Susan Nghidinwa, who was the first democratically-elected mayor of Tsumeb, a long-time Swapo Party Women’s Council activist and a senior official in the Pan-African Women’s Organisation, died at the age of 85 on Friday 7 October.
Meme Susan, as she was affectionately known, was born on 29 August 1937 at Eenhana. Her mother was Olivia Nangula Nghishidimbwa and her father Jesaja Nghitoolwa. Her mother passed away in 1943 when Meme Susan was six years old.
Between 1947 and 1955, she completed her primary and secondary schooling at Eenhana, Omundaungilo and Engela.
At the age of 19, she trained as a teacher at Okahao, where the female students were looked after by Helvi Mpingana Kondombolo, the mother of founding father Sam Nujoma.
Yesterday, many remembered her as a stalwart who was instrumental in the struggle.
Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah said: “Where do I even start with Meme Susan? She was one of the veterans of the liberation struggle. I came to know her through the youth league. She was very instrumental and played a big role in the Swapo Party Women’s Council.
“She served in the Pan African Women’s Organisation (PAWO), contributing significantly to the empowerment of women, and served in the secretariat until she
retired,” she stated.
Nandi-Ndaitwah said Nghidinwa was an inspirational figure to her as a young politician in the making, and her impressive commitment to whatever she put her mind to was a mood- booster.
“The way she brought up her children and her commitment to her family is something I cherish. All of us feel the loss to her family, and my family conveys a message of condolences to the Nghidinwa family. She was a mother to all of us,” she added.
Helmuth Angula said: “She was a freedom fighter and an activist of note who served in the women’s council. In 1974, her husband and children fled to Zambia, and that was after a coup in Portugal when Namibians were not allowed to go through Angola to Zambia. They were amongst those who took that opportunity first and went.”
He recalled that Nghidinwa was always open to working with Namibians, and making sure those who wanted to flee got the opportunity to do so. After the Zambian breakthrough, 100s of Namibians managed to enter Zambia through Angola.
“I met her in 1975 in Lusaka. By that time, I was very reserved and on my own as a new graduate from the Soviet Union, and she was very kind and noticed that I was always isolated. She invited me to her place one day, and gave me mageu (a traditional non-alcoholic drink made from maize meal). She said I should always feel at home,” recalled Angula.
“Because of the historical ties, I introduced her to my late mother, and they were best friends. When she returned, she settled in Tsumeb, and I would always make a turn there. I have my room there as she considered me her first son.”
While alive, Angula recalls Nghidinwa telling him that he and her nephew Leake Hangala must grant her a decent and appropriate burial.
After qualifying as a teacher, she taught at Eenhana and Omundaungilo until the early 1960s when she moved to Tsumeb, where, for a time, she worked as a nanny. It was at Tsumeb where she joined Swapo after being recruited by Andimba Toivo ya Toivo and Hifikepunye Pohamba in 1961.
In 1964, she married Tulipohamba Nghidinwa from Ongenga. The couple settled at Okalongo, where both taught at the secondary school. They were blessed with seven children - Medusalem, Maila, Nangula, Jesaja, Maria (Mboono), Natasha (Takatu) and Kiti (Kirsti).
In July, 1974 the couple crossed the border into Angola with their children to fight for Namibia’s independence. At the time, the youngest, Kiti, was only seven months old. They were one of the first families to join Swapo in exile.
After several weeks of walking through southern Angola and western Zambia, the family arrived at the Old Farm transit camp near Lusaka. Later, they moved to the Nyango camp in Zambia’s Western Province.
In 1976, Meme Susan went to further her education in Lusaka at the newly-established UN Institute for Namibia, which was headed by President Hage Geingob. In 1979, she graduated with a diploma in Development Studies.
She then worked at the Swapo office in Lusaka as a representative of the Swapo Women’s Council (SWC). She was appointed as the SWC Secretary for Foreign Affairs in 1980. During the following decade, she spent much of her time travelling and campaigning for aid such as food, clothes, and educational materials to be sent to the SWAPO camps in Zambia and Angola.
To carry out this work, she visited many countries including Algeria, Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, France, New Zealand, Norway, the Soviet Union, Sweden and the USA.
In 1982/83, she studied Aid Administration
at Selly Oak College in Birmingham in the UK.
Meme Susan returned to Namibia in 1989 as independence approached. She mobilised support for Swapo in the Tsumeb district ahead of the November 1989 elections, and set up the Swapo office at the town with the late Peter Tshirumbu.
In 1993, she was elected as mayor of Tsumeb. She was the first black woman to serve as mayor of the town. She served for five consecutive terms until 1998.
Meme Susan was the inspiration behind the friendship agreement between the Norwegian town of Elverum and Tsumeb, which was signed in 1993. Her experience of visiting a cultural museum in Elverum motivated her to start the Cultural Village project at Tsumeb.
From 1993 to 1997, Meme Susan worked as Senior Chief Control Officer at the Oshikoto Regional Council. She was appointed as Managing Director of Pioneer Engineering in Ondangwa from 1998-99.
The government sent her to take up a senior post - Secretary for Finance - at PAWO in Luanda from 2000 to 2002.
She then retired from public service, and continued to live in Tsumeb and Windhoek.
She is survived by her five daughters - Maila, Nangula, Maria, Natasha and Kiti, and 10 grandchildren - Feiyo-Peik, Ariel, Wendy, Jesaya, Emily, Lucy, James, Ethan, Nathan and Atushe.