Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo – Namibia’s Longest Serving Robben Islander (22 August 1924… )

BORN on 22 August 1924, Andimba Toivo ya Toivo is a Namibian politician who was active in the pre-independence movement and one of the co-founders of the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), as well as the founder of the Ovambo People’s Organisation (OPO) in 1959.

Ya Toivo was born in Omangundu village in Oshana Region in the north of Namibia. This reporter was accorded a rare opportunity to sit down with the Namibian liberation icon as he shared his liberation struggle journey, as well as life on Robben Island, where he spent 16 years between 1968 and 1984.

He shared with New Era how he went about forming OPO – explaining that this was due to bad treatment that black people received from their colonial rulers at the time.

“One day as I was travelling from Ondangwa to Tsumeb our car was stoped and up to now I do not know why we were stopped. Then there was this man who I saw being beaten up so badly. That incident left a terrible mark on my mind. Primarily, it was a human rights violation and the contract labour system that led me to form OPO,” said Ya Toivo.

In his early days Ya Toivo worked on several farms to earn a living as he was the breadwinner in the family. He explained that working on farms was a first step towards getting to Namibia’s coastal areas where wages were believed to be much better.

In 1959, OPO sponsored demonstrations against the continued imposition of discrimination on Namibians by the apartheid government. That is when authorities started watching each of Ya Toivo’s steps.

The liberation stalwart said he chose to wage the war against oppression from inside Namibia at a time when many people were leaving the country to lobby for support from abroad.

He fought for the Allied Forces during World War II.

In 1960, Ya Toivo and others, including fellow nationalist Sam Nujoma co-founded the South West African People’s Organisation, SWAPO. Whilst both were, on occasion, jailed, Nujoma escaped the country – travelling via Tanzania and Ghana to reach the United Nations where he presented their case to the Security Council.

Ya Toivo was arrested in 1966 by the South African authorities, who went to the North to spy on him. The police pretended to be road workers and eventually blew his cover. They arrested Ya Toivo and flew him to Pretoria. Ya Toivo said he was tortured in Pretoria.

Two years later, on 26 January 1968, he was sentenced by a Pretoria court to 20 years’ imprisonment. He was incarcerated on Robben Island, Cape Town.

While in prison, he spent most of his time isolated from his fellow countrymen. While in prison serving his imprisonment on a terrorism conviction, fellow revered liberation icon Nelson Mandela, of South Africa’s ANC party, served his sentence in the same prison.

Ya Toivo described the situation on Rpbben Island as unbearable and hard. The fact that he was jailed in a foreign country meant his family members could not afford to visit him.

“During my time in jail I only had three to four visits, and some prisoners never had visitors at all. Prisoners had no choice but to accept the living conditions in prison,” he said.

While in prison Ya Toivo was kept in solitary confinement for a year and half for retaliating against a prison warden who exposed him to hard labour. This entailed working on the beach, pulling out seaweeds which were grinded and sent to Japan, as well as cleaning the bush with their bare hands.

Asked if there were any positives or inspiration to draw from his time in jail, the 99 year-old said: “My inspiration while in prison was my belief that one day Namibia will be free. And that kept me going.”

Other than that, prison made him bitter especially due to that it was in a foreign country.

After serving 16 years, Ya Toivo was released on 1 March 1984. He returned to Namibia for a short period and was elected secretary general of SWAPO, a position he served from 1984 to 1991. He went into exile and continued to play a pivotal role in the liberation struggle in the region and on an international level.

After independence, on March 21 1990, he was elected to the National Assembly. He was then appointed as Minister of Mines and Energy, a position which he later left to become the Minister of Labour. He then served as Minister of Prisons and Correctional Services until his retirement from office in 2006.

A week after independence, Ya Toivo married Vicki, an American lawyer he met in 1984. The couple is blessed with twin girls, Mutaleni and Nashikoto

When he left government, Ya Toivo said he believed in sharing power and that he wanted to create space for younger people to step into government ranks.

“But this does not mean I am no longer a Swapo member,” said Ya Toivo.

Source : New Era