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The historical significance of the old location 10th December uprising

By Paul T. Shipale
Following an article by South African Vice President Kgalema Motlanthe in the September edition of the Thinker Magazine titled: "The philosophical, political and moral obligations imposed on us by the Rivonia Trial" as a constitutive historical moment that created a climate change that began a gradual process of the withering away of apartheid in South Africa, I was inspired to think of a similar constitutive historical moment that created a climate change in Namibia and undoubtedly, with hindsight, we now know that the Old location uprising against the forced removal was such a moment.

It was only by 1959, with state repression reaching an all-time high -following the Old Location uprising- that the necessity for armed action became clear. Indeed, it was the imposition of a repressive racist regime in our own country using unbridled violence that led to the establishment of SWALA, later renamed PLAN after the Tanga Consultative congress of 69-70. This decision did not derive from a lust to kill, out of reckless adventurism or the glorification of war, but rather because our people were prepared to lay down their lives when they saw that there was no other choice available if we were to overthrow apartheid colonialism.

While it remains true that the 10th of December uprising became the central event that led to the possibility of our Independence in March 1990, it should be borne in mind that the uprising was itself an outcome of numerous preceding events and others that followed and which need to be surfaced for the strategic importance of the uprising to be appreciated.

The German economist and philosopher, Karl Marx (1818- 1883), saw history as the story of class struggles, in which the oppressed fight against their oppressors. Marx believed that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. He described how the wealth of the bourgeoisie depended on the work of the proletariat. Eventually the proletariat would lead a revolution against the bourgeoisie once they become class conscious, aware that their seemingly individual problems were created by an economic system that disadvantaged all those who did not own the means of production.

Eventually, the proletariat would become class conscious- aware that their seemingly individual problems were created by an economic system that disadvantaged all those who did not own the means of production. Eventually, the proletariat would become class conscious- aware that their seemingly individual problems were created by an economic system that disadvantaged all those who did not own the means of production.

Eventually, the proletariat would become class conscious-aware that their seemingly individual problems were created by an economic system that disadvantaged all those who did not own the means of production. Once the proletariat developed a class consciousness, Marx believed, they would rise up and seize the means of production, overthrowing the capitalist mode of production, and bringing about a socialist society.

Eventually, the proletariat would become class conscious-aware that their seemingly individual problems were created by an economic system that disadvantaged all those who did not own the means of production. Once the proletariat developed a class consciousness, Marx believed, they would rise up and seize the means of production, overthrowing the capitalist mode of production, and bringing about a socialist societyNamibia was no exception, as it was the working class in the factories and mines in Windhoek, Tsumeb, Walvis Bay and other places that became class conscious and formed OPO in April 1959 in Windhoek and on the 25th June 1959, its then President, Cde Nujoma with Jacob Kuhangua addressed a mass meeting of workers in Walvis Bay in the main compound and explained the reason for the formation of OPO, urging the workers "to work together to end oppression" and immediately the branch had a membership of 'several thousand', according to the then Walvis Bay branch Secretary, Vinnia Ndadi.

Before that, inspired by the 1952 Defiance Campaign in South Africa, a group of Namibian students in South Africa formed the South West African Student Body (SWASB) and in 1955 they formed the culturally oriented South West Africa Progressive association (SWAPA). This was followed by the formation of OPC in 1957 by a group of Namibian workers in Cape Town led by Andimba Toivo ya Toivo to fight against the contract labour system until he was deported for sending tape-recordings to Kerina Mburumba at the UN (see Where Others Wavered pages 54-55 and To Be Born a Nation, pages 169- 174).

After the formation of OPO, in May 1959, Kozonguizi was involved in the formation of SWANU, an alliance between urban youth and mostly teachers. Largely an outgrowth of SWASB and SWAPA students union, SWANU, with limited support and with their leader Konzonguizi in exile, it weakened while OPO had already developed a mass base amongst the workers.

With the removal of the entire population of the 'Old location' to Katutura township in which residence was to be ethnically zoned, OPO and SWANU mounted a joint campaign organising deputations and meetings through which people could express their frustration and bitterness until one day, their patience snapped and decided to boycott municipal services (Where Others Wavered pages 72-73). On the 10th December 1959, pickets were out in full force and with supreme arrogance, the police arrested three pickets and this angered the crowd. Then without warning, the police opened fire and killed 11 people while 54 others were wounded, two of whom later died. In 1960 OPO was formally reconstituted as SWAPO and Sam Nujoma was elected as its first President in absentia. The central aim was to liberate all Namibians from colonial oppression and exploitation (see Where Others Wavered pages 101 and 108) President Nujoma was inspired by Pan Africanism and the policy of Nonalignment when he attended the third All-Africa People's Conference in March 1961 in Ghana and the formation of the Non-Alignment Movement in September 1961 in Yugoslavia.

When on 18 July 1966, the ICJ failed to deliver a judgment on Namibia's case; this removed any last pretext for holding back the launching of the armed struggle. That same day, a SWAPO statement drafted by the late Comrade Peter Nanyemba declared that the Court's inexcusable refusal to act "would relieve Namibians once and for all from any illusions which they may have harboured about the UN as some kind of savior in their plight..."

