“Breaking the wire” – The struggle for freedom in Namibia

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005Katatura is a small township five miles away from Windhoek – the capital city of Namibia. Like most townships, it is a dull place with sand roads and matchbox houses.

But on Wednesday 29 February this year, the place came alive. The streets were full of people. They danced on the street corners. Every­ one sang, laughed and hugged each other.

Police in soldier uniforms stood on the side of the roads. But this did not stop the excitement. Cries of “Toivo, Toivo” and “Swapo will win”, filled the air. And the bright red, green and blue colours of Swapo were everywhere.

And the rain came – a long, wet rain. It was the first good rain in many weeks. Maybe the gods were also happy that day.

A sixty year old man with no hair, a grey beard and shining eyes was coming home. He was home again after 16 years in a far away place called Robben Island. His name Toivo Herman ja Toivo, the founder of SWAPO and the father of the Namibian people’s struggle for freedom.

The Germans tried to kill all the Herero people. Some of the Herero lived. They looked like this.

The Germans tried to kill all the Herero people. Some of the Herero lived. They looked like this.

THE GROCERY SHOP

Toivo’s story really begins In 1958. I n that year he was working in a grocery shop in Cape Town. Like most men from Namibia, he was a contract worker. He was trying to make a living for his family who lived in Ovamboland, the rural area of northern Namibia.

In Cape Town Toivo got interested in politics. He met people from the ANC and the Communist Party ­ organizations that were fighting to change things in South Africa. And he met other contract workers from Namibia – men like Andreas Shipanga, Emil Appalus, Solomon Mifima and Jacob Kuhangua.

These men met together in a small barbershop in Cape Town. They talked about the history of their country and the problems of the Namibian people.

“LET US DIE FIGHTING”

When they met, they spoke about strangers ruling their people. They spoke about the Germans who first came to their country. The German rulers were very cruel. They took the people’s land and forced the men to work on white farms and mines.

Then after the First World War, the South Africans took over the country. For a while the Namibian people were happy. The cruel Germans were gone. But the people of Namibia were not happy for long. Toivo and his friends spoke about the new rulers from South Africa. They said the new rulers were just as bad as the Germans.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005Toivo and his friends remembered how people before them fought against the Germans and the South Africans. In 1893 and 1904 the Herero people from the south of Namibia took up arms. The Herero’s wanted to chase out the German strangers and get back their stolen land. Maherero the chief of the Herero people asked other people in Namibia to join in the fight. “Let us die fighting,” he said to the people of Namibia.

Toivo spoke about how these people were crushed by the German armies. The Germans wanted to kill all the Herero people. After the war only eight thousand out of 80 thousand Herero people were still alive.

Then In 1922 the Bondelswart people fought against the new South African rulers. The South Africans had already taken the land of these people. So the Bondelswarts lived by keeping a few cattle and hunting for food.

But the South African farmers did not like this. They wanted the Bondelswarts to work on white farms nearby. So they forced the Bondelswart people to pay a heavy tax. The people refused and also took up arms.

They too were crushed by the South African soldiers. The government even sent aircraft to bomb the village of these people. One hundred Bondeslwart people were killed.

“ODALATE” – THE WIRE

Toivo and his friends also spoke about contract labour in Namibia. They spoke about how they were forced to find jobs in Namibia. They could not choose the jobs they wanted. The people at the labour office checked workers to see how fit they were – just like cattle. Then they chose a job for them to do.

The workers had to sign a paper contract. The contract said all workers must stay in the job for 12 or 18 months.

Contract workers could not choose their jobs. They could not talk about their wages. And they could not leave the job before their contract was over. If workers were cheeky or if they broke their contract, they were beaten and jailed by the police.

Workers knew the contract kept them in chains. That’s why they called contracts “Odalate” – the wire.

But Namibian workers didn’t take their contracts without fighting. They went on strike many times because the contracts were so unfair.

