Africa’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary hero

Toivo was not just a Namib­ian free­dom fighter. As an ac­tivist against apartheid he was part of a gen­er­a­tion who bore South­ern Africa’s long strug­gles against apartheid and colo­nial­ism in re­gional sol­i­dar­ity, writes

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NAMIBIA has seen an un­prece­dented out­pour­ing of grief fol­low­ing the death of lib­er­a­tion strug­gle hero Andimba Toivo ya Toivo. It was matched by vi­brant so­cial me­dia com­men­tary.

Com­ments sug­gest that many re­garded him as an icon of the Namib­ian lib­er­a­tion strug­gle, al­though he nei­ther be­came the of­fi­cial leader of the lib­er­a­tion move­ment, South West Africa Peo­ple’s Or­gan­i­sa­tion (Swapo), nor in­de­pen­dent Namibia’s pres­i­dent.

Th­ese po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship po­si­tions were firmly oc­cu­pied by Sam Nu­joma, who served three terms as pres­i­dent af­ter 1990. On his re­tire­ment in 2005 he was de­clared the of­fi­cial “Found­ing Fa­ther of the Namib­ian Na­tion”.

In the wake of Toivo’s death, some com­men­ta­tors said he would per­haps have been a more de­serv­ing re­cip­i­ent of such an honorary ti­tle. Th­ese con­tes­ta­tions are in­dica­tive of the in­ter­nal pol­i­tics of Swapo, still Namibia’s rul­ing party by a large mar­gin. They were dis­missed quickly though, most pub­licly by First Lady Mon­ica Gein­gos.

Ir­re­spec­tive, Toivo, 92, re­ceived un­prece­dented ac­co­lades as a “rev­o­lu­tion­ary hero”. Thou­sands at­tended memo­rial ser­vices held for him across the coun­try. In­nu­mer­able trib­utes were pub­lished in Namibia, South Africa, else­where on the con­ti­nent and be­yond.

Namib­ian Pres­i­dent Hage Gein­gob de­liv­ered an ex­tra­or­di­nary eu­logy dur­ing the na­tional memo­rial ser­vice of June 23. He em­pha­sised Toivo’s sig­nif­i­cance, say­ing: “We have lost a man who epit­o­mises the core ideals that make us the na­tion we are to­day. His durable prin­ci­ples and inex­haustible reser­voir of com­pas­sion, for­give­ness, pa­tience and sense of jus­tice al­lowed him to shun the murky waters of greed and fac­tion­al­ism.”

A day later Gein­gob called at the burial site to honour Toivo’s legacy through com­mit­ment to fight­ing trib­al­ism and racism, poverty and cor­rup­tion. He was given a state fu­neral at the Namib­ian Na­tional Heroes Acre in Wind­hoek.

Re­mark­ably, Gein­gob’s his­tor­i­cal ac­count named a full list of the Ovam­boland Peo­ple’s Congress founders in Cape Town in 1957, which in­cluded a num­ber of early ac­tivists who later fell out of favour with Swapo, such as Emil Ap­po­lus, An­dreas Shipanga, Otil­lie Schim­ming Abra­hams, and Ken­neth Abra­hams.

This his­tor­i­cal hon­esty paid due re­spect to the man. In the party he co-founded, Toivo’s frank at­ti­tude was not al­ways wel­come. In 2007 he failed to be re-elected to the Swapo Polit­buro. Ru­mours had it at the time that he was too sym­pa­thetic to the Rally for Democ­racy and Progress, a break­away party from Swapo. He de­nied this. In 2012 he was fi­nally made a per­ma­nent mem­ber of Swapo’s cen­tral com­mit­tee.

Who was this in­spir­ing man and what re­mains of his legacy?

Her­man Andimba Toivo ya Toivo was born in 1924 in Oman­gudu in north­ern Namibia. He re­ceived pri­mary school ed­u­ca­tion from the Finnish Lutheran mis­sion (Toivo means hope in Finnish). Dur­ing World War II Toivo was a sol­dier with the South African Na­tive Mil­i­tary Corps. He then at­tended the Angli­can St Mary’s Odibo school where he qual­i­fied and worked as a teacher.

In 1951, Toivo moved to Cape Town. In the Cape he be­came in­volved with South African anti-apartheid or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing the ANC and left-wing stu­dent move­ments. In 1957, he formed the Ovam­boland Peo­ple’s Congress, the fore­run­ner of the Namib­ian lib­er­a­tion or­gan­i­sa­tion, Swapo.

