The North says farewell to ya Toivo

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Helvy Shaanika

Ondangwa-The moods at Ondangwa Trade Fair grounds on Friday kept shifting, as one moment it was sombre and the next the crowd would burst into uncontrollable laughter. At times though there was absolute silence as mourners nodded in agreement with speaker after speaker recalling their memories of the life of one of Namibia’s seminal freedom fighters, Herman Andimba Toivo ya Toivo.

This happened as hundreds of people gathered at a special memorial service for one of the torchbearers of Namibia’s liberation struggle, ya Toivo, who died on Friday, June 9 at the age of 92 at his residence in Windhoek.

The eulogy by retired Anglican Bishop Shihala Hamupembe was filled with so much humour, that the mourners were often in stitches, as Hamupembe described ya Toivo as a stubborn freedom fighter, who was very straightforward and said his fearless acts could get one in deep trouble.

He also said ya Toivo loved physical fitness and would use any space around him as an opportunity to exercise. “He was a friend to both children and adults, but the man was just too stubborn,” said Hamupembe.

He narrated how the presence of ya Toivo, who had just been released from prison, at a church had a congregation divided between those who viewed him as a struggle icon and those who were sympathetic to the colonial masters and looked at him with somewhat less reverence.

“One Sunday I told him that I was going to carry out a church service in town and I would pick him up later, so that we can go together for another church service at the location, but Andimba insisted that he was coming with me to town.

“I knew that being with him would put me into trouble, but I didn’t know how to handle him. In fact, he gave me no choice but to go with,” Hamupembe recalled.

While at church the white communities that were pro-colonial asked why Hamupembe was in the company of people like Ya Toivo, while those in favour of the liberation struggle took great interest in him, shaking his hand and encouraging him to continue the struggle.

“A church for Andimba, a church against Andimba, and here is Shihala in between trying to reconcile. The man was just too stubborn,” said Hamupembe as the crowd burst into laughter.

Various speakers spoke of their fond memories of late ya Toivo, a former Robben Island political prisoner and founder of the Owambo People’s Organisation, which later became Swapo.

“Andimba the school boy, Andimba the teacher, Andimba the guerilla, Andimba the businessman, Andimba the mineworker, Andimba the pioneer of the nationalist work movement, Andimba the internationalist, Andimba the prisoner of Robben Island, Andimba the lawmaker, Andimba the leader, Andimba the husband, Andimba the father, Andimba the brother, Andimba the stubborn, Andimba the honest,” is how Helmut Angula, the master of ceremonies on the day, summed up ya Toivo’s life.

Many wept in silence as ya Toivo’s widow, Vicky, stood to pay tribute to her husband, saying that so much of what was spoken is a reflection of the loyal, honest and loving family man and husband she knew. She said she had known her husband for 33 years, but prior to meeting him in person she was part of the group that campaigned for his release.

Ya Toivo was born at Omangundu village and started at a school where he was taught by his own father, Toivo Uushona, who taught under a tree.

Omangundu village has since been split into three villages, each aptly named Omangundu Number One to Number Three.

“In our small way we are also proud that we gave birth to this son of the soil. Our village – as small as it is – is the mother and father of this great man, who suffered in the name of the liberation struggle. We are glad that he was one of us. He left a legacy that we are proud of,” said Martin Elago, headman of Omangundu Number Two, who spoke on behalf of the communities of the three Omangundu villages.

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