Retracing the Footsteps of a Liberation Struggle Icon – “Where Others Wavered, the Autobiography of Sam Nujoma” [document]

IN an attempt to prevent further delay in the implementation of Resolution 435, SWAPO approached the UN and offered to repay the full UNTAG operational costs after independence – for both military and civilian components, repaying the UN with its own resources.

Our offer was not accepted. Our campaign against the reduction of UNTAG peacekeeping forces was fought and lost. This reduction, of course, seriously downgraded the potential effectiveness of the peacekeeping forces in an emergency situation, given the sheer size of the land which Namibian territory constituted.

On 16 February 1989, the implementation of Resolution 435 was finally authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 632. Although the Security Council agreed to the reduction of the UNTAG military component, we had won the concession that the 3,500 forces which had been subtracted from the full original strength of 7,500 would be held in reserve.

Resolution 640, later in the year, required the disbandment of Koevoet, but this, unlike the cut in UNTAG numbers, was not carried out.

The weeks we had lost while we and our friends had done all in our power to retain the full strength of the peacekeeping force inevitably delayed UNTAG’s arrival in Namibia, with further consequences that assisted those intent on torpedoing the implementation of Resolution 435. General Prem Chad, in command of the military component of UNTAG, arrived in Windhoek on 26 February 1989. But by the end of March, on the eve of the final cessation of hostilities, fewer than one quarter of the 4,650-g UNTAG force were in place, and of these scarcely a handful were in the northern Namibian war zone.

My own movements were restricted in the early months by the need to be with our military forces at Headquarters in Lubango and with the SWAPO Political Headquarters in Luanda. So much of our fighting had been done by men and women politically motivated, that we had to do all in our power to explain to them the full implications of their approaching demobilization. Some of the commanders expressed g misgivings about our agreeing to the demobilization of PLAN and the ending of the armed liberation struggle.

There was a huge task awaiting us back home and we could lose no time in preparing the way, particularly in facing the economic problems confronting the country. I addressed the Council of Ministers of the Southern African Development Co-ordinating Conference (SADCC) in Luanda on 3 February 1989, and outlined the future role we could play in cooperation with Angola, Botswana and Zambia, particularly in dealing with the region’s transport problems. I also warned that apartheid South Africa would do all in its power to ” undermine and predetermine the outcome of the transition to independence” in its favour and install a puppet government in Namibia.

An international businessman arranged for me to meet, in London, senior directors of the Anglo-American Corporation, which I did at the Ritz Hotel on 9 February. The Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM) of South West Africa, a key subsidiary of DeBeers, was a major contributor to the Namibian economy through its gem diamond mining operation north of the Orange River mouth. CDM had made scarcely any attempt in the past to show any interest either in contact with SWAPO or in the democratic future of the country. Nevertheless, we wanted to make it clear to the directors of such major companies that we had no wish to disrupt their operations, only to ensure that proper return went to the Namibian people, through taxes, wages and the localizing of subsidiary activities. I found Mr Nicholas Oppenheimer and his colleagues receptive and friendly and relations have been cordial since impendence.

Perhaps because Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ) had so flagrantly defied UN Decree No. 1 in exporting Namibian uranium from the mine that they managed and mined at Rossing, near Swakopmund, this company had done much more for the country than CDM. They had set up the Rossing Foundation, which contributed to research, education and training in agriculture and other fields, and seemed much more interested in the future of the country than was CDM, despite the latter’s much longer involvement in exploitation of Namibian resources.

It was not true, however, as was reported from time to time, that I had had personal meetings with RTZ Chairmen over the years. This rumour must have come from their own public relations officials, or was at least kept alive by them, as they never contradicted it, though SWAPO did. Their breach of UN Decree No. 1 took place under the Labour administration in Britain. They claimed that they were dependent on the uranium from Rossing and that the ore they extracted illegally at Rossing was the richest and was indispensable to Britain’s nuclear power programme.

Though my meeting in February 1989 with RTZ was off the record, the press got wind of it. I gave an interview to the London Times in which I announced that independent Namibia would join the OAU, SADCC and UN and that we were also considering membership of the Commonwealth, simply that the procedures had to be followed.

We valued the great support SWAPO had received over many years from the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation, which has continued since our independence to fund and administer training programmes over a wide field. For me, the most important event of the first three months of 1989 took place on 29 and 30 March when I inspected huge parades of our PLAN combatants at the Hainjeko Military Academy in Lubango, Kahama, Xangongo and other SWAPO military training camps, and read out to them the terms of the ceasefire which would come into full effect on 1 April 1989. I told them that from that day most of them would become civilians again and would be returned to Namibia to take part in “the political mobilization of the masses, to vote for SWAPO, and thereby consolidate the revolutionary gains for which SWAPO had fought, for so many years”.

It was a deeply moving occasion as I stood with Comrades Hidipo Hamutenya, first Minister of Information and Broadcasting: Peter Mueshihange, first Minister of Defence: Dimo Hamaambo, the Army Commander: the Chief of Staff Charles Namoloh, known as “Ho Chi Minh”: and the field Commanders, among them Patrick Iyambo Lungada, who had fought heroically since the launching of the armed liberation struggle at Omugulu-gOmbashe. Over 9,000 men and women combatants of PLAN marched past as I took the salute.

I announced the demobilization of all but a basic security force that would be needed if South Africa and its western allies, as we anticipated, were to try a last minute trick to destroy the process of withdrawal and implementation of Resolution 435. This reserve included those fighters who were still deployed further south. We could not afford to disband those in the forward positions that would be the frontline if South Africa were to violate the ceasefire agreement.

From the demobilization parade I hurried to Zimbabwe to attend the meeting in Harare of the Association of West European Parliamentarians Against Apartheid, a commitment which I had made earlier.

Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, had been on a state visit to Zimbabwe only two days before and had flown on to Malawi. She had given a press conference before leaving and refused to confirm or deny that her last stop would be Windhoek. We were suspicious of what she had in mind. She had met ‘Pik’ Botha in London a fortnight before, and clearly meant to be part of the Namibian ” settlement” though she had been a major obstacle by supporting Reagan’s policies since 1981. President Mugabe told me that she did not inform him that she was going to fly from Blantyre, Malawi to Windhoek, Namibia.

Source : New Era