Annarine Beauty Jacobs
We received the sad news on the twelfth day of the twelve month of 2018, about the home-going of our beloved comrade, husband, father and brother, Peter Iilonga.
My sister Maggie (Witbooi) Gaingos called me very early in the morning to share the sad news. Personally, I feel sad and hollow, and this lingering thought persists that somehow he did not complete his mission.
It is my personal view that I am wrestling with, knowing fully well that he fought for a just society, workers’ rights and high morals, which are on a downward slope in our nation. He always said one can negotiate about everything, but principles can never be negotiated.
The time that Cde Peter Iilonga came into my life was around the time he arrived in Gibeon in the late 70s. I hardly knew what he was doing in Gibeon during those years. I saw this Oompie, as we used to call him, together with Cde John Pandeni. Late Rev. Dr. Hendrik Witbooi, Vice-President of the SWAPO Party during those years, accommodated them at the house of husband and wife, Jakobus Takanise Thomas and late Elizabeth (Elies) Witbooi Thomas.
We witnessed how they involved themselves in construction of the SWAPO Party Office and went about doing various activities in Gibeon and surrounding areas. My Antie Elies Thomas was preparing food for them, washing their clothes, and as young girls, we helped our Auntie with that. We took food to them and helped with errands as we were sent around by our Auntie to ensure they received good treatment during their stay at our home.
It was only later around 1986 when we met again, after they came out from Robben Island prison in 1985 that the picture of their stay in Gibeon became clearer.
The SWAPO Party sent them to Gibeon into the care of late Reverend Dr. Hendrik Witbooi, with the purpose of embarking on underground operations during the liberation struggle, in the south of Namibia.
The two freedom fighters pretended to be construction workers, but during the darkness of night, they disappeared for night shifts, and these ‘activities’ resulted in them being arrested and sent to Robben Island prison in 1978.
We came to Windhoek in 1986, in search of better opportunities. He was already out of prison the previous year. Cdes. Peter Iilonga, late John Pandeni and Meme Julia Pandeni were staying together with Tate Pineas Aluteni and Meme Fransina Aluteni at a house in Malaka Draai, Katutura.
Myself and Stella Witbooi, daughter of Elies Thomas, used to visit the house and were taken in by the family and we came to stay with this lovely and principled family, especially during school holidays.
During our stay with them, we learnt a lot from Meme Fransina Aluteni, about Oshiwambo culture and how to cook Oshiwambo food and brew Oshikundu. From Cdes. Peter Iilonga, John Pandeni, Bernard Esau and also Ben Ulenga, trade union leaders of that time, we learnt a lot about vigilance, attentiveness and to be ready at all times.
They used to say when people speak, always look around, be aware of your surroundings and besides you, who else is listening. Listen attentively when people speak, listen beyond what people are saying, they would say. Like they say in Khoekhowgowab, nam-mi !gab-ai !ga (listen behind their tongues).
I was taught about communism and socialism, about Lenin and Marxism, about Gorbachev and the Soviet Union, about liberation struggle and always to be upright and fair with others. Even today, those principles are still haunting me, wanting perfection and fairness around everything I do.
Cde. Peter Iilonga was a dedicated person, about workers’ rights and fair labour dealings, treating fellow beings equitably and justly - these were virtues he upheld. Cde Peter Iilonga was an extremely intelligent cadre. I was inspired by his intellectual prowess.
He had a special way of explaining and interpreting the most difficult and complex issues affecting the Party and the nation. The Queen’s language does not make one intelligent, that I learnt from him and late Cde. Angelika Muharikua, our former deputy minister I worked with when I was the personal assistant to Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare.
We attended SWAPO and trade union rallies, and NANSO meetings in Dobra, and everything around him was about the struggle. During those days people interacted and shared the little they had, and he was a generous person always.
When Cde. Peter Iilonga got married in 1988, I was entrusted with the responsibility to stay and look after the house in Malaka Draai in Katutura, Windhoek. Stella Witbooi went along with the family to the north.
No room was locked, everything in the house was open, and as a young girl in Windhoek it was overwhelming, scary but exciting, knowing that I am being trusted.
This special brother and sister relationship continued until today, and when confronted with difficulties, we always consulted him and the late Cde. Pandeni for advice.
I was inquisitive and wanted to know about his role and underground operations in the south. This discussion between us took place at his house in Wanaheda. He explained to me that his role was to calculate the timing and activation of the devices, making him the engineer during the operations in the south. The rest is history.
During the Heroes Funeral of late Dr. Rev. Hendrik Witbooi in Gibeon in 2009, he asked me to take him to the house where they used to stay.
We arrived at the house; he entered the bedroom which he used to share with late Cde. Pandeni. In that room, he expressed the wish that the house should one day become a museum.
With his home-going, I thank him for having ensured that Meester Jakobus Takaniseb Thomas and late Elizabeth Witbooi Thomas were recognised as a hero and heroine of the Namibian struggle, in recognition of the role they played during the struggle.
But equally, I am worried because the significance of the internal struggle has not been addressed properly. Most of the leaders of the internal struggle passed on.
Who will tell the story of what took place inside the country during that period.
Many veterans in Gibeon are not recognised yet, but no one knows them better than the leaders with whom they undertook that struggle. With their home-going, the wish of those left behind, for justice to be served to them, will remain a pipe dream. But the struggle continues.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.