Joshua Razikua Kaumbi
Those who quote literature and other scholars are told. In 1988, in solidarity with the learners of Ponhofi Secondary in the former Ovamboland, today’s northern Namibia, the students of Namibia decided to launch one of the biggest industrial actions ever to be witnessed in the history of the then South West Africa, currently independent Namibia, striking a blow against the industrial sausage machine that was the bantu education system. It is my considered view that the boycott, as we called it, started off as a resistance against military bases in the proximity of schools and resulted in a three-pronged approach, the international community applying pressure on the diplomatic front, the international socialist allied forces beefing up the Swapo, ANC and MPLA’s steeled pushback against racist South Africa’s tools of oppression and its illegitimacy, and the young people of the country determined to strike the final blow against an ugly writhing and desperate foe. This would eventually be borne out to be the final push, allowing Pretoria to take its seat at the negotiations table in addressing both the Namibian and South African issues.
The egalitarian coordination of this youth movement would also lead to the weakening of the national strike, as other insignificant socio-cultural groupings started to infiltrate the student ranks and discredit it by alleging an infiltration by the liberation movement, Swapo. At that time, Swapo was waging a popular but protracted war for liberation. Others attempted to persuade the students to return to classes on the assumption that the boycott would result in the loss of an academic year, and that the strike had achieved its objectives when the regime promised to address the issue, and history will record that comrade Ignatius Shixwameni was one of the lone standouts, pushing for the total capitulation of the regime. He was the augur of those who felt that even though Ponhofi was the ignition, independence was the only conclusion to the national action, and that the educational environment and conditions that would be beneficial for the country and our generation could only be assured through continued resistance to a regime that only saw us as fodder for its machinations. At the time, the country had an entrenched education system based on the derogation of the ‘bantu’ people.
At the centre of this biggest strike, you had the class of 1988, who were either a special group of unruly kids led by unruly young leaders, or a special generation awakened to what Frantz Fanon would call its generational mission, and who as a result had consciously elected not to betray that mission thrust upon them at that time. For many of us young birds raring to soar and sighting the possibility of the skies as exposed to our infant eyes for the first time, the arguments put forth by the likes of Paul Kalenga, Ignatius Shixwameni, Joseph Axab Hendricks, Sima Luiperdt, Uhuru Dempers et al were as mesmerising as they were compelling and we were carried away by them, away from the nightmare that was our existence under the yoke of apartheid. The author just arrived at high school in time from a school whose mission was the false promise of educational excellence devoid of politics, KW von Marees. On a Saturday morning during the month of May, the late Axab Hendricks and Steve Rukoro convinced me to accompany them to a meeting at the Komponie, now Katutura Shoprite. Hendricks went on to become a very central figure in my life that year, until the evening he came to bid the Hendrik Witbooi branch farewell en route to exile. He had just been released on bail after being arrested for his activism, and understood the charges against him to be serious. He was amongst others found in possession of The Combatant newspaper, which he would now and then share with us.
The late Shixwameni, by the happenings narrated hereinbefore, was of the same cloth as my mentor Hendricks. Shixwameni played a very crucial role as he appeared very fearless in the midst of the atrocities being meted out against the youth. As I was young and not in any leadership position, except branch level, Shixwameni and the Kalenga’s were people we admired. These were the first black people, before the great return of 1989, who taught some of us that black people can also speak English, and I digress to say today posh English is used as a tool to beguile and steal from the masses and to feed the insatiable appetites of those who never stood in battle against insurmountable odds with nigh but a conviction in their hearts. But in that era, having been at an Afrikaans school, this was a trait worth our admiration. In an independent Namibia, I had the privilege of listening and attempting to attend to his cries at my legal practice when the capitalist institutions made it difficult for him to enjoy the freedom he gave his whole life to. The last time I saw him was this year, at a local service station south of the city, reminding me of our legal encounters. Shixwameni taught me that we have the ability to depart this planet the way we entered it, as humans, having given all we can, and consuming only what we needed. I concur with Vincent Likoro, one of the brave sons of yesteryear, when he describes the late Shixwameni as a resilient, resolute, touching and principled individual of ideological clarity in service of complete selfless sacrifice for the purpose of the struggle. In this, he was not moved nor swayed.
We owe it to the class of ‘88 to identify those who genuinely bore the brunt of the struggle, honouring their bravery and to expose those who collaborated with the authorities so they may not find any harbour to steal our hard-won advances as they today rubbish our contributions towards the total emancipation of our motherland from their cloistered enclaves away from the realities of the vision of our youth slipping away from the masses entrapped in poverty and despair.
Kapwizuimuke no mbili mevha Lya Hompa fellow citizen.
*Joshua Razikua Kaumbi is a former secretary of information and publicity and former acting president of Nanso. The views expressed in this article are solely his, and are a summary of our role in the liberation struggle inside the country.