BEING MS. YA TOIVO
VICKI and Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo got married a week after independence in 1990 although the wife prefers to count the number of years she has known him, to be almost 26, not only the years they have been married.
The couple is blessed with twin girls, Mutaleni and Nashikoto (16) and has also raised two sons of Andimba’s sister, Philemon and Isaack, the latter being recently married.
“If old age implies limitations rather than wisdom, then neither of us believes in being old. In our outlook on life, we are “forever young.” We fight old age together,” she says.
If there is one thing that 49 year old Vicki keeps foremost in her mind; it is the recognition that her dear husband is a beloved hero of the Namibian people, and that she should not compromise his reputation in any way.
She adds, “We married each other because we love each other and are compatible. In important private respects, he is a modern man who is much more progressive than many of his peers, just as he was a pioneer in Namibian politics. But in Namibia, we are not simply a private couple or a private family, because Andimba, and his name, ya Toivo, which the girls and I carry, is very much in the public eye. We do not enjoy anonymity and it is quite a challenge to meet the high expectations that his name engenders.”
She is reminded of how in 1990, they happened to be together in New York at the same time as Nelson Mandela’s first visit to that city. Everyone wanted to be where Mandela was. Despite the fact that he was the Secretary General of SWAPO and one of the few personal friends of Mandela in New York at that time, Andimba decided to avoid the VIP treatment of protocol, bodyguards and the limelight that was being given to most people who were with Mandela at that time.
“We took the subway to Harlem and joined the thousands who had crowded the streets to see and listen to Madiba. We then headed by subway to Yankee Stadium, where he addressed a huge rally. We experienced this wonderful occasion anonymously, as part of the crowd seated in the third tier, while others were pushing for the VIP seats next to Madiba. Today, when we are in an area where we are not easily recognized, we take advantage of our freedom to enjoy walking through the streets and enjoying life like anyone else,” says Vicki.
The two first met in 1984 when he was released from prison and had come to New York. Vicki was a labour lawyer by profession in New York City, and a long-time political activist. She had been active in the movement in solidarity with ANC and SWAPO for some years.
She had invited Lucia Hamutenya, who was working at the United Nations, to an event to be addressed by American communist, philosopher and former political prisoner Angela Davis. Hamutenya asked to bring along two Namibian friends.
“I went to pick them up, and guess who entered my car? Andimba. He was with Leake Hangala. Andimba had been released from prison that year and I was shocked to see him because, I had never imagined that I would meet him someday. We had campaigned for his release and I could easily identify him because his picture had been on SWAPO’s New Year card of that year. He had come to attend the UN General Assembly as the SWAPO Secretary General. A few days later, he phoned me and asked me to meet him. I thought that he wanted to see me about political matters, but he got right to the point, as he usually does, expressed his attraction to me and proposed that we start seeing each other on a personal basis. The chemistry was too strong to resist,” she says. Although they agreed to keep the relationship private, she later learned that news of their relationship reached Luanda in a matter of days.
The lovebirds kept in touch after Andimba’s first visit to the US and met whenever they could, including travelling together to solidarity meetings in Boston and Toronto and meeting in London for the public celebration of Mandela’s 70th birthday. Andimba kept in touch with Vicki by letter or postcard from wherever he was in the world, while she ran up large phone bills to Angola.
The connections were apparently routed through Romania.
“We eventually decided to make a life-long commitment to each other and to get married.”
Andimba was invited to the then Soviet Union for a medical check-up and rest before returning to Namibia for the 1989 election campaign.
He learned that other comrades had taken their wives with them on similar visits to the USSR and he asked if he could bring “a friend”. The Soviet hosts agreed. Andimba and Vicki decided that they would try to marry in the Soviet Union.
