CANU joins with Swapo
During these early days of our struggle we were looking for ways of uniting with others in South West Africa who were dedicated to the struggle for the national liberation of our country. One such group was the Caprivi African National Union (CANU), which was formed in 1964, led by Comrade Brendan Simbwaye, a teacher in the Eastern Caprivi. He had been in close touch with the United National Independence Party (UNIP) in what was then Northern Rhodesia. The Caprivi Strip had been governed from Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia at one time, under an agreement between the British and apartheid South Africa. It was closer to Barotseland, the Western province of what is today Zambia, than to the rest of South West Africa.
The rest of South West Africa was quite cut off from Caprivi in those days, as part of South Africa’s policy of ‘divide and rule’. Any Namibian who was not of the Mafwe or Masubia ethnic groupings was prevented from travelling to the Caprivi Strip. The first Caprivian I met was Brendan Simbwaye. During our discussions in Lusaka in 1964, he informed me that he intended to launch the Caprivi African National Union and I suggested to him that we should merge in order not to have too many political parties. He went back to discuss my proposal with his colleagues and also to take with him the CANU constitution printed with the assistance of Munukayumbwa Sipalo, who was then UNIP Secretary General and who later became the Minister of Health in the first UNIP government and Nalumino Mundia, a former teacher in Caprivi together with Simbwaye, and later became the Zambian Prime Minister in Kaunda’s government. The struggle in then Northern Rhodesia led by UNIP inspired the Caprivians to form their own party, since they had no contract with Windhoek. After our meetings in Lusaka, Comrade Simbwaye went back to the Caprivi Strip to launch CANU. At the launching in 1964, Comrade Simbwaye was elected as President, Albert Mishake Muyongo as Vice President and Crispin Mulonda as Secretary General. Immediately after the launching, Comrade Simbwaye was arrested and Muyongo, Mulonda and Joseph Nawa escaped to Zambia where I had a meeting with them. In fact, I repeated my proposal for uniting the two parties, and we finally formalized the merger of SWAPO and CANU under the name of SWAPO. Muyongo became the acting Vice-President of SWAPO since Simbwaye was still under arrest inside the country.
According to scraps of information, Comrade Simbwaye was imprisoned, chained in a baobab tree-hole and tortured, then taken by the Boers from the Caprivi Strip to Outjo and thereafter to the Warmbad area. We engaged lawyers to find out what happened to him, but to no avail. It was simply said that he had disappeared. During our struggle for independence, the same fate that befell Comrade Simbwaye befell hundreds of other comrades such as John Nakawa, Johannes Kakuva, Toivo Shilongo, Sakeus Petrus Iita and many others who also disappeared without trace. Since it was my aim to unite all Namibians against the common enemy – the colonial oppressors – my success in uniting CANU and SWAPO was an important achievement. The merger was followed by hundreds of CANU members, including my first Minister of Works, Transport and Communications, Richard Kapelwa Kabajani, joining us in exile in Zambia. Since many of these comrades were living along the Zambezi River, they were especially skilled in rowing canoes. They made important contributions to the struggle by imparting their skills to their fellow freedom fighters. Thus SWAPO fighters were enabled to cross the Zambezi, Cuando and Kavango rivers into the interior of the country with their arms and ammunition. In 1966, when I was at The Hague and the International Court of Justice was about to deliver its judgment on South West Africa, the leader of the South African legal team, Advocate de Villiers, claimed that I and my colleagues were self-exiled and could go back to South West Africa at any time and nothing would happen to us. I reported to the Central Committee of Swapo in Dar-es-Salaam. I and Muyongo were designated to challenge de Villiers’ claim by returning to South West Africa. The South African regime was making much propaganda at The Hague. This was one untruth we would not allow to go without challenge. With Muyongo, I flew from Dar-es-Salaam to Entebbe airport via Nairobi, to catch a British Caledonian Airways flight which had been cancelled. So we flew back to Dar-es-Salaam and chartered a small plane, which took us eight hours from there to Mbeya, and then to Lusaka. On our arrival at Lusaka International Airport, Muyongo suddenly developed sickness. This was pretence: He was simply afraid, and I decided to continue alone on my challenging journey to Windhoek. However, our SWAPO representative in Lusaka, comrade HIfikepunye Lucas Pohamba, would not allow me to travel to Windhoek alone and volunteered to go with me. This became his second re-entry into South West Africa from exile. We took a truck, SWAPO’s only transport in Lusaka, to Livingstone, which we reached at about 2 a.m. We slept for a few hours in a hotel and the next morning, 20 March 1966, we informed our people by telegram that we would arrive that day at Eros Airport. We took a chartered plane belonging to then British Bechuanaland National Airline from Livingstone to Windhoek. We left Livingstone at about 10:15 a.m. and when we entered South West Africa air space the pilot started to announce:
“This is pilot so- and-so, airport number such-and such, carrying passengers Nujoma and Pohamba bound for Windhoek.” We could hear the Boers telling him over the radio – we were only 3 in this small 4-seater aircraft – “Keep north-east! Keep north-east.” We had no choice but to land at the new Ondekeremba International Airport, which was still under construction though the runway was complete. This was forced on the pilot by the Boers to prevent our landing at Eros Airport, where thousands of SWAPO members and supporters – headed by the National Chairman of SWAPO, David Meroro, with SWAPO Secretary General John Ya Otto and other members of the national executive were waiting to welcome us.
Immediately after the plane landed, the Boers tried to search us and insisted that we sign a document. We refused both of these, and told them: “This is our country and we have the right to return to our home country.” A police sergeant put his hands on my shoulders and said I was under arrest, charged with leaving the country without a passport, and held also on suspicion of other offences. Pohamba was also charged with the same offences. They took us from the airport to the city centre, driving through Klein Windhoek to the CID headquarters, off Leutwein Street. They clearly did not know quite how to treat us. We were taken to town in a very smart VIP vehicle. Once at the police station we found the local police pretending to be very friendly. Pohamba, who was carrying SWAPO literature and badges, pinned a badge on one of the police, who said he really could not wear it, because he was a civil servant. Another of the police, one Sergeant Burger said: “Tell me, Mr. Nujoma, how is Tanzania?” I told him, “Tanzania is a very tropical country with high humidity where they grow mangoes, pineapples and other tropical fruits. It has a variety of good climates, hot and tropical in Dar-es-Salaam and in Kilimanjaro, which is the highest mountain in Africa where they grow coffee and tea.” He said: “Oh yes, I remember it. During World War II, I flew from Abyssinia (now called Ethiopia) to Nairobi and then to Dar-es-Salaam, in a British plane.” We insisted to be allowed to leave and go home and meet with comrades who we knew were anxious to know our whereabouts. I also demanded to see my wife and children, who were living in the Old Location, and for a time they said this was being arranged. But in due course more high-powered police arrived at about 6 p.m. and the mood changed. They tried to question us, and to make us look at law books, which they said proved that South Africa did not occupy ‘South West Africa’ illegally, but ruled it under the League of Nations mandate, which South Africa still upheld. These CID men had been flown in from Pretoria especially to deal with us. We were able to respond with facts about their suppression of the people of South West Africa. In every argument, when they attempted to convince us that South Africa was ruling South West Africa under the League of Nations mandate, we countered them again with facts.