• Dr Peya Mushelenga, MP
Bestowing honours, be it in governments, academia and other institutions generate debates and controversies. But there are times when there would be unanimity in recognising the achievements of an individual. One such straightforward case is that of Herman Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo, a man of unparalleled revolutionary initiatives and a unique leader who belonged to his own league.
Born on 22 August 1924, to a school teacher and a peasant, he grew from an ordinary village boy to an internationally renowned freedom fighter and famous political prisoner Namibia has produced. Andimba demonstrated exceptional mobilisation talents during the formative stage of Namibia’s liberation struggle, when he lit the torch in the absent moonlight or twinkling stars to find a path for freedom. The result was the formation of the Ovambo People’s Congress (OPC), the precursor to the Ovambo People Organisation (OPO), later renamed the South West African People Organisation (SWAPO). OPC’s foundation was its motto: solidarity, justice of freedom – which nurtured Namibia’s liberation struggle and hitherto remains the motto of SWAPO Party.
Andimba became a thorn in the flesh of the apartheid South African regime, when he petitioned the UN twice, i.e. the Chairman of the Trusteeship Council in 1957, in a petition with eighty other co-signers and the UN Fourth Committee in 1958, in a tape-recorded message sent through Mburumba Kerina. Alas! The inevitable happened – he lost his job and was deported to Namibia, then South West Africa (SWA). This was the beginning of more troubles to come, including four months detention and repeated detention at the Okaloko palace of Omukwaniilwa Sheepo sha Namene of the Ondonga Traditional Authority (OTA).
But no amount of cruel physical torture and public humiliation could break his spirit.
Deported as unemployed, the colonial authorities miscalculated that he will languish in poverty. Behold! He put them to shame by venturing into entrepreneurship, providing employment and even holiday jobs to learners in need, like Nahas Angula and Helmut Angula, former Prime Minister and Cabinet Minister, respectively.
In his statement at the Terrorism Trial of 1968, Andimba demonstrated loyalty to his country and commitment to the call for duty, declaring: “I am a loyal Namibian and I could not betray my people to their enemies.” He further contended: “I could not remain a spectator in the struggle of my people for their freedom.” Interestingly, at the time of his arrest in 1966, he and his comrades have not violated any law, prompting the South African Parliament to pass the Terrorism Act of 1968 retrospectively, contrary to international law principles regarding ex post facto legislation. Shame!
Andimba was not cowed into surrendering, nor intimidated by the court environment, characterised by a demonstration of state power. Against all odds, he remained unfazed and articulated his position resolutely and composedly, pouring the calabash of revolution before the Court. Hey! The Judge was in trouble, South Africa was told, and the world listened – “We are Namibians and not South Africans. We do not now, and will not in the future recognise your right to govern us…”. You got it! Our boy from Omangundu is not a joke!
What is in a name? Toivo is a Finnish name meaning hope, wish and desire. He was hopeful that a people shall overcome, telling the Court “I know that the struggle will be long and bitter. I also know that my people will wage that struggle, whatever the cost.” Given his singleness of purpose, his desire and wish was only freedom and independence. He had many other options available to him. As a successful pioneering businessman, he could have amassed affluence and lived in the comfort of his prosperity to his own satisfaction and exclusive benefit of his family. But wealth and treasures were of no consequence to him – his country and people came first. Accordingly, he embarked upon mass political mobilisation to address the plight of his toiling people.
Enduring sufferings for his country and people was a non-issue to Andimba. He gave true meaning to the slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all!” While it is expected for any prisoner to embrace release hurriedly, Andimba threw his jailers in a state of confusion when he refused to leave the gaols as long as his comrades remained incarcerated. That was after 18 years of imprisonment, 16 of which were spent on the notorious Robben Island prison.
Poor prison authorities! In a dramatic move, they brought a bullfighter dog to chase away Andimba from captivity to freedom. The rest is history.
Andimba was never overwhelmed by his well-deserved fame. He valued others and believed in collective worth. At the trial, he maintained: “I speak of ‘we’ because I am trying to speak not only for myself, but for others as well…”. This earned him admiration and respect. Consequently, following his passing on, many people changed their profiles on the social media to display his picture.
Go well foresighted revolutionary, outstanding mobiliser, tested cadre and above all our down-to-earth son of the soil!