The political tsunami of the 1960s and 1970s (part 1)

A catalyst for the youth exodus to join PLAN in Zambia and Angola

21 August 2020 | Columns

Sikunawa Negumbo



A Swapo extraordinary consultative congress was held in December 1969 to January 1970 January at Tanga in the United Republic of Tanzania.

At this meeting, the leadership of Swapo decided to structure itself into operational departments and structures. Those established departments were allocated to trustworthy dynamic and revolutionary cadres who were referred to as secretaries.

The workers affiliation structure, the women and elders’ councils, as well as the youth league were established. Upon the establishment of the departments and wings of the party, the Swapo leadership in Tanzania sent information on the new development to its leadership at home through its highly sophisticated means of communication.

Those were the directives to establish departments or secretariats inside the country apart from the department of defence, which was, for strategic and security reasons, kept outside the country. At this congress, the department of defence that was dealing with the armed struggle and the military was given more emphasis, as well as the diplomatic side of things.

Inside the country, the wings of the movement were directed to intensify political mobilisation activities. During this time, many military combats between Swapo fighters and South African racist army were being reported on the BBC as taking place at the former eastern front in Kavango and Zambezi, the former Caprivi district.

Intensified military combats

Swapo started intensifying its military combats against the racist South African army in Namibia. First battles were carried out against the enemy at Omugulugwombashe, Oshikango, Eendaadhi and Okahao and many other places. Those battles and the decision of the United Nations declaring South Africa administration in Namibia as illegal, have acted as catalyst to awaken the minds of politically-minded Namibians, especially the youth of those days and to decide to intensify the waging of a revolutionary armed and political struggle against the Apartheid regime outside and inside the country. It is important to mention here that after the military battle between the South African racist army and Swapo military wing at Omugulugwombashe, many internal Swapo leaders were arrested and banished in prisons in Namibia and at a notorious Robben Island in South Africa.

Some of them were released because they compromised during investigation, while others became state witnesses of the enemy against their own comrades. During the time when the Boers were looking for Nathaniel Tuhadeleni, who was for a long time in hiding, some offered to get him and in fact urged him (Tuhandeleni) to hand himself over to the enemy.

The remaining or released Swapo leaders in Namibia developed cold feet and were very reluctant to organise any public political meeting. During this time, former Owamboland was being ruled under the state of emergency, with a military government prohibit gathering of more than two people.

Secret meetings

A strategy was arrived at to contact political meetings in secret at houses of some leaders and were attended only by few people especially those who were considered as trusted cadres. In Windhoek secret meetings were held in the houses of comrades Benjamin Namalambo, who was one of the fearless leaders inside the country during that difficult time, and Axel Johannes.

At Otshikuku and Onatshiku, political mobilisations were done through clandestine political cells which were established by comrade Patrick Israel liyambo, the only foreign-trained combatant and survivor of the Omugulugwombashe and other battles.

They were held during the nights and in plain areas (Oshanas) where there were no bushes. The aim were to mobilise the youths and workers to understand Namibian politics, to oppose the racist South African government’s presence in Namibia and to send young people outside the country to join the People Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) or for further education abroad.

At St Mary Missionary School at Odibo, political gatherings were held with the guidance of Anglican church priests but under the leadership of amongst other Fransina Netumbo Nandi, now Nandi-Ndaitwah, Charles Namoloh, Thomas Ndali Kamati, Kandindima Nehova, John Hangula (Cabral), Rachel Shaduka, Veronica Shiluwa, Malakia Kangwe Shiluwa and their siblings Tuli Hivelua, Monica Ulitalwa Namweya Hivelwa, Leticia Penehafo Pohamba and many others whose names I cannot remember at the time of writing this article. The open political ground was left to the youth in and out of schools who refused to accept the situation as it was.

From 1969, the young people requested permission from Swapo internal leaders to be allowed to hold public political meetings, requests that were constantly turned down for fear that they (the youth) would be arrested or injured.

Formation of youth league

During that time meetings were held under the umbrella of the mother body because the Swapo Youth League (SYL) wing was by then not established and was only established in 1970s. After the formation of the SYL in 1970, it was decided that its branches must be established in most large towns and at secondary schools as a conveyor belt of revolutionary messages to the workers, proletariat and the youth at those schools and in towns.

The youth were used to awaken the sleeping lion by organising workers throughout the country and holding huge public political meetings at several towns in Namibia. It was also found that there was a need to radicalise the youth, students and progressive teachers, nurses and church leaders.

By then, young African Lutheran churches joined theological schools or colleges not only for the purpose of becoming pastors, preachers but also to use alters as political shooting ranges.

This group consisted amongst others Onesmus Shanyengange, Johannes, Philemon Malima, Kaire Mbuende, Zephania Kameeta and many others. Workers who suffered most under the contract labour system were mostly from Kavango and Owambo areas, therefore it was decided that we must intensify with the political mobilisation of those who were directly cruelly touched by the slavery contract labour system. We felt it can be easy to agitate the workers against the inhumane contract labour system. Students and Swapo Youth League members took up that serious responsibility to carry out such a risky task. (to be continued…)

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