Where Others Wavered – Rajiv Gandhi and the Non-Aligned Movement’s Contribution to the Namibian Liberation Struggle [analysis]

IgraveN APRIL 1985, I got to know the son of my good friend, the late Indira Gandhi, when Rajiv Gandhi, the new Indian Prime Minister, chaired an extraordinary meeting of the Coordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement in New Delhi. The meeting began on April 19 and was also the occasion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the foundation of SWAPO. Much had happened since that day when a few of us had adopted the first constitution of the Ovamboland People’s Organisation (OPO) in 1959, which became SWAPO in April the following year. Our struggle and the support we received from many countries and international organisations had forced South Africa to change too, at least in Namibia, albeit superficially. Apartheid and white “baasskap” were still unchanged in South Africa itself.

On April 18, on the eve of the New Delhi meeting, we heard the news that South Africa was to introduce an “Interim Government”, in violation of so many UN resolutions, and finally collapsing the efforts of the US and Western Contact Group of the past seven or eight years. Our support from the Non-Aligned Movement was as solid as ever, and Rajiv Gandhi’ response to South Africa’s move was to announce that the Government of India had decided to accord full diplomatic status to the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) representative in New Delhi. He called on other member states to do the same and, though we always steered clear of ideas of becoming a “government in exile”, we were given full diplomatic recognition by many states in the years that followed. The puppet Interim Government in Windhoek was, of course, recognised by no other country but South Africa.

The Co-ordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement issued a special communiqueacute, which recalled that this “manoeuvre by the racist regime of South Africa, like any unilateral measure taken by the illegal occupation regime in Namibia, is null and void”. I have visited almost every country in the world, while remaining always based in Africa, during our years of international campaigning: the Americas, the Far East, Middle East and Europe. From 1985 we had a SWAPO of Namibia Embassy in New Delhi, India. I later made a state visit to India, when the then British opposition leader, Neil Kinnock, was also there with his wife. My wife and I invited them for tea at the Indian State House in New Delhi and they expressed their pleasure at finding us there. He promised that the Labour Party would mobilise the British people to support SWAPO to liberate Namibia.

On the same visit we went to Kashmir, the most beautiful part of the world I have ever seen. The Indian government put an Executive Official Boeing 737 at our disposal, and though we were a small delegation, the whole Boeing was for our use. We flew over those magnificent mountains, the Himalayas, and saw Everest, the highest mountain in the world. But Kashmir itself, with wonderful greenness due to its high rainfall, was memorable. We were very grateful to the late Rajiv Gandhi for providing such concrete recognition to SWAPO and our just cause. He did a lot for SWAPO where we needed it most – in the supply of arms. For instance, the Indian government supplied SWAPO with 106mm artillery guns mounted on Mahindra-Mahindra Jeeps and transported to Angola, with other weapons which were highly effective against enemy tanks and other armoured vehicles.

We were recognised diplomatically by Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru, Iran, Yugoslavia and, before Gorbachev took over, by the USSR, and most of the socialist countries. In addition, I was always given full VIP treatment in the African and Nordic countries and in France. When the Non-Aligned members met again at the UN in June 1984, they worked hard, led by the African group and SWAPO, to get a sanctions resolution through the Security Council. In the end, Resolution 566 issued a very g condemnation of the racist regime for installation of a so-called Interim Government as “a direct affront to the Security Council and a clear defiance of its resolutions.”

Resolution 566 also declared the Interim Government null and void. Again linkage was rejected and South Africa was gly warned that failure to implement Resolution 435 would mean the Security Council considering the invoking of Chapter VII of the Charter to ensure South Africa’s compliance. The sanctions clause was watered down until it was a set of “voluntary measures” urged upon member states. It was that clause that the US gave as its reason for abstaining, not the rejection of linkage. At the end of the debate I thanked member states for their support but attacked Pretoria’s policies, because “their objective is to entrench apartheid to delay the independence of Namibia and to weaken the independent African states in the region in an effort to make them dependent on South Africa.” I identified “the primary interest of the United States of America in collaboration with the Afrikaner regime” as “to perpetuate the status quo, namely the continued, unfettered plunder of natural resources by the transnational corporations and the enslavement of the African majority in South Africa and Namibia.” These hard words were directed at the US not only after the Cabinda outrage and the Interim Government move, but against a background of South Africa’s destabilising raids on its neighbours, and bloody repression of township uprisings in its own cities. The US policy of “constructive engagement” had done nothing to combat these evils and “linkage” had both prolonged Namibia’s enslavement and greatly increased the number of Cuban troops needed to protect Angola from South African aggression.

P.W. Botha tried to promote the Interim Government but this regime managed to undo its own propaganda by their brutal behaviour. A typical example was the end of the legal actions in 1984, which achieved the release of over 100 civilian SWAPO exiles who had been “captured” at the Cassinga massacre on May 4, 1978, and flown to a prison camp at Kaiganachab near Mariental, where they were held without charge for six years. The South African Minister of Justice, Coetzee, had stopped the legal proceedings brought by the Namibian bishops, saying it was “not in the national interest”, but the lawyers finally won their case. Our churches paid dearly for their part in the struggle. Church ministers and deacons were detained and tortured, the Anglican seminary and school at St Mary’s Mission at Odibo were partly destroyed in June 1981 as was the ELOK printing press at Oniipa, as well as the headquarters in Windhoek of the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN). A commentator at the time on the Odibo destruction said: “It is clear that whoever did the destruction belongs to the anti-church forces in our country who can only act under the cover of the night curfew.” The General Secretary of the CCN spoke for the people when he said in October 1984: “The South Africans tell the world they are protecting the Namibian people from ‘terrorists’ but in reality they are the ones who are causing a lot of deaths. They are the ones who are destroying the humanity of Namibia.” The churches in Namibia also played an important role in gaining us the lasting support of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, as well as the Lutheran World Federation and other international church bodies.

In May 1984 a barbecue was held outside Windhoek to celebrate the release of the Cassinga prisoners. The Security Police arrived and arrested 35 SWAPO leaders and members. This happened while P.W. Botha was touring Europe, being received by the British Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher, Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany and others. He was trying to convince them that he was a man of peace and willing to set about reforming the apartheid system. But incidents like the barbecue raid and arrests spoke louder than his words.

The South Africans imposed a very complicated constitution under the Interim Government – or Transitional Government of National Unity. This collapsed, but it was quite dangerous for us because they were aiming at the Transkei-Bophutatswana kind of Bantustan government, which had gone through in South Africa because the South African government had stooges like Lucas Mangope (Bophutatswana), Lennox Sebe (Ciskei), Patrick Mphephu (Venda) and Kaizer Matanzima (Transkei) in those areas who would collaborate effectively.

Source : New Era