The Formation of SWAPO
The historical developments through which SWAPO evolved can be explained in four important stages. The fundamental question which confronted the people of Namibia towards the end of 1950s was the establishment of a political organization or a party which was capable of providing leadership and an organizational framework. The yearning for freedom was inspired by the pioneers of the resistance movements such Hendrik Witbooi, Samuel Maharero, Jacob Marenga, Iipumbu ya Tshilongo, Mandume Ndemufayo and Nicodemus Kahimemwa, to mention just a few.
Aim of Establishing a Political Party
The aim of establishing a political organization was to pick up the freedom flame from where our forefathers left it. Prior to the formation of SWAPO, there were uncoordinated, anti-colonial activities which were expressed in the form of localized strikes against colonial rule and individual petitioning to the United Nations concerning the South African racist oppression in Namibia. It was thus realized then that the establishment of a political organization was the most appropriate and effective way to achieve genuine independence. Therefore, SWAPO was not formed to advance individual scheme or ambition, but on a national platform of noble cause to articulate the hopes and aspiration of all the people of Namibia. SWAPO then, as a national liberation movement, attracted supporters and sympathizers from all sectors of the population – men and women, young and old, peasants, intellectuals and workers.
The Liberation Strategies
From the very beginning, SWAPO was deeply rooted in the working class and the peasants since the system of contract labour was one of the most blatant manifestations of colonial oppression and exploitation in Namibia. It was the sweat of the contract labourers that built prosperity for the apartheid economy. The workers were treated worse than dogs. The experience of this barbaric system is still fresh in the memories of our people. The historic identification of SWAPO, as a movement, with the interest of the toiling masses of the Namibian people is one of the main factors, explaining its resilience when compared to other anti-colonial groups in Namibia, which have either collapsed or remained paper organizations. SWAPO stood a test of time and was able to weather the storms of South African repression and became a mass political movement that united people from all sectors of the Namibian society.
The first half of the 1960s witnessed the dynamic development of movement, characterized by the consolidation of SWAPO in the Namibian society. The objective of SWAPO was to fight relentlessly for freedom and genuine independence of Namibia to translate the hopes and aspirations of the people of Namibia into reality.
In order to articulate the hopes and aspirations of the people of Namibia as well as to advance the cause of freedom, SWAPO formulated four fronts which were simultaneously successfully carried out; namely:
- Political Mobilization Mass Mobilization at Home
- Diplomatic Front
- Military Front
- Education Front
The first was political mobilization of the masses of Namibia to rally behind SWAPO and to the cause of freedom. The main task was to unite the Namibian people into one solid political organization capable of confronting the South African occupation regime. SWAPO persistently mobilized and organized the broad masses of the Namibian people and they heeded to the call and actively participated in the national liberation struggle.
The second was international campaign to sensitize the international community to support the just cause for freedom and independence which was advanced by SWAPO.
In so doing, SWAPO worked in solidarity with other national liberation movements and other anti-imperialist, progressive and peace-loving forces throughout the world with a view to ridding Namibia, the African continent all forms of colonialism and imperialist domination. SWAPO’s struggle for Namibia nationhood at the international level, as well as through the armed struggle and mass mobilization at home, led to its full recognition by OAU (the forerun to the AU) in 1965 and by the UN in 1976 as the 'sole authentic representative of the Namibian people'.
The third front was the armed struggle to resist South Africa’s racist, oppressive and exploitative occupation of Namibia through the use of arms. As a result the early part of the 1970s was marked by the application of the Tanga strategy of intensified political and military struggle.
The armed struggle while it was complementary to the other two strategies became the main form of SWAPO’s liquidate to South Africa’s racist, oppressive and exploitative occupation of Namibia.
SWAPO launched a purposeful campaign of first mobilize and politicizing her members to take education seriously. Thousands of young men and women were education in educational centers of SWAPO and sent to other countries at all levels to engage in studies covering all fields. At independence, Namibia boosted as a countries ready to run her government in all facets due to the successful education program implemented by SWAPO.
Complimentary Role of SWAPO Four (4) Fronts
Thus, SWAPO’s military, political mobilization and diplomatic activities were functionally and dialectically complementary to one another. Since its inception, SWAPO has been the main driving force in the pursuit of freedom and independence. It was no easy task, but with fortified resoluteness and determination, no task was too big to be carried out and no challenge was insurmountable. SWAPO persevered and the results of its decisiveness bear self-evidence fruits of independence we enjoy today.
