REVIEW: Tjiriange’s journey to hell and back


‘To Hell and Back’ is the title of Dr Ngarikutuke Tjiriange biography, the latest memoir penned by a member of Namibia’s first and pioneering Cabinet. The book tells of the life in struggle of a man whom I have come to regard as a thinker, intellectual, a brave heart, freedom fighter and an uncompromising nationalist.

To describe Dr Tjiriange as a pioneer in the construction of a new Namibia is no overstatement. Not only has he been responsible for the establishment of our post-independence justice system, which had to be accessible to all Namibians and credible in the eyes of the world.

That he had a much more significant hand in shaping the framework of our current constitution than many of us realise was lost on me until I read this book, making him in my eyes and without a doubt one of the founders of our constitutional order.

‘To Hell and Back’ introduces us to the life of Tjiriange in the context of and through the background of Namibia’s history of colonialism. The book gives a remarkable depth in time, thinking and articulation on the impact of colonialism on the people of Namibia and leaves the reader with little doubt that this historical context shaped the personality, which is Ngarikutuke Tjiriange.

His temperament, convictions and sense of indignation against oppression and injustice can be traced to his early understanding of the evils of colonial rule and racism. It is clear from his writing that Dr Tjiriange makes no apologies for his staunch progressive and anti-colonial consciousness.

‘To Hell and Back’ is an intricate quilt of a number of vignettes comprising of key events in the liberation struggle history of Namibia; significant roles played by the author in the struggle; and key roles played by some individuals affecting the course of the Namibian struggle.

Amongst the most interesting of these are Dr Tjiriange recollections of the devastation that followed the Carpio Mission and its subsequent controversial outcomes.

Dr Tjiriange clarifies quite well that there was no contradiction, nor hesitation from Namibians – including himself – in achieving independence for Namibia. He further narrates how he, along with the likes of Nathanael Maxuilili, John ya Otto, Gabriel Mbidi and Levy Nganjone, worked together to leave no doubt that Namibians were resolute in ensuring their freedom and independence.

Dr Tjiriange is very generous in his writing, often sharing deeply personal insights about his relationships with his contemporaries and comrades. He takes us through – although succinctly – and into the many events that shaped his life and career.

These include his studies at the State University of Leningrad and later in Kiev. It is here that we begin to see Tjiriange – the intellectual – emerging, blending in well with the image of Tjiriange, the brave heart revolutionary that the book exposes us to in its earlier sections.

Throughout the book Tjiriange is generous in detailing his relationship with some of the more prominent figures in Swapo and the broader liberation movement. In chapter 17, while detailing his return to Tanzania after having completed his PhD in the USSR, Tjiriange narrates how he built his lifelong work relationship and camaraderie with Dr Hifikepunye Pohamba, a tutelage he clearly enjoyed and valued.

Similarly, throughout the various chapters of the book, Tjiriange’s admiration for the leader of the Namibian Revolution, Dr Sam Nujoma, as well as the highly respected Peter Nanyemba, is clear and consistent. He refers to, among other occasions, the role of these stalwarts of our struggle in his educational, political and intellectual development. What is clear of these formative years is that Tjiriange lived his life entirely for the struggle and was dedicated wholly and completely to Swapo.

‘To Hell and Back’ strikes me as exactly the kind of book all young leaders should read. It details and teaches lessons of the path towards true revolution. In its annals, the duty of my generation and those even younger than I, is to defend, advance and secure the gains of our revolution.

‘To Hell and Back’ teaches, recollects and advocates. Amongst the most endearing quotes among its pages is this one on leadership: “Leaders must be vibrant and effective, capable of analysing and articulating issues and coming up with concrete and well-thought conclusions and proposals”.

The book’s chapters are brief, yet clear. Perhaps some readers will find the chapters to be abrupt. Despite this, it will not be lost on the reader that the book is purposeful and informative. It is rich with anecdotes and with new perspectives, without being revisionist.
Its perspective will hopefully add colour to our renewed sense of optimism and hope about the prospects of our country.


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