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Historical role of the youth in Swapo

By General Martin Shalli

Article 2 and Article 3 of the SPYL Constitution clearly captures and defines its noble mission and therefore strongly recommend that you read this from time to time.

At the outset let me express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the SWAPO Youth League for inviting me to talk about the armed liberation struggle in general and the role the Namibian youth in that struggle in particular. I personally would like to commend the decision by the SPYL leadership to embark upon this project of political education through the Olupale Lecture Series. The name Olupale has its historical roots in the time when people used to sit around the African fire in the evenings narrating stories about cultures, traditions, life, ethics, threats, the economy and politics and so forth. Unfortunately this does not happen anymore.

Today we spend time watching television or chatting on social networks which is well and fine given the times we live in. The aim for these lecture series is to tell our story than allowing an invasion by non-participatory actors. I am equally pleased to be the first one to deliver a lecture of many more to follow. What I shall attempt to do is to speak for about thirty minutes and thereby allow more time for what I hope is going to be a lively and enlightening discussion. Kicking off, let me start by putting the struggle for freedom and independence into historical perspective by giving you a little flavor of some of the important events that took place prior to the actual war for liberation.

1. The war of resistance that was fought by our forefathers across the entire breath and length of our country is fundamental to our heroic struggle. The Europeans had one aim only and only to conquer our land, enslave us and exploit our precious and abundant natural resources, nothing more and nothing less. Our people throughout Africa put up a fight and resisted heroically against the invaders. In recent history we have seen the skulls of our people being returned to Namibia only more than a century later. The indiscriminate killing of our people clearly demonstrates the level of brutality the invaders unleashed on our people and the need therefore to fight back.

2. The formation of the Ovamboland Peoples Congress on the 19th April 1958 in Cape Town by Namibians working in South Africa and its transformation into the Ovamboland Peoples Organisation in 1959 both of which are the forerunners of SWAPO in 1960 is a direct response to the ongoing colonial bondage in Namibia and the repression that comes with it. The aim was to bring together the Namibian people and in a coordinated fashion put an end to foreign occupation and colonialism. We all know today and for a fact that this historical mission was achieved and at a cost.

3. The Windhoek massacre or the Old Location Massacre on the 10 Dec 1959 invigorated our people even more and made things worse for the enemy. It brought the majority of our people more and more closer. At this point of our struggle, many young Namibians including Sam Nujoma left the country to organize the struggle from outside our borders. This is perhaps where the youth began to get actively involved in the struggle led by SWAPO. Let me quickly remind you that today 10 Dec is marked internationally as Human Rights Day something that has nothing to do with the Old Location. It is so because on the 10 Dec 1948 the UN General Assembly made this declaration and proclaimed this day an international human rights day.

4. Between 1962 and 1965 SWAPO began to arrange an armed liberation struggle by mobilizing the international community and on the encouragement of some progressive African States. Besides the political and diplomatic struggle, SWAPO decided to embark on the third leg of the struggle - the barrel of the gun. That is why on the 26 August 1966 the first shot heralding the launch of the armed liberation struggle was fired at Omulugombashe situated in the north western corner of Namibia.

The majority of the SWAPO combatants who were there were young. All of the six who had travelled from Tanzania were under 35 years of age.

5. The events in Portugal in 1974 had a great impact on the overall situation in Southern Africa. What is known today as the Carnival Revolution led by General de Spinola on the 25 April 1974 saw the fall of the Portuguesse colonial empire thus opening up opportunities for many young Namibians to flee Namibia and join the struggle abroad. I was among the group that left to join the armed liberation struggle in 1974. This epoch was the turning point in our struggle in that the thousands of youth that joined SWAPO abroad ended up serving in the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). I will explain later the choice of name PLAN.

The Tanga Consultative Conference that took place in Tanzania December 1969 to January 1970 is also important to mention because it adopted the SWAPO Constitution and structures. These structures include the Political Bureau, the Central Committee, and the Wings. Wings are PLAN, the SWAPO Youth League, the SWAPO Women's Council (SWC) and SWAPO Elders Council (SEC). SEC had difficulties finding members initially because most members did not qualify to be called elders meaning they were too young to join.

There were times when the SWC had to co-opt males as members such as Helmut Angula, Tuli Hiveluah,and Namalambo. Quickly back to the choice of the name PLAN and I underline 3 Peoples. The idea has been to accommodate non SWAPO patriotic Namibians such as SWANU cadres to jointly fight with PLAN in liberating the Motherland. You could follow that up later during the Q&A session. This Conference also approved the historical affiliation arrangement between the trade unions and the Movement. Also take note that SWAPO has been a liberation movement until after independence when it became a Political Party that we know today and at the same time PLAN ceased to exist.

By way of introduction I thought these events are necessary to understand because the youth have played a major role in them too. I move on to try to break down certain stages of our revolution and bring to the fore what roles the youth have played, if any. The period 1957 to 1970 has been dealt with albeit not in detail. Let us now briefly look at the period 1971 to 1974. This period was characterized by strikes and student demostrations, omapokolo (makalani slashes) and the destruction of cattle pens both in Namibia and Angola. This is the period when the SWAPO Youth League stepped in to fill the vacuum left after the leadership of SWAPO was rounded up following the Omugulugombashe Battle. SWAPO activities were curtailed between 1967 and 1970. SYL did a lot to intensify the campaign against the regime.