The Launching of the Armed Liberation Struggle
It was a long and arduous road that had taken SWAPO cadres from one mobilization meeting to another, from one international conference to another and from Omugulu gwombashe to Cuito Cuanavale where the apartheid army was crushed and vanquished.
The remarkable turning point in the history of the liberation struggle was the launching of the armed struggle on the 26 August 1966. In 1964-65, the first militants returned as trained guerrillas to set up rural bases for training the local people. The (ICJ) International Court of Justice’s failure to deliver a judgment, on a case submitted earlier on 4th November 1960 by Ethiopia and Liberia convinced the people of Namibia that from that day they were to be their own liberator. Ethiopia and Liberia filed concurrent applications through ICJ instituting contentious proceedings against South Africa to obtain a binding and enforceable judgment to ascertain that the policy of apartheid failed to “promote to the utmost the material and moral well-being and social progress of the inhabitants” of Namibia.
On 18 July 1966, ICJ delivered its judgment with its President, Sir Percy Spender, from Australia casting the deciding vote that it could not rule on the substance of the case because Ethiopia and Liberia had no legal right or interest in the matter. SWAPO was left with no other option than to declare that the ICJ’s inexcusable refusal to act “would relieve Namibians once and for all from any illusions which they may have harboured about the United Nations as some kind of a savior in their plight” SWAPO had no other alternative, but to take up arms and bring about the liberation of Namibia.
SWAPO decided that it was ready to cross many rivers of blood as days follow night and was confidence that victory will be achieved. The first military engagement between PLAN fighters and the apartheid South African troops took place on 26 August 1966 at Omugu gwombashe. A month later, on 27 September 1966, a PLAN guerrilla unit attacked the large government administrative complex at Oshikango and burned it to the ground.
The launching of the armed liberation struggle brought new challenges and dynamics for the liberation movement in both the military and political fields. In the military field, the logistical difficulties in supplying and communicating with PLAN cadres at the frontline were formidable. Yet, those brave sons and daughters of the Namibian soil were fortified in their resolve to persecute the liberation struggle.
As narrated by the Founding President and Father of the Namibian Nation, Comrade Sam Nujoma in his book “Where others Wavered,” that the first group of PLAN fighters traveled from the Kongwa training base in Tanzania a distance of nearly 1000 Km to Mbeya at the borders with Zamibia and from there they journeyed on until they arrived in Namibia. This illustrates how long the journey was, but the brave and courageous fighters were not discouraged and with the passing of time, their ranks increased and logistical mobility improved. They endured the difficulties, yet they were determined to match on.
Today we are free due to the courage of the brave comrades who crossed many dangerous rivers and deep valleys so that we do not have to cross them, they shed their precious blood and sacrifice their lives so that we do not have to shed blood and sacrifice our lives. Today our cause requires only energy and determination to build the nation that others had died in the course of its liberation struggle. The spirits of those comrades is calling on us to dedicate ourselves to a course of consolidating independence and never to waver an inch less.
In the political field, there were challenges too, following the launching of the armed struggle a number of SWAPO leaders were arrested and imprisoned at the notorious Robben Island and other places. They too kept the faith in the noble cause of freedom and independence. The increase and widespread tactics of harassments and terror employed by the apartheid army only propelled the determination of Namibians to cause of freedom and strengthened their faith in SWAPO which spearheaded the noble cause of freedom and independence.
Towards Achievement of Independence
Throughout the liberation struggle SWAPO always charted courses befitting each occasion in order to accelerate the process of independence of Namibia. SWAPO held its Consultative Congress at Tanga in Tanzania between 26 December 1969 and 2 January 1970. The Tanga Congress reviewed the progress of the struggle, made changes in policy and organization, re-elected the leadership and strengthened its dedication to the liberation of Namibia. Structures were created or reactivated to coordinate the persecution of the strategies of the liberation of Namibia. The National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) as an affiliated body, the SWAPO Youth League, SWAPO Women Council and the Elders’ Council were established. SWAPO’s military wing was re-organized and re-named the Peoples’ Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN).
The application of the Tanga strategy meant the intensification of political and military struggle. This policy entailed, on the one hand, the extension of the role of PLAN’s military cadres into social and political spheres of action and consequently closer coordination between the political and the military structure.