In 1948 two thousand mineworkers went on strike. And In 1952 and 1953, thousands of workers at fish factories stopped work. They wanted an end to the contracts.

Toivo and the other men from Namibia spoke about the “wire” for a long time. They all agreed that the Germans and the South Africans were in Namibia for one reason – to get rich.

The country IS full of good farm land. The sea is full of fish. And diamonds, copper and coal lie under the soil. Toivo said that the whites were using contracts to force the people to work on farms and mines for very low wages. The rulers were using the labour of the people to rob the country.

Workers in a fish factory.

Workers in a fish factory.

The men knew that contracts were the biggest cause of suffering in Namibia. And they new that the fight against the “wire” must go on.

THE BARBERSHOP

So one day in 1957, Toivo and his friends got together again in the barbershop in Cape Town. They decided to start a new organization. They wanted to end the contracts and fight for the rights of the Namibian people.

Most contract workers came from Ovamboland in the north. So they called the organization the Ovambo­ Land People’s Organization (OPO).

The leaders of OPO sent men back into Namibia. These men held meetings and told people about the new organization. The new organization grew very quickly.

One of the new leaders inside Namibia was a young railway worker called Sam Nujoma – the leader of Swapo today. He went around to the workers compounds. He told workers to join the OPO. “We must work together,” he said. “You, me, all of us – we must fight for our freedom together.”

Soon the new organization had thousands of members in compounds and locations all over Namibia.

In the meantime, Toivo was still in South Africa. He was busy collecting stories from contract workers about their suffering under the “wire”.

Contract workers were taken to their jobs in cattle cars.

Contract workers were taken to their jobs in cattle cars.

He sent these stories on a tape to people overseas – so that the” world could hear of Namibia’s pain.

When the police heard about this, they arrested Toivo. They sent him back to Ovamboland. But Toivo did not stop working for his people. He held many meetings and asked people to join the OPO.

BLOOD IN THE NIGHT

Toivo knew that the Ovambo people were not the only people fighting for freedom in Namibia. So he and the other OPO leaders had talks with the leaders of the Herero and other groups of people in Namibia – like the Nama. They remembered the early struggles of these people. The OPO knew that it must fight for the freedom of all the people of Namibia.

Then one night something happened that made the OPO leaders want· their freedom more than ever. In Windhoek most people lived in the ‘Old Location’ where they owned land. The government wanted to move these people to a dry and dusty location called Katatura.

Katatura was five miles from town ­ just like in South Africa.

The people refused to move.The police arrived with trucks and guns. Suddenly they began to shoot ­ and that night more than 11 people were killed.

Toivo and the OPO leaders were angry and bitter. They began to think about their struggle. In April 1960 the OPO changed its name. The new name was SWAPO – the South West African People’s Organization. And the new organization decided to use guns to free their country. They wanted the people of Namibia to rule their own country.

INTO THE BUSH

So like the Herero before them SWAPO decided to take up arms. Thousands of young men left their homes to join the S’WAPO soldiers. They went into the bush to learn how to fight.

But Toivo was worried. He knew the South African army was strong. He was scared that many of his people would die.

“1 did not agree that people should go . into the bush,” said Toivo in a court a few years later. “But I could not refuse to help them when I knew they were hungry. I was not, and I could not remain a spectator in the struggle of my people for their freedom.”

In 1966 SWAPO attacked an army camp in the north of Namibia. The South African government was very angry. Toivo and other SWAPO leaders were arrested. Many SWAPO soldiers were also arrested. They were all put in jail.

Later they were taken to court in South Africa. In 1968 the judge sent Toivo and many others to jail on Robben Island.

THE STRUGGLE GOES ON

But this did not end the struggle. While Toivo sat in jail SWAPO was still alive. Sam Nujoma became the new leader. And one thousand miles from Robben lsland SWAPO soldiers still fought for freedom in Namibia.

Workers also kept up the fight against their contracts. In 1972 nearly 20 thousand workers went on strike for three months. The workers wanted an end to all their contracts.

