archival materials, after he donated close to 7??????’??

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