Upon arriving at the sanatorium in the Crimea on the Black Sea, they made arrangements to get married during their stay. “But two days before the wedding, the director of the sanatorium came to us downcast and informed us that he had been told that the wedding could not take place because of some unspecified Soviet law. Since we knew of Namibians who had married in the Soviet Union, we thought that perhaps our hosts did not want to take the responsibility (or blame) for our marriage,” Vicki says.
Vicki coordinated several teams of lawyers from different countries who travelled to Namibia to observe the election campaign that year, and she was part of a team that was in the North for two weeks prior to and during the voting in the first elections.
She returned to Namibia for the Independence celebrations. “We wanted to marry on March 21 1990, (Independence Day) but Andimba had important responsibilities revolving around the Independence events and everyone was too busy. We got married instead, on 29 March 1990 at the magistrate’s court with two witnesses present. The late Smitty happened to be at the court and took a picture of me, which appeared on the front page of his paper (Windhoek Observer) the next day under a headline announcing our marriage. We did not have a wedding, but when the news broke out, many friends thought that a celebration had been held and that they had not been invited. On the contrary, Andimba said he did not want to burden his friends to help him to put on a wedding reception. I am still waiting for my wedding reception though,” smiles Vicki.
She has a busy full-time occupation as Special Adviser to the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, but also fulfills her duties as “minister of home affairs and finance,” as her husband puts it.
Andimba employs a driver during the week, but most of the days after 5pm he relieves his driver and drives on his own.
“I am against that though,” she says, after Andimba drove up to the house during the interview and she excuses herself to park the car.
She says that her husband believes that persons who aspire to positions of political leadership must be honest and committed to the well-being of the nation and should not seek such positions merely to acquire the benefits of a “good job” and a title of “honourable”.
He believes there is a need to nurture more Namibian young people to prepare to serve the greater community, not only in political life, but in all spheres of productive activity. This can be achieved through education and hard work, coupled with adherence to the positive values of a caring society that have been passed to them over the generations. Their parents and elders, in general, must take care to set a good example.
Andimba and Vicky share a common passion for politics. She says that her husband is a “natural politician” because he cares about people and is friendly to everyone.
“I am amazed at how he keeps in touch with so many people across the country, from all walks of life. When we travel by road in any part of Namibia, he stops to meet and pass time with people whom he has met recently or has known for many years. He also befriends complete strangers easily. He regularly opens his phone book to find the number of someone whom he has not had contact with in a while, so that he can call just to say “hello.”
“If he hears of a friend who is sick, he will visit. When we travelled to Cape Town last year to attend a special event, he insisted that we go directly from the airport to look for a friend from Grootfontein who was residing in a nursing home”.
“Just recently, I informed that a colleague whom he also knew had fallen down the stairs at work and had been taken to hospital, but that I had not been able to find out his condition. A few hours later, he phoned me from the hospital to say that the man was not there. I later learned that he had been treated and discharged”.
He once he received word that a relative of his late mother had died. He rushed to the North for the funeral and found the man sitting in front of his house.
“My husband is a human being with strengths and weaknesses like anyone else. But he is very much his own man. Some of his former Robben Island colleagues have asked me, jokingly how I could stand living with him, because he is so stubborn. Once he makes up his mind, it is very difficult to get him to change his mind (although our daughters and I have strategies)”.
“On Robben Island, he adopted the stance that he would have nothing to do with the authorities and would not accept “privileges”, since he did not recognize their right to imprison him and he did not want to be blackmailed by threats of privileges being taken away. Some of his South African colleagues would have preferred that he negotiate with the prison authorities and adapt to the privilege system”.
“But his defiance also endeared him to them and made him very popular among the younger generations that came to the Island in the 70’s. When I first met Andimba, I asked him how he avoided becoming crazy in jail. Without skipping a beat, he said that it was simple: he knew that he was fighting for a noble cause. That is how Andimba is. He is secure in his beliefs and he does not fear possible rejection. He speaks his mind. He still does not say things just to please someone. He is democratic-minded and values tolerance. To him, having political differences is normal. He has friends who are also his political foes.”PF
ME, MYSELF AND ANDIMBA
PF: How has Andimba changed since he retired from public office?