For 16 years Robben Island was Toivo’s home. And in all this time SWAPO got stronger. So when Toivo came home he knew he could say – “The struggle goes on.”

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The life of a fighter

img31She lives by herself in a small, tidy house in Johannesburg. She is 77 years old. She has  suffered from cancer. She has suffered a heart attack. Now her eyesight is getting bad. And  er leg gives her trouble. But her spirit is strong. She fights on.

The fighter is Helen Joseph – the old lady of politics in South Africa.

The government banned her for 16 years. She spent nine years under house arrest. Today she is still a “Iisted” person. So we can’t tell you what she says.

People throw rocks through her window. They fire buIlets at her house. They phone her and swear at her. They once placed a bomb at her gate.

She has suffered for a long, long time. But she never complains. She still laughs. And her eyes still shine. She will never give up.

Helen Joseph came to South Africa in 1931. She came here from India. She was on her way home to England.

She came to South Africa to visit a friend in Durban. She only wanted to stay for a year. But she never left. She made South Africa her home.

Helen Joseph got married in 1932. She lived in Durban. When the war started in 1939, she got a job with the air force. She was an information officer.

After the war she got a job as a social worker. She worked in Fordsburg, Johannesburg. In 1950 she went to work with the “coloured” people in the Cape Flats. In the Cape she saw how the people suffered.

In 1952, something happened that changed Helen Joseph’s life. This was the year of the Defiance Campaign. Thousands of people decided not to obey unfair laws. 8 000 people were arrested. Helen Joseph thought those people were brave. She decided to go into politics. She wanted to work for a better South Africa.

Other white people felt the same way as Helen Joseph. In 1953 Helen Joseph and some white people started an orqanization. They called the organization the Congress of Democrats. This organization wanted equal rights for all people in South Africa.

In 1954, Helen Joseph helped start the Federation of South African Women. She worked with people like Fatima Meer, Ray Alexander and Lillian Ngoyi. They wanted all women in South Africa to stand together.

img32In June the next year, 3 000 people met in Kliptown. The meeting was called the Congress of the People. Helen Joseph was there. At the meeting the people wrote the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter is a list of things the people want.

When Helen Joseph spoke at the meeting, 300 policemen arrived. But Helen Joseph did not move. She finished her speech.

On the 9th August 1956, Helen Joseph marched with 20 000 women to Pretoria. They marched because the government said black women must carry passes. They marched to the government building. They wanted to speak to the Prime Minister. But he did not come out to speak to the women. The women stood outside for a long time. They did not move.

Later in the year Helen Joseph and 155 other people were arrested. They were charged in court. The court case was called the Treason Trial. The court case only finished in March 1962. The court found nobody guilty.

In 1957 Helen Joseph was banned for the first time. The banning order said she could not leave Johannesburg. And she couId not speak at meetings.

This banning ended in 1962. The next day, Helen Joseph left on a 7 000 mile journey around South Africa. She went to visit people in far away places – people the government sent to far away places.

Under house arrest, she stayed home from 6 o’clock in the evening until 6 o’clock in the morning. She stayed home on weekends and public holidays. She was only allowed one visitor – a doctor.

House arrest was a lonely time for Helen Joseph. But her friends did not forget about her. They wrote her letters. They phoned her. And at Christmas time, they stood outside her
house and sang Christmas songs.

In 1971 the government stopped her house arrest when she went for a cancer operation. In 1980 the government banned her again for 2 years. Her banning order ended in June this year.

Since June Helen Joseph has spoken at many meetings. She wiII not keep quiet quiet. She will keep fighting for a better South Africa.

It’s now over three years since the beginning of… the Delmas treason trial

The 22 men who were first charged in the Delmas Treason Trial. Three have been released.

The 22 men who were first charged in the Delmas Treason Trial. Three have been released.

The ‘Palace of Justice’ in Pretoria has a special place in the history of South Africa. It was in this building that Nelson Mandela and his comrades were sentenced to life in prison for
plotting to overthrow the government of this country.

