Trib­ute to Namib­ian strug­gle giant

Ya Toivo’s speech made head­lines and be­came key doc­u­ment to rally sup­port for the coun­try’s free­dom

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE - South African Strug­gle stal­wart An­drew Mlan­geni salutes late Namib­ian coun­ter­part Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo

THE name Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo is in­sep­a­ra­bly linked to the strug­gle for the in­de­pen­dence of Namibia. For­mally known as South West Africa, the coun­try got re­named upon its in­de­pen­dence in March 1990, with Sam Nu­joma be­com­ing pres­i­dent and my fel­low Robben Is­land in­mate Ya Toivo head­ing the Min­istry of Mines and En­ergy (1990 to 1999) and Labour (1999-2002).

Born a Namib­ian in 1924, and I, South African, in 1925, our paths were des­tined to meet, al­beit under con­di­tions of our re­spec­tive strug­gle jour­neys that saw us be­come pris­on­ers on Robben Is­land.

He landed on the is­land in 1968, four years af­ter the sen­tenc­ing of South Africa’s Rivo­nia Trea­son Tri­al­ists in 1964.

He and 36 other Namib­ians had been ar­rested on Septem­ber 9, 1966 by the South African se­cu­rity forces.

They were charged under the Ter­ror­ism Act and on Fe­bru­ary 9, 1968 Ya Toivo was found guilty of con­tra­ven­ing the act and sen­tenced to 20 years in prison, en­dur­ing long pe­ri­ods of soli­tary con­fine­ment and other forms of harsh treat­ment.

Long as that sen­tenc­ing had come across, he was not with­out hope as to the ter­mi­nal point of his strug­gle: “I know that the strug­gle will be long and bit­ter. I also know that my peo­ple will wage that strug­gle, what­ever the cost. Only when we are granted our in­de­pen­dence will the strug­gle stop”.

Ya Toivo traced his strug­gle years from our very home shores. He left his home coun­try for Cape Town in 1951 to be em­ployed as a rail­way po­lice of­fi­cer be­tween 1952 and 1953. He was in­stru­men­tal in the for­ma­tion of po­lit­i­cal for­ma­tions such as the Mod­ern Youth So­ci­ety (MYS) made up of univer­sity stu­dents and trade union­ists. He be­came deputy chair­man of the MYS, part of whose ac­tiv­i­ties in­cluded or­gan­is­ing fes­ti­vals, lec­tures, dis­cus­sion groups and night schools for ac­tivists pur­su­ing fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion.

He joined the ANC in Cape Town in 1957. Later that year, he co-founded the Ovam­boland Peo­ple’s Congress (OPC), fore­run­ner of the Ovam­boland Peo­ple’s Or­gan­i­sa­tion (OPO) and the South West African Peo­ple’s Or­gan­i­sa­tion (Swapo) upon it be­ing re­con­sti­tuted on April 19, 1960 and was ap­pointed its sec­re­tary-gen­eral. Soon there­after Swapo estab­lished its mil­i­tary wing, the South West Africa Lib­er­a­tion Army.

He also helped es­tab­lish close con­tacts with two South African par­ties – the Congress of Democrats and the Lib­eral Party. The OPC sought to fight for the rights of mi­grant work­ers, some of whom had de­fected from the South West African Na­tive Labour As­so­ci­a­tion.

The driv­ing force be­hind these mo­bil­i­sa­tion ef­forts was op­po­si­tion to the in­cor­po­ra­tion of Namibia into South Africa. The League of Na­tions had di­rected South Africa to ex­er­cise a man­date over the coun­try at the con­clu­sion of World War I in 1918.

Grow­ing op­po­si­tion to South Africa’s con­trol of Namibia led to Ya Toivo send­ing a pe­ti­tion to the UN in De­cem­ber 1958.