The fruits of the Tanga Congress invigorated the determination to fight and bring about the independence of Namibia. In December 1971, a massive general strike by the contract workers was another mile stone in the history of the liberation struggle, which propelled the struggle into a higher phase. The decades of bitter experience, contract workers had developed a strong tradition of collective solidarity and sophisticated methods of the struggle. The massive strike by the workers was clear evidence that the strategy of political mobilization was succeeding in persuading Namibian people to actively participate in the struggle for their own liberation.
The mobilization strategy was not only restricted to contract workers, but to students, teachers and others professionals. The church leaders were also active participants in the struggle against the apartheid system. The principal Namibian churches responded to the patriotic aspirations of their members by taking a public stand against the continued occupation of Namibia by South Africa. Throughout the 1970s SWAPO was very successful at frustrating all attempts by the apartheid to thwarting genuine independence. The apartheid attempted to impose Bantustans as alternative to genuine independence of Namibia.
At the diplomatic front SWAPO succeed in mobilizing international opinion firmly on the side of the struggling people of Namibia. All futile attempts in the guise of the so-called internal settlement were rebuffed by the international community. On 12 June 1968, the UN General Assembly by resolution 2372, declared that “in accordance with the wishes of its people, South West Africa should henceforth be known as Namibia”. Earlier on in 1966 UN General Assembly by resolution 2145 terminated the South Africa mandate over the then South West Africa and placed the territory under the direct responsibility of the UN. SWAPO played a vital role in the negotiations with Five members of the Western Contact Group (USA, Canada, West German, UK and France), which culminated in the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 435. The UN Security Council Resolution called for free and fair election to be held in Namibia and the direct supervision of the UN. This Resolution was delayed by the US under the Reagan administration which linked the implementation of Resolution 435 to the Cuban troops withdrawal from Angola. The Internationalist Forces of Cuba were in Angola at the invitation of the government of Angola which is a sovereign state and had nothing to with Namibia.
After nearly 12 years of the adoption of Resolution 435, it was finally implemented, but it not because Cuban left Angola, but apartheid South African troops suffered a crushing and humiliating defeat at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale. After the defeat, apartheid South African regime agreed to negotiate at last, something they have been refusing to do even before SWAPO took up arms. SWAPO had always expressed its readiness to talk with the apartheid South African regime, but the apartheid has never showed any seriousness to negotiate with SWAPO in good faith, however, the battle of Cuito Cuanavale changed its stance.
SWAPO is proud to have laboured and gone through hardship to bring about the total independence of Namibia. The process as detailed above was not easy, but SWAPO never slumped or lost sight in its quest for the genuine freedom and independence of Namibia. It was an arduous road, but SWAPO was always determined to walk through stage by stage. The independence which Namibia achieved on March 21st 1990 is self-evidence to the vision of SWAPO to transform the Namibian society from dispossessed people to the owners of a proud nation which took its place amongst the family of nations. Some of the pioneers of the resistance who fought the Germans and those who took up arms to fight the apartheid sacrificed their precious lives. Yet, in an independent Namibia, we do not have to travel on foot from Tanzania to Namibia with arms and ammunition others have already done so.
What is required from us is to build this nation so that it can stand proudly and assert its own determination.
A Liberated People
Indeed as our Founding President and Father of the Namibian nation said “when the history of a free and independent Namibia is written one day, SWAPO will go down as having stood firm, where others have wavered, that it sacrificed for the sacred cause of liberation were others have compromised. Self-evidently SWAPO has gone down in the history of Namibia, Africa and mankind as a liberator of the people of Namibia.
The freedom flame has been illuminated and together we must carry it up to the mountain top to shine and radiate its brightness to all corners of Namibia.
The challenge before us is to ask ourselves whether we are doing enough to build a stronger nation that the fallen heroes and heroines have fought to liberate and sacrificed their precious lives. The SWAPO Party has no doubt that majority of Namibian will continue to contribute collectively to make Namibia a proud place for all of us and the succeeding generations. Time and history were on our side during the hardship of our liberation struggle and again, we are confident that time and history will continue to be on our side so that we reach the goal of the Vision 2030 with the same vigor and determination that sustained us during the liberation struggle.
Formation of SWAPO PARTY