Comrade Tata Herman Andimba Toivo ya Toivo our legendary icon; is no more with us, having passed away on 9 June at his home in Windhoek at the age of 93.
His passing is a loss to his family; but also to the people of Namibia – the Land of the Brave, to the people of South Africa and for the Southern African region.
Our departed comrade was born on the 22nd of August 1924 in Omangundu in the Oshikoto Region, in the Northern part of Namibia- known as Ovamboland during the apartheid colonial occupation. This area produced many leaders of the Namibian struggle such as the Founding Father of the Namibian Nation President Dr Nujoma , President Hifikepunye Pohamba, Pendukeni Ivula Ithana, Netumbo Nandi – Ndaitwah and many others.
Comrade Toivo as he affectionately known, belonged to the illustrious league of freedom fighters of the generation of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Dennis Goldberg, Andrew Mlangeni, Motswaoledi, Govan Mbeki and Wilton Mkwayi.
A veteran of the First World War, he was sentenced to Robben Island for 20 years for which he served 16 years with South African leaders in the isolation section after being charged and sentenced under the notorious Terrorism Act. He spent most of his time in prison with our leaders, which is why we as South Africans claim him as our own.
Tata Toivo was one of the 37 Namibians who stood trial in Pretoria from August 1967 to 1968. They were tortured for months and not allowed any legal representation during their interrogation.
It was only late in their detention that they were allowed legal representation. In prison he remained committed to his convictions and beliefs which can be summarised in the statement he made in the Pretoria court when he was sentenced.
“We are Namibians and not South African. We do not now, and will not in the future recognise your right to govern us; to make laws for us in which we have no say; to treat our country as if it were your property and us as if you were our masters”.
He refused to receive visitors or to obey any of the prison orders as he felt he was illegally imprisoned in South Africa under illegal laws as the racist colonial regime was occupying Namibia illegally.
Cde. Toivo cut his political teeth in Namibia working as a farm worker under the racist contact work system and was subjected to harassment when he terminated his contract.
Since he terminated his contract he could not be employed in Namibia and was thus was forced to Johannesburg in the late 1940’s . In 1952 he moved to Cape Town with the aim of pursuing studying as a lawyer. When this dream could not be released, he ended up working as railway policeman.
In Cape Town he interacted with many Namibians working or studying there. He also interacted with South Africans who were in the Communist Party, the African National Congress, the Congress of Democrats and the Trade Union Movement. They came together as Namibians to launch the Ovamboland People’s Congress (OPC) 1957.
The OPC played a crucial role in linking with those who remained in the country to send petitions to the United Nations to highlight the plight of the people of Namibia.
Their activities against the apartheid regime led to Cde. Toivo being expelled from South Africa in 1959 back to Namibia whereupon he settled in Windhoek. This is where he met with fighters like Cde Sam Nujoma and formed the organisation which was later named the South West People’s Organisation (SWAPO) and Nujoma was elected as the leader.
He later moved to Ondangwa where he opened a shop using his brother’s name and continued to mobilise for SWAPO. Cde Toivo was again identified as a troublemaker by the apartheid regime and kept under arrest at the chief’s kraal. In 1967 he was detained and sent to Pretoria. SWAPO launched the People’s Liberation Army (PLAN) in 1966.
On his release from Robben Island he was sent to the Windhoek prison in 1985 where he was ultimately set free from prison. Upon his release he left for exile to join SWAPO in Zambia and became the Secretary General of SWAPO. His presence re-invigorated SWAPO and other liberation movements like us and our struggle was intensified and taken to new heights. He returned home in 1989 with the SWAPO delegation to engage in talks with the regime based on the UN Resolution 435. As Secretary General he played an important role in the mobilisation of the people for writing the democratic constitution and for the elections which gave SWAPO an overwhelming majority.
At independence he was appointed Minister of Minerals and Energy, later Minister of Labour and thereafter Minister of Prisons. He retired from government in 2005. Cde Toivo continued as an active member of SWAPO, serving in the politburo and central committee, until his passing. He also served in many other NGO’s like the Red Cross and as patron of many organisations such as the Namibian-Cuba Friendship Association. His last public engagement was on Tuesday the 6th at the 5th Continental Africa Conference in Solidarity with Cuba hosted by the Namibian Government, which he addressed.
His loss contributes to the closing of that activism of the selfless and dedicated leaders, revolutionaries and freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of our continent and countries.
We shall ever remain indebted to these men and women who influenced many generations to join the struggle for national liberation and social emancipation. Their legacy will live long.
Comrade Toivo was a rare breed in the political struggles in Southern Africa. He is one of those world leaders honoured in our country as Companions of President Oliver Tambo. The legacy comrade Toivo ya Toivo leaves is that of integrity, selflessness, internationalist, dignity, bravery, humility, loyalty, sacrifice, dedication and unifier. Indeed he ran and finished his race.
Long live the spirit of no surrender of comrade Toivo ya Toivo!
Long live the legacy of Tata Toivo ya Toivo!
Hamba kahle Tata Toivo ya Toivo!
May your revolutionary soul rest in peace!
Long live SWAPO!
Comrade Mavivi Myakayaka-Manzini is South Africa’s High Commissioner to Namibia