Be­cause of his po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties in sup­port of Namib­ian in­de­pen­dence, Ya Toivo was ar­rested in 1966 by the South African au­thor­i­ties. Dur­ing his trial in Au­gust 1967, The State v. Tuhade­leni and 36 Oth­ers, he ap­peared as Ac­cused No 21 under the Ter­ror­ism Act of June 21, 1967.

The act was ap­plied retroac­tively to con­vict po­lit­i­cal lead­ers from Namibia. The speech he made on be­half of his group af­ter his con­vic­tion gained renown for its pro­nounce­ments deny­ing South Africa the right to try South West African cit­i­zens or to rule their coun­try.

His speech from the dock made head­lines and be­came an in­ter­na­tion­ally cir­cu­lated key doc­u­ment to rally sup­port for the Namib­ian lib­er­a­tion strug­gle.

His 1967 speech, which had a ring of res­o­nance with Nelson Man­dela’s at the Rivo­nia Trea­son Trial, in part stated: “We are Namib­ians, and not South Africans. We do not now, and will not in the fu­ture, recog­nise your right to gov­ern us; to make laws for us, in which we had no say; to treat our coun­try as if it was your prop­erty and us as if you are our mas­ters. We have al­ways re­garded South Africa as an in­truder in our coun­try. This is how we have al­ways felt and this is how we feel now and it is on this ba­sis that we have faced this trial.”

On Jan­uary 26, 1968, he was sen­tenced to 20 years im­pris­on­ment by the Pre­to­ria Supreme Court.

He was jailed on Robben Is­land when Rivo­nia Trea­son Tri­al­ists were al­ready serving the fourth year of their life sen­tences. Be­cause of his non-con­form­ist na­ture, even in prison, he spent most of his time iso­lated from his fel­low coun­try­men.

It was his un­re­lent­ing stead­fast­ness on Robben Is­land that earned him the ad­mi­ra­tion of Nelson Man­dela, which con­tin­ued af­ter the dawn of democ­ra­cies in their re­spec­tive coun­tries .

Said Man­dela about his fiery char­ac­ter: “He didn’t care to be pro­moted and he wouldn’t co-op­er­ate with the au­thor­i­ties at all in al­most ev­ery­thing. He was quite mil­i­tant. He wanted very lit­tle to do with whites, with the warders”.

He was not an easy fel­low, show­ing no re­morse and of­ten em­broiled in in­ter­mit­tent fights with au­thor­i­ties.

One of these fights is re­called by a fel­low Robben Is­land in­mate Mike Din­gake: “A few me­tres from my cell, warders tried to push Ya Toivo in­tol­er­a­bly around. Andimba un­leashed a hard open-hand smack on the young warder’s cheek, send­ing his cap fly­ing and the young warder wail­ing “Die k ***** het my ges­laan.”

The de­bates we had in prison were of­ten about which coun­try be­tween South Africa and Namibia would be first to gain in­de­pen­dence.

Through­out his years at Robben Is­land Ya Toivo re­fused to recog­nise South Africa’s ju­ris­dic­tion over Namibia and was a real trou­ble­maker for the prison au­thor­i­ties.

On April 18, 1970 Ya Toivo de­manded that all Namib­ians be trans­ferred to their coun­try and called for dras­tic im­prove­ment of the med­i­cal ser­vices on Robben Is­land.

He fought for his coun­try with dis­tinc­tion and was just as hum­ble in serving it.

He re­tired from ac­tive pol­i­tics in 2006 af­ter hold­ing three suc­ces­sive min­is­te­rial posts. He re­mains a fel­low strug­gle stal­wart that both South Africa and Namibia are proud to have had as an in­spi­ra­tional leader.

South Africa ex­tends its con­do­lences to the Namib­ian na­tion in its mo­ment of loss. An­drew Mlan­geni is one of South Africa’s Strug­gle stal­warts still alive. A for­mer Rivo­nia Trea­son Tri­al­ist, he served 26 years as a Robben Is­land pris­oner and Ya Toivo served 16.

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