Original Purpose of Swapo Attire [column]

I HAVE illustrated before how the Swapo Youth League organised the resistance movement against the apartheid regime inside the country during the 70s.

Today, I shall take you back to the days when the Swapo flag-colours were identified and applied onto a dress that came to be known as the Swapo attire today.

From 1971-72, striking workers were being arrested, tortured and killed. At this time I belonged to a youth group based in Walvis Bay, which helped to organise the workers’ general strike. This group was suffering from trauma after workers had been killed by the apartheid police force.

We grieved for our comrades, but we continued and decided to invent a red mantle to wear when addressing public rallies. The red mantle symbolised blood that was shed during the general strike. Negonga Jerry Jackson Nangutuwala, Thomas Ndalikutala Kamati, Jerry Ekandjo and myself used to wear the red mantle at rallies. After our group trial in the Walvis Bay Magistrates’ Court, we were each sentenced to 18 months of hard labour and sent to Swakopmund and Otjiwarongo prisons.

After our prison sentences, Nangutuwala, Kamati, Paulus (Hawk) Kaimbi and myself were deported to the north and Jerry Ekandjo to Windhoek. Only the Haufiku brothers, Nehemia and Petrus, returned to Walvis Bay.

Thus we were issued with banning orders not to take part in any political activities at all and not to return to the south for a period of 10 years.

It must be remembered that north Namibia, at that time, was placed under the state of emergency law, known as R17 during the general strike.

The law forbade political meetings as well as social gatherings. Luckily we had passed a decision before being arrested in Walvis Bay that we should not obey the colonial laws preventing us from talking to our people.

We were determined to mobilise the youth, using all sorts of possible methods. Knowing that the law in force did not forbid the Swapo flags to be shown in public, we took aantage of that and said: “If they don’t let us talk to our people, then we shall make ourselves visible”.

So a decision to invent a wearable dress of the Swapo flag colours was passed. The aim was to use silent mobilisation. At this time, Nangutuwala was given an assignment to buy the materials and have them sewn by a relative into three shirts. The first three shirts were soon made, one for Kamati, one for Nangutuwala and one for myself at the beginning of 1973. Negonga and Ndali were still placed under house arrest in Ondangwa and had to report to Ondangwa police station twice a day.

They would walk into the police station in their newly invented dress without being questioned by the police about their outfit, of which we assumed the police had failed to realise its significance.

I often wore my own shirt while addressing public rallies in the north.

Long awaited achievement: the dress got its break-through on Wednesday the 15th August 1973, when Negonga and Ndali dressed in their Swapo flag colour dresses led a huge demonstration at Ondangwa magistrate court where Jackson Amukongo, Paulus Kaimbi, Ndaxuovanhu Namholoh and myself stood trial on violating the state of emergence law.

This day was followed by mass arrests of youth leaders and members. The arrest was followed by the shameful act of floggings of our members and SYL leaders by the Ovambo chiefs.

By the time the first democratic SYL congress was held at Oniipa in April 1974 (the congress that elected the SYL leadership including Sheeli Shangula as a national general secretary of the SYL and myself as its national president), the dresses were seen widely all over Namibia and more frequently at Swapo meetings.

Today the Swapo outfit, as it is now known, seems to have another meaning. It has become a symbol of violence against Namibians. And worse, you find it dressed on donkeys, on trees and people are even urged to paint their teeth in Swapo-flag colours.

It is clear to me that there is a lack of knowledge as to what the dress was invented for and by whom it was invented.

Therefore, I urge Swapo leaders to refrain from continuing to misuse this noble symbol of freedom as its tool for initiating violence.

Source : The Namibian