World mourns death of Ya Toivo … the Namibian liberation icon

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Albertina Nakale

Windhoek-Words of admiration flowed in from freedom fighters, heads of state and many more including South African political parties and other African organisations for Namibia’s revered anti-apartheid struggle icon, Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, who died in Windhoek at the age of 92.

Ya Toivo died at his Klein Windhoek home on Friday evening from a suspected heart attack.
He was Namibia’s longest serving Robben Island prisoner, having served 16 years on the island with other luminaries of the African peoples’ struggles following conviction for contravening South Africa’s Terrorism Act.

He was in the same section as former late South African President Nelson Mandela for fighting for freedom and national independence.

Following his release from Robben Island in 1984, Ya Toivo committed himself to the building of a democratic Namibia, serving as secretary general of Swapo and in various portfolios in government.

Ya Toivo was a founder member of the South West African People’s Organization (Swapo) and its predecessor the Ovamboland People’s Organization (OPO).

The news of his death went viral on social media on Friday evening which was later followed by a message of condolence from President Hage Geingob who officially announced Ya Toivo’s passing.

His death has also been reported internationally including by the world renowned New York Times.

“Good evening fellow Namibians. The icon of the Namibian struggle and national hero Comrade Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo is no more. He left us this evening around 18h00 at his house in Windhoek, Namibia,” Geingob announced.

“On behalf of the Namibian government … I express collective sorrow to the bereaved family … their loss is not only felt by the family but by us all as a country,” stated the president.

The founding father Sam Nujoma’s aide John Nauta said the founding president would deliver a message of condolence during the memorial and funeral service.

The African National Congress (ANC) national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the party has received with profound sadness the news of the passing of Ya Toivo.

The ANC described Ya Toivo as a loyal friend of the South African people, a freedom fighter, hero and icon of Namibia’s struggle for self-determination.

“A man of strong beliefs and convictions, Cde Toivo dedicated his life to the fight against oppression by the then South Africa authorities, rejecting apartheid South Africa’s reduction of sovereign Namibia into its colony. His life was the personification of solidarity, the quest for self-determination and unyielding commitment to the liberation of his people,” the ANC statement read.

The ANC described Ya Toivo as a pan-Africanist and progressive internationalist, who was a vocal and ardent supporter of the oppressed peoples of the world, leading from the front in, amongst others, the mobilization and call for the release of Africa’s friends – some of whom fought in the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale for Southern Africa’s liberation – and the Cuban Five heroes from American jails.

Further, the ANC remember him as a “militant workerist” who advocated the rights of African and black mineworkers in South Africa and Namibia and was banished from South Africa for smuggling taped testimonies to the United Nations (UN) about the harsh experiences of black mineworkers.

“South Africa has lost a true friend in Comrade Toivo ya Toivo and we send our deepest condolences to our fraternal organization, Swapo, the people of Namibia and Comrade Ya Toivo’s family on his passing. Comrade Toivo has left an indelible mark in the history of our region and the continent. Ours is to emulate his life’s work and continue to fight for the realization of his vision of freedom for oppressed peoples of the world and of a continent at peace with itself,” the ANC consoled.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation also sent its condolences on the passing of Ya Toivo.
The foundation noted the friendship Ya Toivo shared with the late Mandela while imprisoned during the apartheid years on Robben Island.

The foundation’s CEO Sello Hatang said Madiba often described him as a stubborn freedom fighter, who was determined to win independence for his people in Namibia.
Hatang says it’s important to note that their friendship was warm and heartfelt.

“I remember seeing the two of them in 2010 … Toivo was in town and he popped in to see Madiba. At the time, the two of them exchanged some really beautiful stories of Robben Island but also to check on each other’s health,” Hatang is quoted saying by the Eyewitness News.

Mandela said some people “behave very well” in order to be promoted, but Ya Toivo was different.

Mandela before his death described him as “quite militant”, saying Ya Toivo “wanted very little to do with whites, with the warders”.

Mandela who called Ya Toivo a “formidable freedom fighter” in his autobiography ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, said he had hit back and knocked down a warder.

The South African Communist Party also expressed its message of heartfelt condolences to the family of Ya Toivo, the people of Namibia, Southern Africa and the African continent as whole on the death of the freedom fighter and co-founder and leader of Swapo.

“Africa is not independent yet, because of persisting imperialist domination and capitalist exploitation of its resources and people. The masses of our people remain impoverished across the board, while a few, both national and foreign exploiters are becoming rich and richer out of the exploitation,” the party expressed.

The party reiterated its call for African continental unity to continue and deepen the struggle to advance the African revolution in honour of the exceptional founders and leaders of the African national liberation movements, of whom Ya Toivo was one.
He retired from active politics in 2006.

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