Helao Shityuwete – a Personal Account [analysis]

MY father was born at a time when lions roamed and Owamboland was covered in rich forest. It was 25 August 1934 and a great king had just died that was the day my father entered the world.

The 19th child of 22 he was named Helao Shityuwete by my grandfather Nelindi Shityuwete, the king of Evale. My father had a turbulent childhood but he also has many wonderful memories to share with my brother and I. We have always celebrated the moments when we would sit by his knee and hear the stories of a world that we can now only imagine.

One of my favourites is the story of how he was walking to his grandmother’s homestead late one night and came face to face with a male adult lion. He was only 10 years old but it seems that he and the lion made a gentleman’s agreement and each went their way.

Dad has since met with many lions including torture, imprisonment and cancer but… I get ahead of myself.

As a young man my father entered the contract labour system, which was essentially institutionalised slavery enforced by the South African apartheid government and it was while working at the Walvis Bay docks in 1959 that his love affair with politics began. In 1964 my father and others left the country to begin their military training in Tanzania.

In 1966 as part of the military commando group G2, my father and four others re-entered Namibia with the intention of taking up the liberation struggle but their journey was ill-fated someone had tipped off the South African police and dad was arrested along with three other members of his team. They were taken to Pretoria where they were tortured and held for two years to await the trial that was defined by the infamous Terrorist Act of 1967. In 1968 he was sentenced to 20 years on Robben Island.

One wonderful memory I have of visiting Robben Island with dad was him telling my brother and I of the prisoners’ collective obsession with news. The prisoners used a number of tunnels that they had dug at strategic points around the island and they would use these to go and raid the dustbins outside the warden’s residence. There was then an ingenious process of dissemination, so that all on the island could hear or read news of the outside world and the struggle. I love hearing of the resilience and ingenuity of my dad and his compatriots in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation.

To speak in detail of Robben Island is to tell a story that has already been told in a far better way than I ever could. What truly strikes me is the expansive positivity expressed by the men who were incarcerated for such long periods of their lives. What overwhelms me is the complete absence of animosity or hatred and growing up with my father this is what I have learnt: Hatred is destructive and the only way to move forward is to build, together.

On 10 May 1984, my father was released from prison and in 1985 he won a scholarship to study in the United Kingdom. At that time, my mother was working for the Africa Educational Trust in London and heard that a dashing hero of the Namibian freedom struggle would be arriving.

She and her best friend tossed a coin to see who would have the honour of meeting him and luckily for my brother and I the odds were in her favour! The day after their first meeting, my father returned to the Africa Centre in a white suit to ask mum out on a date the rest, as they say, is history.

In 1987 I came along and my father and I spent many happy days in our tiny London flat, while he wrote his autobiography ‘Never Follow the Wolf’. In 1989 dad returned to Namibia to prepare for the elections and on 16 March 1990, my mother and I followed.

In fact, one of my earliest memories is of the very first celebration of Heroes’ Day on the 26th August 1990. Mum, dad and myself were at Ongulumbashe and dad was standing in his regiment. I was three years old at the time. I remember the little Swapo dress I was wearing. I remember ompembe dancers. I remember realising that this was an important day. At one point, my mother tells me, I simply couldn’t resist the urge to go to dad and broke through the barriers and ran into the lines of soldiers to leap into my father’s arms.

I have literally and figuratively been leaping into my father’s arms since that moment. He brings me flowers after every dance show. He teaches me how to be a good person. In my lowest moments, he is a source of inspiration and wisdom.

In 2008 and after a steep decline in his health, dad was diagnosed with lymphoma, an extremely vicious form of cancer that attacks the lymphatic system. I was in my third year at university and what followed was an immeasurably hard time for our family.

There was also something very wonderful about that time though the way we got together and the long conversations dad and I used to have. I became obsessed with documenting our family tree and knowing his opinions and views on things. I wanted to transfer all the knowledge and experience from his head into mine.

Against all odds, dad beat the lymphoma and until this day is healthy, hilarious and g. My father has the most wonderful sense of humour cheeky and irreverent he and Tate Andimba ya Toivo can be heard laughing from the sitting room on any given day.

My father’s obsession with news endures to this day and we are constantly finding secret stashes of newspapers around the house. It drives mum nuts.

Growing up with Helao Shityuwete has been an immense honour. He is my hero, my dad and the man against which all things are measured. He is kind, wise, and single-minded.

He is stubborn, warm and patient. He was born into a system which was designed to enslave but he fought and was willing to give his life for what he believed in.

My brother and I now live in a different world. In just one generation, so much has changed and it is due to the bravery of incredibly inspiring and admirable Namibian men and women.

In 1989 my mere existence as a mixed race child was illegal and now I can walk down Independence Avenue with my head held high. We are the products of our forefathers and of that I am immeasurably proud. Happy 80th birthday dada. A luta continua!

Source : The Namibian