Now, 24 years later, 19 men are on trial in the very same courtroom. They too are being charged with plotting to overthrow the government. If they are found guilty, they too could be sentenced to life in prison — or maybe even death.

The trial in Pretoria is known as the ‘Delmas Treason Trial’ — because it was in the small eastern Transvaal town of Delmas that the trial began nearly three years ago. The trial, one of the longest in this country’s history, was moved to Pretoria in August last year.

When the trial began in June 1985, 22 men stood in the dock. But in November 1986 the judge said three of the 22 were innocent and he set them free.

“WE ARE NOT GUILTY!”

The other 19 are still facing charges of treason, subversion, murder, terrorism, and furthering the aims of the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.

Most of those on trial are members of the United Democratic Front and its member organisations. One is a member of the Azanian People’s Organization, and one is a member of Azanian Youth Unity.

Most of the accused come from townships in the Vaal Triangle. Many of them were members of the Vaal Civic Association (VCA).

The accused have told the court that the VCA was started in October 1983 to fight for better living conditions for the people of Sharpeville, Sebokeng, Boipatong, Evaton and Bophelong. It was one of the 17 organisations banned by the government in February this year.

When the Lekoa (Vaal) Town council increased the rent and service charges in August 1984, the VCA called protest meetings. On 3 September, it led the residents on a march to the council offices. But the marchers never reached the offices. The police shot at them. People say they gave no warning.

The 19 accused are being charged for the troubles that began in the Vaal on 3 September. They are also being charged for the ‘unrest’ that afterwards spread through other parts of the country.

At the beginning of the trial, all the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges. They said that it was true that they fought against apartheid and injustice. But they say that at all times they used peaceful methods and that their organisations worked legally and openly.

THREE YEARS OF HARDSHIP

Police in the Vaal in September 1984.

Police in the Vaal in September 1984.

All the accused have suffered greatly in the past three years. The three UDF leaders, Popo Molefe, Patrick ‘Terror’ Lekota and Moses ‘Moss’ Chikane are still in jail. They have been behind bars since April 1985. They have asked for bail five times — but each time the judge has refused.

Molefe was arrested a month after his wife gave birth to a daughter. Lekota and Chikane’s wives gave birth after their husbands were already charged.

The other 16 are out on bail — but they are not allowed to go home. Most of them live by themselves in Johannesburg. Most days they travel to court in Pretoria — and when they do not have to go to court, they must report to a police station twice a day.

The families of the accused have also suffered. Besides living without husbands and sons, they have also lost the breadwinners in their families.

But all the hardships of the past three years have not broken the spirit of the19 accused. They greet all the visitors who come to the trial with smiles and warm handshakes. They even crack a joke or two. They are very grateful when people come to the trial to show their support.

And support is what the 19 need. They are fighting a mighty battle to prove that they are innocent.

“A HOSTILE JUDGE”

Many policemen, councillors and informers from all over the country have given evidence against the accused.The prosecution has used minutes from meetings and thousands of other documents and pamphlets in its case.

In March 1987 the judge, Justice van Dijkhorst, ‘fired ‘one of the assessors in the case. (When there is a chance of the death sentence, two assessors must help the judge listen to the case). The judge dismissed the assessor, Dr Willem Joubert, after finding out that he had supported the UDF Million Signature Campaign in 1983.

The lawyers for the accused said the judge had made a mistake in law when he dismissed Joubert.They said he should stop the case.

The accused also said that the judge and the other assessor, Mr Krugel, were ‘hostile’ towards them. They felt that when the judge and Krugel questioned witnesses, they often helped the prosecution.

The accused also said that they were unhappy with the assessor, Krugel. He was a member of the Broederbond, a powerful Afrikaner organisation that believes in apartheid. How could they get a fair trial from such a man, they asked.

The accused said the judge and the assessor should step down. After four days of argument, the judge decided that he and Krugel would not step down — and that the trial should go on.

