• June 6th, 2020

The Council of Churches in Namibia: A Throwback 

I ran into Brother Abisai Shejavali and his wife Selma. Shejavali and I have worked together during the years of upheaval and have shared trenches in the fold of the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN). 

At independence I joined government and Brother Shejavali remained in Namibia’s church movement. 
During the struggle the Namibian church had undergone a metamorphosis. The leadership has become predominantly black and young. Most of the clergymen [and women] were college graduates and modeled in the South African radical school of Liberation Theology. The churches in Namibia organised themselves in the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN) and became radical.  

While I was student in New York, Brother Shejavali visited.  Shejavali and I had extensive discussions about the struggle at home and agreed that I would join the CCN upon my return. This was at the peak of the struggle for justice in Namibia. 
The South African troops and Swapo were locked in a shooting war and the world was divided between the South African government and Swapo, latter being the movement fighting the foreign troops through the Peoples’ Liberation Army of Namibia, (Plan). 

Our work at the CCN was cut out by the philosophy of the churches constituent to CCN, who believed that there was no middle ground; either you stood for the total liberation of Namibia or for the maintenance of Apartheid South Africa’s imposter internal accords, through which the Apartheid regime entrenched its rule in Namibia. It was a difficult time.
The CCN played the role of advocate for justice, mobilising resources for the defense of the prisoners of war and life sustaining resources for their families, as well as sustaining a voice against injustice. This way the churches became allies of Swapo in the larger context of the struggle and the South African regime had no trouble defining the church as the enemy that Swapo was.  

Many of our co-workers were harassed and intermittently detained for aiding freedom fighters and for participating in the mobilisation and advocacy work of the liberation movement.

Brother Shejavali was the general secretary of the CCN and I was associate general secretary, and we were all the time in the firing line. Our role was complicated by the fact that many of our co-workers were on the internal leadership of Swapo and each time there were incidents of bombings in the country or freedom fighters captured, our colleagues, notably Immanuel Ngatjizeko who was our treasurer and doubling up as Swapo’s secretary for administration, and Daniel Tjongarero, who was our director for information and Swapo’s deputy national chairman. 

Brother Shejavali was a fearless person and sometimes I was so afraid he could be killed anytime. Once there were sporadic overnight shootings by South African paramilitary troops in the Katutura single quarters. By day-break some of the victims reached my house in Katutura and I phoned Shejavali.  Police tried to stop us by pointing guns at us. Shejavali walked over to the one holding a gun, pushed the gun one side and said: “If you can take that thing away brother, because it will kill people as you have already done.” Police was confused as we patrolled the premises. Shejavali decided that we should call the people together for a mass meeting. Police was adamant to disperse the meeting through a loud hailer.  Shejavali took the speaker from the police. He called the people together and by the time the officer took the speaker back, people had gathered. Police moved in to disperse the crowd.  Shejavali confronted the commander and said, “please do not talk to my people, just shoot - that is all you are trained to do”. Police were adamant and we did not manage to hold the meeting. 

As the momentum towards the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 435 intensified, police brutalities and arrests reached a peak. Many of the leaders of the workers movement and Swapo were arrested. These included Asser Kapere and Alfeus !Naruseb in Arandis, as well as Jason Angula, John Pandeni and others. Ben Ulenga was the secretary general of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) and Bernhard Essau was secretary general of the Mine Workers Union of Namibia (MUN).  One evening the three of us travelled to Arandis to assess the situation that was fast deteriorating. Upon inspection, Ben and Benhard decided to remain in Arandis and I returned alone. As I reached my house past mid-night, my phone was ringing off the hook. 

It was Agnes, Daniel Tjongarero’s wife. Dan was arrested and so were many others. I drove to Daniel’s office at the CCN and found the police having a field day with Dan. Dan requested to talk to me as he reported to me on our line of duty and wished to appraise me. 

We stood aside for five minutes and he told me who else must have been arrested.  I confronted the police and insisted that, since their arrest warrant read that Dan was arrested as Swapo vice-chairman, they had no right to search our CCN office. 

When they realised that I was on the phone with Hartmud Ruppel, our lawyer, they drove off with Dan, handcuffed in the back seat and I followed them until they played a trick on me at the traffic lights where I lost them. 
I then drove around to take stock. Anton Lubowski and Mbuti Kambangula, Charles Tjijenda and Jason Angula were also in the mix. Immanuel Ngatjizeko had managed to escape simply because he was not home when they arrived. I tracked him and tipped him off.

These were dangerous times and exciting at that. So, when I saw the Shejavali couple in Ondonga, my mind had a throwback. I looked at Brother Shejavali and became emotional. 

Staff Reporter
2019-05-08 09:06:56 | 1 years ago

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