Where Others Wavered – Workers’ Struggle and Diplomatic Aance

THE contract strike had major effects within the country and brought much attention to our cause beyond the UN and the OAU Member States, NGOs and individuals. As South Africa’s Bantustan policy was enforced and its security forces were increased to suppress PLAN activities, SWAPO became more and more the focus of the people’s hopes. But South Africa, since the World Court fiasco in 1966, was even more scornful of the UN and world opinion than before.

Malan’s slogan about the Boer Government’s attitude to Namibia had been “ons sal nie buk nie!” (We will not bow). And Verwoerd and Vorster kept up the same arrogance.

They told their fellow whites and puppet chiefs that they had wiped out PLAN, the SWAPO military wing, and that they had full control in Namibia. They claimed that the Odendaal Plan was being carried out successfully and that the people of Namibia would soon be separated in nine ethnic Bantustans, ruled by their own people though under Pretoria’s control, leaving no room for SWAPO to succeed.

We knew that only military force and mass political mobilisation backed by the support of the people would force South Africa out of Namibia. This would not come about through pitched battles and the gaining of territory by conquest alone. We were prepared to use guerrilla tactics which in the end could be so effective that South Africa would realise that it had more to gain by getting out than by remaining, spending huge sums of money, and losing the lives of their young men in defending the possession of a country which they knew was not theirs.

Our mission in many countries, our constant presence at international conferences, and the annual series of meetings at the OAU, the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries and the UN General Assembly, increased worldwide support to our cause. The contract strike had drawn the support of the trade unions and brought world-wide support from non-governmental organizations which also rendered financial and material support to the striking workers in Namibia.

My colleagues and I travelled worldwide in campaigning and organizing support for Namibian self-determination. In addition to the time spent with my comrades in SWAPO health and education centres and with PLAN combatants at the battlefields, I spent a large part of each year in the air, in hotel rooms and conference halls. I found this routine of constant travel exhausting, until I had taught myself how to diet and relax to the best aantage. We worked to ensure that in every conference there was a resolution passed in support of the struggle of the Namibian people.

South Africa, with the support of Britain and France, did not recognize the UN Council for Namibia, and many Western countries continued to trade with South Africa and Namibia in violation of UN resolutions. We realized that the UN’s reputation was at risk, but we considered our own military and political campaign to liberate Namibia to be far more effective. We kept up our three-pronged strategy combining political mass mobilization in Namibia, work on the diplomatic front to isolate the apartheid white minority regime at international level, and the armed liberation struggle as the only effective way to defeat the enemy.

When in 1971 it was put to me that the case against South Africa should be brought back to the International Court of Justice, we were not at all in favour of this.

Five years before we had experienced the utter failure of the World Court which not only did not give a judgment in favour but also delivered a judgment after five years of hearings. Now to go back for an Aisory Opinion, when in 1966 the Court had reversed its own Opinion of 1962, seemed not only pointless but also a distraction from the real battle that had to be fought.

The application to the World Court was made nevertheless by the Security Council, which put the question, “What are the legal consequences for states of the continued presence of South Africa in Namibia notwithstanding the Security Council Resolution 276 (1970).” This seemed to us an anti-climax after the progress the UN had made since the General Assembly terminated the mandate in 1966 under Resolution 2145.

In 1968 the Security Council had called on South Africa to end the illegal trial of our 37 guerrillas and SWAPO leaders in Pretoria and condemned its flagrant defiance of UN authority over Namibia.

The General Assembly had also then proclaimed that “in accordance with the desires of its people, South West Africa will henceforth be known as Namibia”.

The following year, South Africa’s only response having been to push through the Odendaal Plan, the Security Council at large recognised the termination of the mandate by the General Assembly and the illegality of all South Africa’s actions since General Assembly Resolution 2145. The same year it called on member states to refrain from dealing with South Africa’s withdrawal. In 1970 this resolution – No 276 – was strengthened and made even more specific. Resolution 276 also set up an ad-hoc committee which recommended that the question be taken back to the World Court.

We had supported and lobbied hard for all of these resolutions, and Britain and France had abstained in the vote on all of them, with the United States and Finland also abstaining on the 1969 ‘withdrawal’ resolution.

It was in fact the Finnish ambassador to the UN, Jacobsen, and Vernon Mwaanga, the Zambian Ambassador, who told us that they had done much research and were sure that the bench would rule in favour. Still, we opposed the making of the application because of the previous injustice of the World Court in 1966 and we really did not want to have anything to do with it. There had been political pressure throughout the world after what I called the “mockery of justice” of the ICJ in 1966. Nobody trusted the Court after that. We made a tremendous lot of propaganda against it and against the plan of going back to it for an opinion in 1970.

But the composition of the judges had indeed changed, and there was not the manoeuvring among South Africa’s friends at the Court that there had been previously

On 27 January 1971, South Africa told the Court that it was willing to hold a plebiscite to determine “whether it was the will of the inhabitants that the Territory should continue to be administered by South Africa or should henceforth be administered by the United Nations”.

They proposed that this plebiscite be jointly supervised by themselves and the Court, represented by a committee of independent experts.

We still very much doubted the capacity of the Court to hand down an opinion in our favour. Nevertheless, we responded in favour of the plebiscite, though not of South Africa’s joint supervision of it.

Source : New Era