Condemned in Shifidi’s name

By By Michael Tambo
August 2011
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“I was about three months pregnant at the time of my second arrest and could not eat the food they gave us. Our meals consisted of thick maize meal porridge and boiled game meat that was badly cooked. It made me vomit. The smell of that game meat was bad enough to give me a stomach upset. I was angry with the police for arresting us without any real reason,” said Meme Justina Amwaalwa as she narrated her story inside the South African prisons.

Meme Justina is one of the surviving heroines of Namibia who was arrested for ‘keeping bullets for a terrorist, feeding, housing and hiding popular Swapo activist Immanuel Shifidi in her house and was sent to a South African (Pretoria) prison where she delivered her blessed son, Petrus Natangwe Pretoria.

Born on 2 October 1931 in Oneputa village, Meme Justina worked at a mission as a cook for four years where she only received two bars of soap every third month and two meters of light material as her salary.

In 1952, she met her husband, Johannes Amwaalwa, who was working as a contract worker and responsible for recruiting and registering new members of Swapo. They later married in 1956 and moved to Okaku with her husband.

One day in January 1967, whilst she was at home with her husband’s cousin, a stranger came to their house and introduced himself as Immanuel Shifidi, a freedom fighter fighting for the independence of Namibia. Shifidi said he was seeking refuge at their place because his life was in great danger and the South African Police were looking for him after he escaped when the Police invaded a camp at Omugulugwombashe.

Immanuel Shifidi stayed with the family for two weeks and then decided to go to exile in Angola. But before he left, he gave Meme Justina a small bag with bullets and told her to hide them in a safe place.

However, Immanuel Shifidi’s mission was reported to the police by a fellow Swapo activist whom he had trusted with the information about his journey to Angola which led to his arrest. The sell-out also told the police about the bullet bag which was given to Meme Justina by Shifidi leading to a search that retrieved the bullets from the family. Subsequently it led to the arrest of Meme Justina and her husband for feeding and accommodating a ‘terrorist’ at their house.

In a novel written by Ellen Namhila, meme Justina explains how she felt as she was taken away from her family to prison, “People talk about liking the flying experience. I cannot recall any pleasure about flying in the South African police helicopter. I was a captive flying under the watchful eyes of my captors. What was there for me to appreciate? I was worried to death about my small children I had just left behind without warning. I had no idea how long we would be gone and how our children would survive without us. I was worried about Immanuel and the comrades and the bullets and I had no idea what was going to happen to the struggle and to us.”

Meme Justina’s first born son, Andreas Kamati Amwaalwa is now a Headman for Omuthiya Gwiipindi village and a driver for the municipality and confirmed how he was the one left with the burden of looking after his siblings, during the period when his parents were imprisoned at Robbin Island in South Africa.

“I could not stand the terror and fear that engulfed us when the South African police came to our house to arrest my parents as they came with two helicopters and many cars. As the first born, I was left with the burden of taking care of my siblings during the period when my parents were in Robin Island prison,” says Andreas.

“When my parents were released from prison, I could not believe my eyes because there was a mixture of happiness of their presence but at the same time I was hurt looking at how thin they were,” he adds.

Andreas is not pleased with the conditions in which his mother is living in the North has and asked for the Government to cheap in and assist his mother with food and money to take care of herself and the family she is staying with.

Meme Justina was one of the three women at Robbin Island amongst a hundred men.

She tells the story of how endured the brutal treatment from the prison guards until she gave birth to her son, Petrus Natangwe Pretoria on 11 September 1967.

The name ‘Petrus’ symbolised Meme Justina’s strength and courage as she was kicked and pushed around by the police since being arrested whilst ‘Natangwe’ is an Oshiwambo name that means praise, signifying gratitude to God for protecting them in prison and ‘Pretoria’ in remembrance of the pain and the child’s birth place. He was to remind his parents of the pain and suffering, during the incarceration.

After giving birth to her baby boy, she was taken back into prison cells living in the same harsh conditions that she was living before giving birth.

“The prison authorities did not provide me with sanitary pads or even napkins. We survived under very difficult circumstances as women in prison. We had no means to acquire sanitary pads.

“Washing was also very difficult and the police told me clearly that ‘prisoners do not wash unless by orders.’ It was only later on when they realised that the place smelled heavily with stench that the circumstances forced them to allow us to wash once a day in the morning around six o’clock. This was the time of the day when it was really cold and there was no hot water. We did not have soap and had to wash with plain water and had no Vaseline to oil our bodies.”

The food she was getting was not good for a breastfeeding mother. “With the kind of food we were fed with by the prison authorities, my breasts could not produce enough milk. My son suckled whatever drops of milk he could get from my breasts. I was starved and my body was generally very tired. Despite all this, my captors did not give me any baby food supplements.

“In our custom when a woman had given birth, she must have her stomach immediately tied with a leather belt. Her head must be kept warm by tying a headscarf around it or wearing a warm hat. She must also be bathed in hot water or hot sand bags to relax her muscles after birth. I did not have a belt to tie my stomach after birth as was customary in my tradition back home. It was now especially important to me to have my stomach tied to avoid dizziness because I was hungry all the time and there was not enough food.

“Government should try to assist her with food and extra money to be able to take care of herself. Although I am working here, I do have a large family to cater for,” concludes Andreas.

Sadly, Tate Johannes Amwaalwa and Petrus Natangwe Pretoria are both late. PF