The first military engagements took place on the 26th August 1966 at Omugulu gwOmbashe and the struggle was massively supported by the people in the north who became the ears and eyes of the freedom fighters and the extent to which they responded was evident in the increasingly repressive measures which the occupation forces imposed along the borders.

But the increasingly widespread tactics of harassment and terror only served to sharpen the Namibian people's commitment to the struggle. SWAPO's struggle for Namibia's nationhood at the international level as well as through armed struggle and mass mobilization at home, led to its full recognition by the OAU in 1965 and by the UN in 1976 as the 'sole authentic representative of the Namibian people', poised on the brink of political power. From the uprising to the attainment of independence in 1990, several distinct permutations emerged, the aggregate effect of which would in time prove too formidable for the apartheid regime.

The first permutation was the emergence of the iconic figures in the firmament of our history, such as Sam Nujoma, Herman ya Toivo and many others. They were able to articulate the innermost yearnings of oppressed Namibians, projecting the future post-apartheid and post-colonial society whose moral underpinnings undermined the grounds of apartheid claims.

Secondly, in a feat of historical irony, while the apartheid justice system sought to use a semblance of justice to put the SWAPO liberation struggle leadership away, it unintentionally created propitious conditions for this leadership to articulate the core vision of the struggle to the whole world. This is how Founding President went into exile to petition and later launched the armed struggle. Herman Toivo ya Toivo's speech in the dock was to reverberate across the world and expounded with exceptional clarity the quintessential vision that made up the core of the struggle in ways that were until then never thought possible.

The following excerpt from the speech was to internationalize the exalted credentials of the struggle: "My lord, we find ourselves here in a foreign country, convicted under laws made by people whom we have always considered as foreigners. We find ourselves tried by a judge who is not our countryman and who has not shared our background... it suits the government of South Africa to say that it is ruling South West Africa with the consent of its people. This is not true. Our organization, SWAPO, is the largest political organization in South West Africa...When I consider my country, I am proud that my countrymen have taken up arms for their people and I believe that anyone who calls himself a man would not despite them...I am a loyal Namibian and I could not betray my people to their enemies. I admit that I decided to assist those who had taken up arms. I know the struggle will be long and bitter. I also know that my people will wage that struggle, whatever the cost. Only when we are granted our independence will the struggle stop. Only when our human dignity is restored to us, as equals of the whites, will there be peace between us..."

These lofty words did not only sum up the spirit and idea of the struggle for liberation but also jolted the international community into action and became hymnal, a sort of divine inspiration that breathed life into the liberation struggle. They became a trope for the struggle between good and evil and the refusal of the human spirit to submit to oppression. Above all, they not only talked about political independence but also the restoration of our human dignity in the second phase of the struggle for economic independence to end the insufferable experience of black Namibians under conditions of political inequality, social discrimination and economic exploitation. The third permutation, closely related to the impact at the level of symbolism, is the moral and legal dimensions of the uprising and the Trial, which, in the same measure of irony, put the whole apartheid system on trial. Lastly, through the efforts of SWAPO leadership in exile, the isolation of South Africa became a reality.

Isolating the apartheid regime was one of the three pillars under which the struggle was waged. These were international isolation, the armed struggle, and mass political mobilization. While the concept of the three pillars or three pronged strategy of the struggle emerged explicitly in the '70s after the Tanga Consultative Congress, it is worth noting that, in practice, all these pillars had underpinned the struggle from as early as the 1960s when President Nujoma went into exile and launched the protracted armed struggle.

Needless to say, the existence of an experienced and principled liberation movement was important at this critical moment of transition to the birth of a new nation. It was SWAPO's crowning achievement, under the leadership of President Nujoma, that the explosion of mass resistance was not allowed to dissipate in defeatism and disillusionment under the fury of apartheid's repression but channeled into long-term forms of struggle and lasting gains for the movement. These include; the 26 December 1969-2nd January 1970's Tanga Consultative Congress when the party reformed and broadened its organization. Structures were created to give expression to the struggle against particular forms of exploitation; The 21st June 1971's ICJ Advisory opinion which was a decisive vindication of the UN position and whose outcome was a seminal political event which destroyed the last vestiges of legitimacy which South Africa white minority regime could claim for its colonial administration; The mass protests by mainly the students in the north against the 'Ovambo Chief Councilors'; The massive December 1971 workers general strike; The 1972-1974 struggle against Bantustans; The 1974-1977 struggle against Turnhalle and the tribal circus; The triumph of MPLA in 1975 which escalated the struggle; The 1977-1979 internal settlement and The 1978- 1988 UN negotiations.

Looked at closer, the essence of the uprising resides in its transhistorical character which not only constituted the reference point of the struggle, but was also transcendent in that it envisioned the contours of a post-colonial society, imposing obligations on us, its modern inheritors, to live within its moral parameters and philosophical paradigm

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.





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