On 22nd May 2022, death robbed us of a popular community activist and prominent businessman, who was greatly loved by many. That man happened to be Johnny Akwenye.
Johnny was born in Walvis Bay on 12 March 1951, and grew up in the Old Location, where he attended the Rhenish Herero School. He was the sixth-born of nine children. One of his elder sisters, Ally, was married to Johnny ya Otto.
The Rhenish Herero School was the school where his late brother-in-law and namesake Johnny ya Otto also had his stint as a teacher. The latter was a celebrated teacher, published author of note and one of the iconic stalwarts of the liberation struggle.
He could shuttle across many cultures with relative ease, as he was fluent in Oshiwambo, Otjiherero, Damara-Nama, Afrikaans and English. I understand that another close relative of Jonny’s is Tate Nahas Angula – whose activism and role need no introduction. Johnny thus came from that rich pedigree of political activism.
Other teachers at that school were the likes of Karita, Karuhumba, Jason Mutumbulua, etc. In the Old Location, Ovaherero and Ovambo children used to attend the same primary school, and this contributed enormously to cultural unity amongst the learners.
In colonial Namibia, the Old Location was a melting pot of many cultures as well as the “political barometer” of that time. That was the culture that shaped the likes of Founding Father Sam Nujoma, Mburumba Kerina, Moses Garoeb, etc. The political activism and unity amongst the Africans of the Old Location reached a boiling point during the December 1959 uprising, where the apartheid colonial police gunned down eleven civilians and wounded about 41 others. The people were resisting forced removal to Katutura.
Young Johnny Akwenye was culturally socialised and steeped in that culture of unity and activism. He became active in what came to be known as the Home Front during the heyday of the struggle. I was reliably informed that as a young lawyer, he had played a key role in the creation of trade unions before independence.
It was his sense of national consciousness that touched me deeply.
Being a true social product of the Old Location, he epitomised cultural unity in diversity.
The fact that he had married across the ethnic divide to a Muherero lady by the name of Vehepa – his beautiful wife of many years – is a clear testimony that Johny Akwenye did not have any ethnic hang-ups.
Apart from the fact that we were fellow political activists in the mid and late seventies, I cannot claim to have had proximity to the late Akwenye in terms of friendship.
However, his late nephew, Sadike Nepela, who had succumbed to Covid-19 last year, was a close friend of mine since the exile years.
Johnny’s younger sister Annatjie Tobias, who happens to be their last born, was also my classmate at Augustineum in the seventies. This has given me some emotional attachment to this family.
He was a faithful member of his beloved Inner City Lutheran Congregation, where he had also served as an elder at one stage.
I was informed that he had been the mastermind behind the creation of the Men on the Move association. This is an association of men from the Lutheran Church that was set up to raise awareness about gender-based violence and other social evils, through songs and other social activities.
According to the veteran soccer writer and commentator, Carlos Kambaekua, Johnny Akwenye had served on the Central Football Association League executive before independence and had also played a pivotal role in the creation of the Namibia Super Soccer League in 1985. The latter was a politically-motivated breakaway group from the then white-dominated South West Africa Football Association.
Johnny was calm and collected, and he had an air of serenity about him – always wearing a generous smile. He preferred to keep a low profile, but his contribution to the struggle, according to those who knew him well, speaks volumes.
One of his close friends, Philip Keripuu Tjeriye, told me that he was unassuming; yet, he had an encyclopedic mind when it comes to remembering events and hymn numbers.
Some individuals are difficult to peg in terms of ethnicity – Johnny was one of them.
Allow me to bid farewell to this giant, who was every inch a true Namibian, who did not know any ethnic or racial bias. In the three languages he was fluent, Inda nombili; kaende no hange; gaan in vrede; go in peace, Johnny.
What a race he ran; what a man he was. Can a man die better?