Retracing the footsteps of a liberation struggle icon: “Where Others Wavered, The Autobiography of Sam Nujoma.”

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My childhood
My father made sure that I was properly trained and prepared both mentally and physically. I had to go through all the ethnic and tribal rituals, with the clear purpose that as a man I would be able to undertake initiatives and succeed in the most difficult missions. My father often told me that I must be responsible and be able to look after myself, even if he was not there to take care of me.

 

It was the custom every year, about the month of June when the rains had just ended, for the elders and fully grown boys to journey to the salt pan in the district of Ongandjera (locally known as Ekango Ijo Mongua). From there fresh salt would be fetched which would be processed and stored for home consumption. The salt was also important and valuable because it would be used for barter, along with other goods, with neighbouring districts of Ombalantu and Uukwanjama, and sometimes over the borders in Angola where there were no salt pans available. According to our tradition, when a boy first went to fetch salt, it was expected that he would go all the way on foot as a sign of maturity and strength.

 

One day in 1942, I learnt that my family’s acquaintance – whose last born I am named after – was going in a donkey wagon to the salt pan, and that I was to go along. Before the journey began, though, I expected that since I was really under age, and since the adult was my father’s friend, my main task on the journey would be to look after the donkeys when we rested for them to graze, and that I would be allowed to ride on the wagon now and then. We set off after lunch one day, and at first I was allowed to ride on the wagon. But as soon as we entered the thick forest, I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to walk on my two feet all the way to our destination. I jumped out of the wagon and took a lead, holding and pulling the front donkey when we moved through the deep sands. I also looked after the donkeys so that they were not attacked by lions that were plenty in the bush and were very fond of donkey meat. I was a little bit concerned when I saw what resembled a grey cat, and the donkeys became nervous, probably after the smell of a lion blew in their direction. I reported to the elders what I had seen in the dry grass, and was told to gather wood quickly, make fire around the wagon and bring the donkeys nearer to ensure that they were safe. I was later on told that lions often fear to come close where there is fire burning.

 

We continued the next morning, walking for five days and nights. During the long journey, it was for the first time in my life that I had ever been so utterly exhausted. I fell asleep and dreamed even while moving alongside the wagon. The older person I was with threatened to whip me with a fresh mopane branch if I did not move along quickly, and at one point I was almost overrun by the wagon. Nevertheless we finally arrived back home. When my mother saw me she started sounding traditional words of praise. She instructed the girls to slaughter a big cock, which was then cooked in special gravy extracted from marura tree nuts – a feast normally prepared for very important guests in the house. My father presented a goat as a sign of gratitude to me, a small boy who had brought salt to the family. This female goat produced many young ones, and I was very happy and proud to possess goats of my own. I felt well rewarded after the long hard journey to fetch salt, and I learned the value of undertaking difficult missions in one’s life.

 

During my boyhood, looking after the cattle was my main activity, and schooling came second or even third in my mind. I started to go to the Finnish Missionary Society School at Okahao, near Ethiya Ombupupu, at about the age of 10. (The school is still there, but if one visits it today one will see how it had been shelled by South African troops during the war of liberation. Even though the South Africans claimed to be civilized and committed Christians, if one goes to Okahao, the modern church there also bears the holes of machine gun bullets. These were fired from the South African military base which was deliberately to harass the students, and the population in general during Sunday church services). Eventually though, I finished my Standard Six, with Wilhelm Amutenya as my teacher. Though I was still young, I could not go for Standard Seven as it was not provided at that school. The only option open for me in order to proceed with education then was to be prepared to be a clergyman, and again, I was too young to be considered. Procedurally, one had to be mature and allowed to seminary school where boys could be trained to become clergymen.

 

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