Nora’s mother Charlotte and her father Otto brought up their four daughters and two sons without traditional gender-specific roles. The boys were taught to cook and the girls were taught to be independent and to speak their minds.
Their home life was multicultural and multilingual. The children spoke Otjiherero to one grandmother, Nama/Damara to another, and Afrikaans amongst themselves until they learnt English in primary school. Their parents often spoke German between themselves.
This was a time when many Namibians went to Cape Town to continue their education and to seek work. Nora’s elder brother was educated in Cape Town in the 1950s and became a doctor. Her elder sister, Ottilie, followed him, and Nora became the third child of the family to go to Cape Town to study. She obtained her Diploma in Education from the University of Cape Town in 1961.
As other Namibians did, the Schimmings joined student organisations in Cape Town, and became activists through their exposure and interaction with fellow students. Nora joined the Cape Peninsula Students’ Union in the mid-1950s, which stood against apartheid and white minority rule. In 1957 she came into contact with the Ovamboland People’s Congress (OPC), and joined the secret Maoist Yo Chi Chan movement in Cape Town. Some members of her group were arrested by the South African authorities and imprisoned on Robben Island for many years.
Nora decided to return to Namibia and became involved in the South West Africa National Union (SWANU), and the Ovamboland People’s organisation (OPO), which later became SWAPO. The site for many political meetings as well as social events, was Katajee Kaunozondunge Hall in the Old Location, where the elders and traditional leaders of the communities residing in the Old Location at the time, met and discussed political developments with younger members of these newly formed nationalist organisations.
She witnessed the Old Location Uprising of 10 December 1959, during which several people were shot and killed, and others wounded. She heard about the white doctors at the hospital in Windhoek refusing to treat the wounded and telling them to go to the United Nations for treatment. This only strengthened Nora’s political resolve to campaign for Namibian independence.
Dr Libertina Amathila recalls in her autobiography how she first met Nora on a train journey between Windhoek and Cape Town, and they discussed their plans to leave and travel to Tanganyika, which attained its Independence in 1961. They left, separately, in 1962, young women in their early twenties going out into an unknown world.
Dar es Salaam became the destination for people from southern Africa who were seeking freedom, and a small group of Namibian exiles gathered there in the early 1960s. Dr Libertina Amathila was the first Namibian woman to arrive. Nora came soon afterwards, having travelled through South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia to get there. They were taken in by Putuse and Emil Appolus and shared a room at the top of their house.
Dar es Salaam was a place for nationalist organisations to access support and solidarity for the cause. It was also a place where people could search for scholarships to study in various countries. Nora stayed there for nine months, working in the SWAPO office, before she obtained a bursary to study in West Germany.
In 1966, Nora completed her BA degree in Political Science, English Linguistics and African Literature, at the Free University of Berlin.
In 1967, she went as an Exchange Student to the African Studies Department, Columbia University, New York.
In 1968 she completed her Master’s Degree at the Free University of Berlin and was admitted to do a PhD. She commenced work on her thesis, which was entitled ‘The Sociological Aspects of the Novels of Chinua Achebe’. Unfortunately she was not able to see her PhD through. She told me that she had visited the USA and carried her manuscript with her, but it got lost. This was in the days before computers and she had not made a photocopy.
Nora met her husband, Dr. William MacDonald Chase, in Germany, and they married in 1968. He was a medical doctor from St Lucia in the Caribbean, who also trained in Berlin. Their two daughters, Esi and Afra, were born during the family’s time in West Berlin. Their son Kweku was born later in Dar es Salaam.
In Berlin, Nora worked as a part-time television journalist for the programme “Internationale Fruhschoppen”, and was a tutor with the German Volunteer Services (DED) – East Africa Group.
Always politically active, she was one of the leaders within the external council of SWANU, whose Chairman was Dr. Zed Ngavirue.
She became SWANU Secretary for Education in 1962, and was recalled by SWANU in 1974 to the party headquarters in Tanzania. She moved back to Dar es Salaam with her husband and children, and became the SWANU Representative there.
From 1974 to 1978, Nora taught at the International School of Dar-es-Salaam, becoming Acting Headmistress of the School.
In September 1978, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 435, which called for the withdrawal of South African forces from Namibia and the transfer of power to the people of Namibia, through free elections to be held under the supervision and control of the United Nations.
Two months later, Nora was recalled by SWANU to Namibia, under the UN amnesty, where she argued powerfully that SWANU should not participate in the South African interim government that was being installed in contravention of Resolution 435. She was elected SWANU Deputy Secretary General in 1979 and was later one of the leaders of the SWANU-Progressive (SWANU-P) faction, which worked closely with SWAPO.
From 1980 to 1986, Nora worked for the Council of Churches of Namibia as Director of Education and set up CCN’s Legal Aid Unit, overseeing the unit with a fellow colleague for three years. She was a Resource Person for the World Council of Churches World Conference “Diakonia 2000”, in 1986, and represented Namibia at the WCC Commission on church participation in Development Regional Networks.
At the same time, Nora continued her political activism. She was elected Secretary General of SWANU and attended the Pre-Implementation Talks on Namibia in Geneva in 1981, which were called to try to resolve the delays in the implementation of UN Resolution 435. She represented SWANU at the meeting with SWAPO in Lusaka Talks in 1984, and presented a paper on the talks to the “100 Years of Colonialism in Namibia” conference held in London in 1984.
From 1987 to 1989, Nora was based in Geneva as the Deputy Director of the World Council of Churches Commission on Interchurch Aid, Refugee and World Service. She was Moderator of:
• the WCC Africa Task Force
• various conferences on Africa, Asia, and the Middle East
• the WCC preparatory Committee for the Women’s Decade
• the World Convocation on Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, and
• the WCC Namibia Working Group on Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 435.
During this period, we had a Namibian as Secretary General of the Lutheran World Federation. This was Dr Albertus Maasdorp. Having Nora Schimming Chase at the same time as a senior person in the World Council of Churches, with its important Programme to Combat Racism, was a major reinforcement of Namibia’s presence in the international Church movement.
In the transitional period 1989-1990, with the implementation of UN Resolution 435, Nora was elected Foreign Secretary of the Namibia National Front, which brought together SWANU and some smaller political parties. She was also the NNF Campaign Director for the elections held under UN supervision and control in November 1989.
After Independence, Nora became the Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She was actively involved in shaping our foreign policy and became a successful career diplomat.
MAY HER SOUL REST IN ETERNAL PEACE!