Be­cause of his ac­tivism he was de­ported to Namibia, where he con­tin­ued his anti-apartheid and Namib­ian na­tion­al­ist pol­i­tics. In 1966 Toivo was ar­rested by the South African author­i­ties. The fol­low­ing year “The state ver­sus Tuhade­leni and 36 Oth­ers” trial opened in Pre­to­ria. Toivo ap­peared as Ac­cused No 21. The trial was the first un­der South Africa’s Ter­ror­ism Act of June 21, 1967.

With a pow­er­ful speech from the dock Toivo drew in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion to the Namib­ian lib­er­a­tion strug­gle. He is best remembered in­ter­na­tion­ally for his state­ment that Namib­ians were not South Africans and that they should not be tried by South Africans un­der “for­eign” law.

Sen­tenced to 20 years in prison, he spent 16 years on Robben Is­land where he be­came close to Man­dela.

In 1984, he was re­leased and joined Swapo in ex­ile.

Af­ter Namib­ian in­de­pen­dence in 1990 Toivo served in the Swapo gov­ern­ment in var­i­ous port­fo­lios.

In 2005, he re­tired from of­fi­cial pol­i­tics with a farewell speech in the Namib­ian par­lia­ment. The vet­eran lib­er­a­tion fighter is­sued a stern warn­ing against greed and self-en­rich­ment among those who had come to power in post-lib­er­a­tion gov­ern­ments: “Be­ing a mem­ber of par­lia­ment or even a min­is­ter should not be seen as an op­por­tu­nity to achieve sta­tus, to be ad­dressed as “hon­ourables” and to ac­quire riches.

“If those are your goals, you would do bet­ter to pur­sue other ca­reers.”

Toivo did not speak out only against post-lib­er­a­tion scourges rais­ing their ugly heads in Namibia. In 2014 he also ad­dressed a warn­ing to South African politi­cians.

In his later years, Toivo also raised his voice against what he per­ceived as the rise of trib­al­ism in post-colo­nial Namibia. In an in­ter­view with the Namib­ian Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion he called on his com­pa­tri­ots to “for­get about this trib­al­ism. It will never take you any­where, but it causes de­struc­tion”.

At a time when eth­nic­ity had be­come a fre­quent con­cern in the post-colo­nial pol­i­tics and so­ci­ety, he called on the sol­i­dar­i­ties of anti-colo­nial na­tion­al­ism. He urged that Namib­ians “should not al­low our­selves to be di­vided”.

On var­i­ous oc­ca­sions dur­ing the mourn­ing pe­riod Toivo’s chil­dren, fam­ily mem­bers, old com­rades and friends praised his ex­cep­tional and stub­born com­mit­ment to rev­o­lu­tion­ary moral­ity.

His wi­dow Vicki Eren­stein ya Toivo used the oc­ca­sion of the state fu­neral to chas­tise those who ex­ploited their po­si­tions to get rich.

Toivo was not just a Namib­ian free­dom fighter. As an ac­tivist against apartheid he was part of a gen­er­a­tion who bore South­ern Africa’s long strug­gles against apartheid and colo­nial­ism in re­gional sol­i­dar­ity. For th­ese men and women the free­dom strug­gle was a con­ti­nen­tal, even a global rather than just a na­tion­al­ist endeavour.

Gein­gob’s eu­logy made a spe­cial point in em­pha­sis­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of in­ter­na­tional sol­i­dar­ity in the pur­suit of Namib­ian in­de­pen­dence. He equally stressed the com­mon­al­ity of the Namib­ian and South African strug­gles against the shared com­mon en­emy of apartheid. The Namib­ian pres­i­dent called for a pan-African­ist com­mit­ment to honour Toivo’s legacy in the post-colo­nial strug­gles against what he de­scribed as the “com­mon en­emy” of in­equal­ity, poverty and cor­rup­tion. – The Con­ver­sa­tion

MORAL COM­PASS: Her­man Andimba Toivo ya Toivo served 16 years on Robben Is­land where he be­came close to Nel­son Man­dela. Toivo had warned against greed and self-en­rich­ment among those who had come to power in post-lib­er­a­tion gov­ern­ments.

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