The regime responded with terror, random arrests and brutal torture all of which did nothing to dampen the spirit of the Namibian youth or stop the wind of change blowing across the country. The people who carried out this phase of the struggle were youth. The sheer commitment and determination of the youth helped a great deal to revive the activities of SWAPO inside Namibia and thus complimented the struggle being waged from outside the borders of Namibia. Summing it all up, these activities were mutually inclusive. I believe the military activities of PLAN on the field of battle and messages coming through Radio of Namibia stations abroad inspired and encouraged many to continue the struggle against foreign domination and apartheid regime.

This brings me to the actual armed liberation struggle between 1966 and 1989 - a period spanning 23 years, and youth participation. It can be argued that naturally the youth had to be at the forefront of the armed struggle due to various factors such as their numbers. To give an idea of what I am talking about let us look at this statistics or figures: PLAN had roughly twenty thousand men and women under arms, and 95% of those were youth. This represents about 40% of SWAPO exiles. Average age at different stages, 1975 was 22, 1980 was 24, 1985 was 27, and by the end of the war in 1989 was 30. What does this tell us? It tells us about active youth involvement and at grand scale, plain and clear. It also quite clearly explains to us that the youth bore the brunt of the war and that those whose blood waters our freedom are overwhelmingly the youth, close to 100%. Is that not a great sacrifice by the youth of this great land, Land of the Brave, towards the attainment of freedom and independence that we enjoy and continue to enjoy today? The answer is a resoundingly simple yes.

We should also not forget the struggle the youth waged inside Namibia through platforms such as NANSO, NUNW, and the Student Christian Movement and through various church denominations and church umbrella organizations, and the Namibia Council of Churches instantly springs to mind.

To top it up, the combatants of PLAN needed the constant support of the youth in the villages mainly young girls who cultivated the mahangu fields, pounded mahangu and cooked for them. Young men and boys provided information essential to the execution of the just cause.

The majority of them was either SWAPO members or supported the cause for liberation otherwise I do not see how they would have gone to such lengths. For this reason many patriotic young Namibians suffered greatly at the hands of the racist and brutal criminals of the white fascist and racist regime. Many lie in unmarked graves throughout the land of the brave.

The liberation of Namibia came at a great cost. It was not handed down on a silver platter.

People mainly the youth had to fight and die for it. We must guard and protect the achievements of our revolution at all times and at all cost. This year we mark our 23rd year of independence which accords us another opportunity to reflect on our achievements as we navigate into the future. As a nation we have set ourselves strategic and operational goals with clear timelines such as Vision 2030 and National Development Plan 4. The good news is the youth of today do not need to pick up guns to fight. What you need to do is use modern tools to successfully liberate yourselves from the bondage of poverty, under development and unemployment, just to mention but a few. These are challenges and in those challenges lay opportunities. We are fortunate to be blessed with abundant natural resources and we also have the human capital. What are we doing with these resources? Continuing to export them in raw form without value addition is not helpful. We cannot allow Africa to be the richest continent whilst its people are the poorest of the poor. The youth wore the brunt of the liberation war and today 23 years on are bearing the brunt of the economic revolution.

Look at the figures of unemployed youth, unacceptably high. The survival of the youth today is also threatened by HIV and AIDS, and by many social evils such as alcohol and drug abuse, and gender biased violence.

The youth must drive and participate in the economy and thrive from it. By the way who is at the forefront of our struggle for economic liberation? Who is the Commander in Chief and who are the troops? Are the troops adequately trained and properly equipped for the task? These are pertinent questions we must ask ourselves.

Look at our geo-strategic position in the world, very well placed. We have Brazil and the USA to the west, South Africa to the south and Angola to the north and the rest of SADC States in between. For that reason we need a service oriented economy able and capable of servicing the larger economies of SA, Angola and beyond. Look at the number of IT companies in the world today with assets worth millions and millions of dollars. You don't need to be an oil, copper, uranium, diamond or beef exporting economy to achieve that. Who are the people catching our fish, building our roads, dams, aerodromes, even state house? Why? We simply have no trained manpower to undertake such projects. We have no enough doctors, nurses, teachers, legal professionals, accountants, quantity surveyors and the list goes on. This skills gap must be addressed soon rather than later and this is my strong view. The way forward and food for thought.

Education and training of our human capital is key to industrialization and economic freedom;

Encourage and promote research deavor;

Grow the economy in order to create jobs and generate wealth;

Improve health services and sanitation so as to keep the nation healthy;

Protect the environment and promote sustainable development;

Empower women especially the girl child;

Promote the spirit of Ubuntu and Pan Africanism;

Empower the youth through training;

Encourage innovation and entrepreneurship;

Drive infrastructure development;

Take measures to address land and housing issues;

Improve trade relations;

Build strong democratic institutions with emphasis on the rule of law and respect for human rights;

Reduce poverty and unemployment especially among the youth;

Improve public-private sector relationship.

These are some of the things that the youth of today and tomorrow have to understand, articulate and address if we are to progress to the next level as a nation. Our forefathers and mothers had a vision and mission which they have accomplished.

Now the destiny of this country lies entirely in your hands.

I conclude by acknowledging that the youth of this country have made immense sacrifices. They paid with their blood and souls. They did all of that against all odds and they prevailed. Let us draw inspiration from them. Finally I want you to remember this always.


Long live SWAPO Party!

Long live SWAPO Youth League!

Long live the Republic of Namibia!

I thank you so much and the struggle continues


SWAPO Headquarters Mandume Strt
Windhoek, Katutura