By John Ekongo
Niko Onverwag Bessinger, Namibia’s first Minister of Environment and Tourism, was laid to rest next to his mother’s grave, Calista Bessinger, at the Khomasdal cemetery over the weekend.
Bessinger died on March 25, four days after Namibia’s Independence Day, and exactly 12 days after the death of John Pandeni, another Swapo stalwart.
The late Bessinger suffered to a heart attack in the early hours of the fateful day. He had been battling cancer for some time.
A church service was conducted in his honour at the St Mary’s Khomasdal Catholic Parish, a stone’s throw away from his residence prior to the burial.
Bessinger was an active member of the parish.
Parishioners gathered as early as 07h00 on Saturday, in this quiet side of Khomasdal suburb for the church service, which was presided over by the Vicar General of the Windhoek Archdiocese, Reverend Werner Afunde.
Afunde described the late Bessinger an “icon of hope and a man of consolidation”.
A State memorial service was held on Friday afternoon at the Parliament Gardens.
Those who knew Bessinger spoke volumes about the life of the former minister and one of the Swapo’s internal leaders during the apartheid era.
Friends, former colleagues and relatives all described him as an intellectual person, whose contribution to the struggle was immeasurable.
He was an intellectual, possessed a great sense of humour, was principled and had another side to him which could be described “the child in him”, according to Gwen Lister who delivered a tribute on behalf of friends.
During the turbulent years of internal displacement, Bessinger and other Swapo leaders inside South West Africa, as Namibia was known then, suffered constant threats, intimidation and arrest by the South African authorities because of their links with Swapo.
Born on June 12, 1948 at Walvis Bay, Bessinger joined Swapo in 1972 and rose to prominence to become one of Swapo’s internal leaders.
Four years after he joined the liberation movement, he was appointed treasurer of the Windhoek office and national treasurer one year later.
In 1981 Bessinger became Swapo’s internal secretary for foreign affairs and served with the likes of Reverend Hendrik Witbooi, late Nathaniel Maxuilili and the late Daniel Tjongarero, until shortly before independence.
President Hifikepunye Pohamba described Bessinger as a dedicated freedom fighter and a true patriot.
The Head of State urged the nation to draw lessons from Bessinger’s life.
“While we are mourning the passing of this son of the Namibian soil, we should recall his heroic deeds and illustrious life. He greatly contributed to the attainment of freedom and independence of this country,” said Pohamba.
“Thus he will go into the annals of our history as a revolutionary who selflessly resisted those repressive forces of apartheid colonialism,” added Pohamba.
In 1995 Bessinger resigned as Member of Parliament and was replaced by Marlene Mungunda.
He, however, remained a member of the Swapo Central Committee until last year’s congress.
Bessinger, a qualified architect, attended school at St Bonifacius Roman Catholic Primary School, Augustineum Secondary School and matriculated at Athlone High School in Cape Town in 1966.
He studied at the University of Cape Town Architectural School before getting a Fulbright scholarship for studies at the University of Detroit in the United States.
After his departure from politics, Bessinger went back to his profession and was now running his own architectural firm.
He was instrumental in the design of the recently inaugurated State House, and the Daniel Tjongarero House, head office of the New Era newspapers at Corner of Dr W Kulz and Kerby Street.
Bessinger was 59 and is survived by his father, four sisters, three brothers and five children.