• August 6th, 2020

Swapo at 60: How southerners joined the ruling party


Swapo Party reached the milestone of 60 years, a journey that bespeaks of trials and tribulations, endurance and triumph against all odds, 30 years as liberation movement and 30 years as a ruling party.  
The Party was born outside the country, but the support base within the country multiplied over the 60 years.  The last elections of 2019 reduced the peak of 80% to around 65%.  This sudden drop requires introspection from all perspectives.
During the first ten years of Swapos existence as political movement, the support inside the country was confined to central and northern parts of Namibia.   However, after the 70s, it slowly made inroads into the other regions including south of the country.  Interestingly, the first call was made at the doors of the traditional leaders.

Berseba traditional authority was the first to join around 1973/4.  Late comrades Axel Johannes and David Meroro held the first public rally in Berseba towards the end of 1974.  

The years 1975 and 1976 were crucial for political reawakening of southerners.  Teachers at Nama schools went on strike in 1975 because of disparities in remuneration in comparison to coloured and white teachers.  Students at St. Theresa High School at Tses boycotted in November 1976 to oppose apartheid education system but also in solidarity with the Soweto uprising of June 1976 in South Africa.   
During this period many in the south played significant and crucial roles to fight apartheid in Namibia.  But two stalwarts stood out and deserve to be called by name.  These two stalwarts, Captain Rev Hendrik Witbooi and Chief Stephanus Goliath, who were traditional leaders played prominent roles and brought their traditional communities to Swapo. 

Witbooi entered politics around 1975 when he spearheaded and host the teachers strike of 1975 in Gibeon.  Goliath as Principal at St. Theresa High School of Tses was equally instrumental and actively involved in the teachers strike.    
Subsequently, four traditional leaders appeared at a Swapo rally in October 1976, and publicly announced that they joined the Swapo Party.  The Swapo publication ‘To be Born a Nation’ states that ‘four of the principal, popular leaders of the south’ joined the Swapo Party.  
The four leaders who co-signed the joining statement were: Pastor Hendrik Witbooi of Gibeon, Chief Joel Stephanus of Vaalgras, H. Noeteb of Hoachanas and Samuel Isaks of Keetmanshoop. 

These traditional leaders did not only join the party alone but brought their traditional members in big numbers.  Swapo leaders from Windhoek and elsewhere increased visits to south, hold meetings and slept in the houses of Swapo members in Keetmanshoop, Berseba, Gibeon, Vaalgras, Hoachanas, and places they were visiting.  

The apartheid security apparatus knowing that Hendrik Witbooi was the ringleader through spies and close surveillance, decided to forcefully transfer Witbooi from Gibeon state school where he was the principal to a school in Maltahohe.  He resigned in 1977.  Many teachers, cooks, cleaners and pupils left the school with him in solidarity. 

The mass exodus of teachers and pupils from formal teaching environment gave birth to the idea of opening a school in Gibeon.  Hendrik Witbooi opened a Cambridge English medium private school in Gibeon in 1978 with clandestine support from Swapo and international donors.  This school in Gibeon was attended from across the country.  

With the flocking of people from all corners of Namibia to Gibeon, there was need for additional services. A school hostel was built to accommodate all incoming pupils and teachers.  A mobile clinic with ambulance provided essential health services, a bakery and gardening project, provided veggies and fresh bread.  Tailor shop made uniforms.  General shop provided goods at discounted prices.   Literacy programme taught adults how to read and write.

Goliath on the other hand was a beacon of hope for many.  Having graduated from South African University of the North 1970, he was seen to lead the process of liberating the masses from colonization into freedom.

He was the Principal at Tses High School but played active role in clan affairs in Berseba.  Berseba had a clan rivalry which intensified in 1938 when apartheid regime banned the last Kaptein to Hoachanas.  This rivalry created the Isaak and Goliath clans.  The Isaak clan supported the South African regime while Goliath clan supported the Swapo Party.  

Goliath wanted to open a private school in Berseba around 1986. There was fierce opposition from the Isaack clan to the opening of this school.  South African apartheid military and security forces were deployed in and around Berseba.  Goliath as an educated person filed a court interdict and the process continued.  On the opening day of the school, people were teargassed by apartheid forces supported by the Isaack clan.  Many benefited during apartheid from that school, not only from Berseba, but many came from the north, east and west, and deep south as far as Lüderitz. 

Both Goliath and Witbooi also played active roles in the Swapo Party.  Witbooi was the longest serving vice president of Swapo from 1984 until 2002.  Goliath served in both the Politburo and Central Committee of Swapo for many years.
After independence, Witbooi became a minister and deputy prime minister, while Goliath became the governor of the //Kharas region from 1992 until 2004.  Both continued to play active roles in the traditional communities where they remained captain and chief, although they had proxies when serving the government.  Both had extended influence all over the regions of the south and beyond because of their social and political standing within the broader Namibia.

This influence is required now more than before with the diminishing support base for the party in the south of Namibia.  Witbooi left indelible mark with his passing in October 2009.  Goliath is still strong and healthy and with his vast experience and unwavering loyalty to the Party and the country, can still play active roles.  His advice is indispensable today for selection of loyal and committed comrades to occupy key political and regional positions.  Many claim to know the people but only bring in proxies. 

One senior leader retorted when we raised issue with appointment of  apartheid proponents without vetting them, by saying, we came from outside and do not know those that were here, so leaders who were here should guide us and bring credible people to the fore.   
Regions of the south will not waver or abandon ship at this crucial time of the Party’s existence, however, the party should co-opt loyalists for the Party to lead the region towards inclusive development.  Those johnny-come-lates, who depict themselves as vanguards are there to block party progress and are standing in the way of true comrades having the party and regions growth at heart.


Staff Reporter
2020-05-08 10:13:59 | 2 months ago

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