Africa has lost a heavyweight in Ya Toivo
AS YOUTH activists during the height of the Struggle in the 1980s, we were inspired and galvanised whenever the poem Africa my Beginning, Africa my Ending by South African poet and luminary Ingoapele Madingoane was rendered.
One of the penetrating stanzas of the poem goes: I remember ya Toivo, Namibia is not lost, Nujoma is not idle he’d be coward if he was, You might as well know Germany is no more in, Africa my beginning, And Africa my ending.
If you were unable to recite Africa my Beginning, Africa My Ending as an activist, in our eyes you were a novice or, at worst, a toddler lacking revolutionary underpinnings and therefore needed basic political baptism and orientation.
Whenever I ascended platforms to recite the poem, the crowds would break into wild chants as they ate from the palm of my hand. Their demands for repeats of the rendition were overwhelming.
As a 14-year-old, I must confess that I had no idea who the people mentioned in the poem were – Andimba Herman Toivo ya Toivo, Agostinho Neto, Sam Nujoma and Robert Mugabe. I was just going with the flow of excitement.
Until Cassy Cindi, a brilliant political mind of our time, taught us who those African heroes were, to us their names were funny and we used them to mock and tease one another. With a feeling of nostalgia, since that tutelage, I have come to respect and idolise Andimba Herman Toivo ya Toivo.
Undoubtedly, the news of Ya Toivo’s death on June 9 sparked a wave of grief, especially among the people of Namibia for whom he sacrificed his life. Africa has lost one of its freedom fighters and heavyweights.
In the life of every nation, leaders arise who leave an eternal stamp on their people, leaders who are products and makers of history. When they pass they remind us of our past and leave a vision of a great future and the tools with which to build it. Ya Toivo was such a leader.
He was born on August 22, 1924 in Omangudu in the Oshikoto region of northern Namibia. From 1951, when he left Namibia for Cape Town, until he passed on, he was a key factor in the evolution of bitter and relentless political struggle of Namibia and in shaping its political landscape.
A teacher, a railway police officer and an anti-apartheid activist, Ya Toivo founded the Ovamboland People’s Congress in Cape Town on August 2, 1957 to fight for the rights of migrant workers and against the incorporation of Namibia into South Africa. In pursuit of its mission, the OPC formed allegiances with the ANC, the SACP and the Congress of Democrats.
In 1959, he was deported back to Namibia for sending a tape to petition the UN on the occupation of Namibia by South Africa.
In 1960, Ya Toivo, Sam Nujoma, Andreas Shipanga and Louis Nelengani co-founded the South West African People’s Organisation (Swapo).
In 1967, Ya Toivo and 36 other accused were charged under the first trial of South Africa’s Terrorism Act. During the trial he made a speech: “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 February 9, 1968 Ya Toivo was sentenced to 20 years in jail and sent to the Robben Island prison. He was released in 1984 after 16 years.
After a brief stay in Namibia, he rejoined Swapo in exile in Lusaka and became its secretary-general.
Ya Toivo was endowed with great wisdom. With rich articulations, he depicted an African soul, its strife and yearnings, its sufferings, sorrow and majesty. His inborn scholarship revealed in his creative works, a keenness of intellect, a gift of vivid expression and the arbour of his great African soul, mingled and fused with a power of radicalism to free the Namibian people.
Ya Toivo never doubted the victory of his sacred cause to which he had dedicated his life. The only thing he wanted for his patriots was a right to a worthy life, to dignity without pretence and to freedom without restrictions.
He knew they were not alone. Africa, Asia, the free people and the people fighting for their freedom in all corners of the world would be with them.
Between 1987 and 1988, the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia, the military wing of Swapo, fought side by side with Umkhonto we Sizwe and the Cuban and Angolan forces to dislodge the apartheid defence force and the Unita rebels at the battle of Cuito Carnevale.
In 1989, Swapo returned to Namibia after defeating the Pretoria regime and on March 21, 1990, Namibia achieved its independence under Nujoma. Ya Toivo became a member of parliament and occupied various cabinet minister positions. He retired from politics in 2006.
His warmth and humanity will remain fresh in our minds for ever and we shall be inspired by his examples as a revolutionary and a great political figure. As we pay tribute to him, we must work tirelessly to eradicate unemployment, corruption and poverty in Africa. We must pledge our oneness with the people of Namibia and pledge to carry Ya Toivo’s dream forward to create a better world and a better Africa for humankind.
Hamba kahle Toivo ya Toivo!
He depicted an African soul, its strife, sorrow and majesty