“THE TRIAL IS IMPORTANT”

The brave Helen Joseph shares the joy with the three who were released.

The brave Helen Joseph shares the joy with the three who were released.

The 19 know that it is not only their own innocence that they must prove. Another 911 people are also named in the charge sheet. Some of these are well known people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rev Frank Chikane and Dr Beyers Naude. There are also 50 youth, women, worker and community organisations named.

If the 19 accused are found guilty of treason, then all the other people and organisations named may also be charged with treason.

As one of the accused says: “What happens in this trial is important for everybody in the struggle. It is a challenge to those peaceful methods that people have been using to unite people against apartheid.”

NO STONE UNTURNED

At the trial Learn and Teach asked many of the accused the same question: “The trial has taken so long and you have all suffered very much. Don’t you wish the trial was over already?”

“Yes,” they answered. “We want to know what our future is.”

But at the same time, they said they want to leave no stone unturned to show that they are not guilty — no matter how long it takes.

Such is the courage of the accused in the Delmas Treason Trial. It is a great pity that such people are not free to help build a better country for all who live in it.

By keeping these men stuck in a courtroom for so long, the government is not only silencing the voice of the accused. It is silencing the voice of the people. It is making all those who want to see the end of apartheid look like criminals!

THE 19 MEN ON TRIAL

POPO SIMON MOLEFE (36) is the national general secretary of the United Democratic Front (UDF).
PATRICK ‘TERROR’ LEKOTA (39) is the national publicity secretary of the UDF.
MOSES (MOSS) MABOKELA CHIKANE (39) was the UDF’s Transvaal secretary and he worked at the Community Resource and Information Centre in Johannesburg.
PATRICK MABUYA BALEKA (28) was an insurance salesman and a member of Azanian Youth Unity (Azanyu).
REVEREND TEBOGO GEOFFREY MOSELANE (41) is an Anglican priest from Sharpeville.
OUPA JOHN HLOMUKA (34) was an insurance salesman and a member of the Azanian People’s Organisation.
GCINUMUZI PETRUS MALINDI (28) of Sebokeng was the leader of the Evaton Baptist Church’s Youth Committee.
MORAKE PETRUS MOKOENA (49) owns a cafe in Evaton called vWest End Restaurant’ and was secretary of the Evaton Ratepayers’ Association.
TSIETSI DAVID MPHUTHI (50) was a branch vice chairman of the VCA and sold wood and poultry for a living.
NAPHTALI MBUTI NKOPANE (42) worked for a furniture store in Vereeniging and was a branch chairman of the VCA.
TEBELLO EPHRAIM RAMAKGULA (37) is an electrician from Sebokeng and was a branch treasurer of the VCA.
BAVUMILE HERBERT VILAKAZI (32) worked for the Urban Training Project in the Vaal Triangle and was a member of the VCA executive.
SEKWATI JOHN MOKOENA (35) was secretary of the Boipatong Residents’ Committee.
SIMON TSEKO NKOLI (28) of Sebokeng worked for the Institute of Race Relations.
PELAMOTSE JERRY THLOPANE (29), a part time salesman from Sebokeng.
SERAME JACOB HLANYANE (39) is an electrician from Sebokeng and was a branch treasurer of the VCA.
THOMAS MADIKWE MANTHATA (48) was a field worker for the South African Council of Churches and a member of the Soweto Civic Association.
HLABENG SAM MATLOLE (63) worked for a dry cleaning factory and was a branch treasurer of the VCA.
THABISO ANDREW RATSOMO (30) of Sebokeng was studying journalism at Rhodes University where he was the president of the Black Students’ Movement. He was a treasurer of the VCA before he went to university.

NEW WORDS
palace — a big building or home — like a king’s house.
the accused — people who are charged in court
dock — where the accused sit in court
innocence — not guilty
grateful — happy and thankful
documents — important papers
informer — ‘impimpi’
prosecution — the people who try to prove you guilty in court
hostile — not friendly, not on your side