Tributes flow from former Robben Island prisoners

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Albertina Nakale

Windhoek-New Era spoke to some political icons who spent many years incarcerated with the late Andimba Ya Toivo on Robben Island.

Helao Shityuwete, aged 82, who also spent about 16 years on Robben Island described Ya Toivo as an old friend politically.

“We came a long way. He was my oldest political friend and mentor. We first met when Ya Toivo was my English teacher under a tree at Odibo in 1949,” he remembered.

Shityuwete said Ya Toivo was their leader on Robben Island, where he showed them the way through responsive defiance.

After independence, he said, they retained their friendship and saw each other frequently.
“Even last week we were together where we reflected on the length of our friendship. I wish for the young people to take further his legacy. Go well, my friend,” Shityuwete bid farewell.

Another prisoner is Namibian diplomat and politician Martin Kapewasha, 67, who served eight years on Robben Island, being released in 1981.

He said Namibia is mourning a legendary hero of the Namibian revolution, adding that Ya Toivo was a founding member of Swapo.

He described Ya Toivo as a leader who helped freedom fighters who came from Tanzania to set up camp at Ongulumbashe and then was arrested and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment on Robben Island, where he served 16 years until his release in 1984.

Kapewasha said Ya Toivo was a leading figure in the political spectrum and they took courage from him on Robben Island.

“Ya Toivo’s passing has really left a gap in our Swapo leadership because he was a pillar we could lean on. We are thankful he died at a very good age after everybody had learned a good lesson from him. So we are mourning a legend and a giant of our revolution. We convey our condolences to his family and wish that his soul rest in eternal peace,” Kapewasha consoled the family.

Ben Ulenga is another former prisoner who joined the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia in 1974 but was later captured after being wounded in combat and sentenced to 15 years in prison, which he spent on Robben Island.

Ulenga said they had a good relationship with Ya Toivo.
According to him, they not only regarded him as the leader of their group in prison but as their overall leader of the liberation movement Swapo.

“I must say the passing of Mr Ya Toivo is indeed a watershed. It’s a closing of an era. I look at it as the end of an era of liberation heros. Of course there are others who are there, but Toivo was not just one among others, he was the one person mainly responsible for what we consider now a movement that brought Namibia’s liberation, freedom and independence,” he noted.

Ulenga said what Ya Toivo contributed to the formation of the Namibian nation was beyond expectation and cannot be measured.

“Of course everybody of us must die. Death is built in our DNA so we can’t avoid it but I must say it’s regrettable that he is gone. I wish his soul to rest in peace. Namibia was very fortunate to have one like him,” Ulenga said.

Arrangements for the memorial and funeral are still to be announced.

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