• July 14th, 2020

Opinion - Swapo at 60: Is the influence of Western Herero’s waning

[Swapo Party’s birthday] is a momentous [occasion] …and calls for a retrospection in order for it to continue to provide shelter and comfort to the sons and daughters of our country and continue to bear the fruits of economic emancipation of our country. (Dr HG Geingob, 2020, edited) 

The importance of Swapo as a political movement needs not be emphasised if behad is to the noise and voices from the different corners of the country eulogising it. In reality, it is the only party with an undivided national character and the heir of a rich legacy of the struggle to bring dignity to all life within our diverse country.  Sixty years of Swapo as a political movement and thirty years as the governing party calls on her to move beyond the trap of 1989, defined by the mechanics of political transition from the governance of an administrative beast we had loathed for long, often consigning us to reacting and responding to circumstances as given. 

Swapo’s strength lied in the fact that her forerunners were all either regional or ethnic base. Those early petitioners who left the country under the guidance of Chief Hosea Kutako, a former teacher at Omaruru and Omburo, when confronted with the same question thought sagely and concluded that the desire for self-determination had a national character. Thus, efforts to overturn the subjugation of her people had to represent all Namibians, thus buttressing the legitimacy of our unified cry to the international community of a population under siege with her dignity at risk of being shattered forever.  On the other hand, the Ovamboland People’s Congress (OPC), influenced by the African National Congress, also realised that confining itself to the borders of the then Ovamboland is a grave mistake. Thus, a need emerged to have a party whose objectives will be open and acceptable to all ethnic and interest groups. Despite the anointing of Sam Nujoma by Chief Kutako, Swapo received a lukewarm reception amongst the Otjiherero speaking people of then South West Africa.

During the early stages of the party, most probably due to the harbour town of Walvisbay, Arandis and the Martin Luther School at Karibib, the first Otjiherero speaking Namibians to have joined the party en masse and kept the fire burning inside the country in leadership positions all came from Omaruru and the nearby Otjohorongo Reserve.  The biggest interest in Swapo from Omaruru can be traced to the first Swapo rally addressed by the late Nathanael Maxuilili in 1963 at the then ‘freedom square area’ in the township of Ozondje (Scorpion).  According to Mr Philip Tjerije, party stalwart, other notable speakers of that rally were Ben Amathila, John Ya Otto and Mutumbulwa, Si Rikumbi Kandanga and Frieda Nganyonye, the last two being from the Otjohorongo village. Rikumbi Kandanga, later joined by Sisi Hajo “Pretty” Tumuna who wore the Swapo colour 24/7, is being accredited as the first Swapo women in ‘ozonde’ (Otjiherero dress) and Namibia’s first female heroine, buried at Heroes Acre.  Before the said rally, Late Sam Ashipala was responsible for indoctrinating the young intellectuals into the politics of liberation assisted late Mandume Pescha. Mr Ashipala at the time stayed in the same street as the Ngatjizeko brothers and Philip Tjerije, born in Omaruru, all on both sides of my old lady’s house.

Late Gerson Veii of Swanu, from Omaruru, also played a pivotal role in raising political awareness of the time and in countering the dominant politics of Nudo at the time.  

What is interesting is the fact that many, at a time when it was not fashionable, not only joined the party as members but also occupied leadership positions in Swapo at a time when the Nudo/Okambumba politics was dominant in the area. 
As time progressed, a young intellectual from Martin Luther High School, Daniel Tjongarero started to emerge with the likes of Tlhabanello. Late Dan Tjongarero, accredited, together with others, with the creation of the structures inside the country and a new sense of intellectualism, went on to become the national chairperson after David Meroro went into exile. 

Immanuel Ngatjizeko, born in Otjohorongo, who together with his two brothers were the first known open Swapos on the right side of our house, went on to serve in the Windhoek branch of Swapo and later (1978) became the party organiser. Philip Keripu Tjerije, another bright student of Martin Luther High School, on the left side of our house, served as the chairperson of the Windhoek branch in 1977 and deputy secretary for information and publicity of Swapo since 1979.

Asser Kapere, strongman of Arandis, born in Omaruru, served as the President of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) and Chairperson of Arandis Branch and Swapo’s western region. Zephania Kameeta, born in Otjimbingwe, that pastor who in 1988 told the soldiers on top of the Casspir that ‘genoeg is genoeg’ at the open space in front of A.Shipena served in the central committee of Swapo since the early seventies. Alpheus Muheua went on to lead the workers struggle.  
Besides the above, the area also produced early great fighters like Erenfried Baby Jeomba and the only child of a traditional chief to have joined the struggle as a fighter, Manasse Meundju Zeraeua, and many others. Rudolph Hongoze was also in the mix, albeit externally, but to mention a few.

Many people from other ethnic groups also played crucial roles, teachers like Joshua Hoebeb, Emil Alexander Gaomab, Simson Immanuel !Gobs, Alpheus !Naruseb (half omuHerero). I will leave their journey to others. 
As we celebrate the birthday of Swapo Party, three score years of progressive ideology, it is very imperative we ask ourselves why the Western Herero went from being the most dominant in Swapo to being non-existent. The only one left is Mandela Kapere. It is further disheartening to note that none of the mentioned people has streets named after them. Is it a self-inflicted tragedy usually befalling that lone traveller?

Maybe a call should go out to the party, during this post-mortem, to give [the living pioneers] other assignments the same way other “midfielders” have been tasked with other assignments outside the soccer pitch.”  
(John Walenga, paying tribute to Immanuel Ngatjizeko) 

Staff Reporter
2020-05-29 09:54:26 | 1 months ago

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