Tears of Courage: Five Mothers, Five Stories one victory

By By Michael Tambo
August 2011
Book Review
Ellen Ndesheetelwa Namhila in her fourth book, Tears of Courage, tells touching stories about real-life and personal experiences of five remarkable women who endured the shackles of colonialism and evil machinations of apartheid but continued to live in poverty in an independent Namibia.

In this book, published in 2009 by The National Archives of Anti-Colonial Resistance and the Liberation Struggle Project, Namhila narrates the story of some of these unsung heroes in Namibia heard from the voices of the women themselves, as they share their personal life experiences about their arrest, detention, humiliation, brutal treatment, verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of the apartheid police and prison guards.

The five women are the late Meme Priskila Tuhadeleni, widow of Eliaser Tuhadeleni; Meme Drothea Nikodemus, sister to Immanuel Shifidi; Meme Justina Amwaalwa, who was imprisoned in Pretoria with pregnant Meme Drothea who gave birth to a son in prison; Meme Lahja Iyambo, sister to Patrick and Ushona Iyambo; and Meme Aili Iyambo, widow of Ushon Iyambo.

“These five mothers vividly narrate their memories of resistance against colonialism and apartheid military incarceration and torture; their struggle to keep their families safe from torments of the apartheid brutality: their memories of waiting to be released from prison to be reunited with their families: their recollections of overcoming grief over the loss of a brother, husband and a child, their perseverance to overcome the agony of waiting for a husband and a brother to be released from prison and to return home, and their audacity and courage to fight till victory.”

In the foreword, Advocate Bience Gawanas writes, “It is not until forty years later that we know what happened in their lives, when they tell their heart-breaking stories in these pages. Anyone who reads their stories will know these women lived heroic lives. Yet, they have not been part of our history. Where were they when we hoisted the flag of Independence? Would we have known that they existed, if someone who was willing to dig deep into their souls and their pain did not record their stories? His-tory has forgotten them, as it often forgets the role played by women. When we sing Namibia, land of the brave,’ should we not also remember such as these five brave warriors?”

The title of the book Tears of Courage: Five Mothers, Five Stories, One Victory ‘portrays the bravery and strength of the inner spirit of these five mothers who fought till victory on 21 March 1990.”

“The struggle was the process by which many of us informed our identity. Therefore, if the history of the struggle gets lost, we will have nothing to help us understand who we are, what we were during the struggle and what we have become after independence. I strongly believe that in order to understand ourselves, we need to look back along memory lane. If we lose these stories that document the continuity between the different phases of our lives, we lose not only our history, but also ourselves,” says Namhila.

Meme Priskila Ndahambelela Tuhadeleni, one of the five women recalls how the first group of six Swapo man arrived at her place from Tanganyika were they received military training and she cooked for them for nine months during their stay at her home.

She says, “This is what they told me; we are combatants, sent from Tanganyika by President Sam Nujoma to mobilise the people of Namibia so that they understand, support and join our independence struggle. The President instructed us that on arrival in Namibia, we must report to Tate Eliaser Tuhadeleni and this is why we are here. We are fighting a guerrilla war and our true identity is a big secret.”

Meme Priskila also explains the hardships she went through, alone with a destroyed home trying to maintain the family, soon after her husband, popularly known that time as Kaxumba was arrested by the South African military police on 7 March 1967.

She says, “I struggled alone with a destroyed home to maintain the family. The children were in schools and that required school fees, but I had no money. We sometimes got ill and needed money to pay for the medication. We had cattle and goats in the house before the police destroyed our home. I do not know what happened to them. The police emptied our millet grains on the floor because they suspected Kaxumba to be hiding in the millet storage, so our food supplies were also gone. My family life had always evolved around the political life of my husband, even though he was taken away from us at a very affectionate time in our marriage. I was left lone to bring up our children under unbearable police harassment and in poverty.”

Another woman, Meme Dorothea Nikodemus who was imprisoned for feeding the ‘Swapo terrorists who went to bomb Oshikango,’ explains the torture and the brutality experienced by people inside a prison cell.

“If you heard noise, it was someone bringing food or water. Or, in case I coughed, I could hear my own voice coming back to me. The water they brought me was just for drinking; it was not enough for bathing. For months I did not wash and bath. Even when I menstruated, I could not bath. There was no one to ask where to wash and there was no water except the one for drinking. While in prison I was not given sanitary pads. When I had menstruation, I just watched my blood dripping to the floor. I felt humiliated. I felt dirty and stinky. This was deeply painful. I could not even change my clothes because I did not have any except the bags I had at the time the police arrested me from my home. How humiliating!”

Ellen Namhila is a librarian at the University of Namibia (UNAM) and is also working on other books which she says will be published soon. She is also amongst the women who joined the liberation struggle at the age of twelve in May 1976 and was in exile for more than half of her life. As a product of the struggle, she understood and shared the pains of these women because like them, she also lost a husband towards the end of the struggle. PF