VYT: Nothing much. He has more freedom of movement now because he is out of public office. He still gets up at the same time, between 4:30 and 5am. He still eats the same type of food, does his one and half hour of exercises, stands on his head during the exercise, and he still leaves home early for his day’s activities. He has followed this routine since I first met him in 1984 and he has been consistent in everything he does. It is because of his devotion to exercise that I have been inspired to fulfill my dream to train for and run the New York Marathon. I have now run the New York Marathon twice in 2005 and 2007.
I am glad to have such a role model and to become a role model to many through him, especially after my New York marathon event. But he has not changed. Like most Namibians, he loves meat. He will never pass up matangara. My job is to make sure that he has a healthy diet. He eats simply and has trained himself to eat only when he is hungry. He has a certain time to eat, and if that time passes, he will not eat.
PF: What has he changed in you?
VYT: I do not believe, nor do I think that he believes, that one can change another person. He has been a role model for me in many areas and in so doing influenced my ideas and behavior.
PF: How best do you describe your husband?
VYT: Determined, honest, brave, secure, respectful, friendly, modern, tolerant, wise, stubborn, candid, fit, and handsome.
PF: What lessons have you learnt from him over the past years?
VYT: The importance of knowing yourself and having the courage to act in accordance with what you believe in;
• The importance of understanding and respecting the cultures and beliefs of other people and of reaching out to others in time of sickness and bereavement;
• The need to accept advice given to you by those who may have more experience or may know better;
• Acceptance of political differences, even among friends, as something normal and not to be feared;
• The importance of patience with children;
• The importance of keeping in touch with friends.
PF: How do you relate to him? Being married to a hero?
VYT: I relate to him as my husband and the father of our children, my advisor and interpreter in the ways of Namibia, while always keeping in mind his importance to the nation. Sometimes we have to sacrifice as a family in favor of the nation. I also keep in mind his age and try to help him to maintain good health.
PF: He is well known for his athleticism, what else keeps Mr. Ya Toivo going?
VYT: This is his medicine. His exercise habits which were required or perfected in prison enable him to live with the aches, pains, and stiffness many of us experience as we age.
PF: Who is his favorite hero?
VYT: They are two. Kwame Nkrumah and Nelson Mandela
PF: What do you now share in common?
VYT: Almost twenty-six years of shared experiences; shared beliefs in the importance of honesty and integrity; education and hard work; friends; family; especially our two daughters, who are still in secondary school; a passion for politics, for the ideal of socialism; for Cuba, for New York, for reading and the color red, enjoyment of travel, love of bagels (yes!).
PF: Which birthday of him do you remember well and why?
VYT: His 80th – the People’s Birthday Bash in 2004. Approximately 5000 people celebrated with us at UN Plaza in Katutura. It was an outpouring of love and respect for what Andimba has contributed to Namibia.
PF: If he was allowed to return to the age of 30 again, what else do you think he would wish for?
VYT: A chance for further education and greater tolerance among people.
PF: Anything that makes him like any other person?
VYT: Yes. He complains if someone leaves the lights on at night in the house.
PF: What is your message to wives of future leaders?
VYT: The message is simple. We need more of you in higher positions of leadership too. Be respectful of others and tolerant of differences, whether, cultural, religious or political. Bring up your children to be respectful of everyone and not to think that they are more important because they are children of ‘big shots’. They should be made to understand that their mother or father is not better than anyone else because of a high position or title, but that they have great responsibilities to those who have placed trust in them, and that the family must support them in carrying out their duties. Be modest and be a role model for what is good. I take a leaf from the First Lady; she has been an exemplary model to follow.
PF: Your Birthday Message to Andimba?
“My dear Andimba, we love you very much and we need you to be with us for many years to come. Keep on keeping on…”