Justina Amwaalwa: The ‘Mother of SWAPO’ and Staunch Supporter of the Liberation Struggle (1931 …)

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By Timoteus Mashuna

Justina Amwaalwa is a rarely unknown figure within the mainstream political discourses on fathers and mothers who committed their lives to the struggle for justice and the liberation of Namibia. Amwaalwa is one of the pioneer mothers who supported the liberation struggle from its infancy and unwaveringly continued to do so until Namibia was free. It is within this context that at times she was teased as the ‘Mother of SWAPO’, perhaps not only because her children left for exile but also due to the fact that she took care of the SWAPO combatants operating inside the country. “There was a time when people teased me that I was the ‘mother of SWAPO’ and this almost became my nickname because almost all my children left me for SWAPO,” commented Amwaalwa in an interview conducted by Ellen Ndeshi Namhila and published in her book entitled “Tears of Courage”.

Born on 2 October 1931 at Oneputa village near Oshigambo in the former Owamboland, Amwaalwa like most of the children who grew up in the northern part of Namibia during her time was groomed into doing subsistence farming activities that were deemed culturally appropriate for women.

Referring to her early childhood upbringing in an interview with Ellen Namhila, Amwaalwa noted that “our parents were very hard working and they taught us manual work. Since my childhood I was made to understand that work is the way of life. At a very early age I enjoyed working in the field, preparing food and pounding millet. I did not have time for idling or playing.” Besides that she also worked as a domestic worker for the Finnish missionaries at Oniipa until she married Petrus Natangwe Amwaalwa on 15 July 1954.

Her husband was a staunch SWAPO activist who played a crucial role in the early mobilization activities of the liberation movement and in recruiting new SWAPO members. This was perhaps one of the factors that prompted her to get involved and support the liberation struggle activities. During the interview with Namhila, Amwaalwa noted that at the beginning of the armed liberation struggle she provided shelter to Shifindi Immanuel a member of the SWAPO military wing, the then South West Africa Liberation SWALA, later on renamed the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). Immanuel was being pursued by the South African Security Police for his involvement in the attack of Omugulugombashe on the 26 of August 1966 and the attack on the military post at Oshikango.

Following Immanuel’s subsequent capture, Amwaalwa and her husband’s relationship with SWAPO came to the attention of the South African colonial authorities resulting in their detention at the Oshakati Prison in 1967. Though their first detention only lasted for a short while, Amwaalwa and her husband were again re-arrested four months later and taken to a prison in Pretoria, South Africa. This time around Amwaalwa was three-months pregnant a situation that made it difficult for her to survive prison conditions. “I was about three-months pregnant at the time of my second arrest and could not eat the food they gave us. Our meals consisted of thick maize meal porridge and boiled game meat that was badly cooked. It made me vomit. The smell of that game was bad enough to give me stomach upset,” narrated Amwaalwa during her interview with Namhila. Despite her pregnancy, she was kept in prison until she almost gave birth behind the cell. In fact during her interview Amwaalwa highlighted that she was only rushed to hospital after the prison guards were told that she was giving birth in her cell.

In spite of all the difficulties she endured whilst in the hands of her captors, this did not deter her from engaging in the activities of the liberation struggle. Upon her release from the Pretoria prison in January 1968, she together with her husband continued to support the activities of the liberation struggle until independence.

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