By By Michael Dingake
August 2010
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I am in Windhoek to celebrate my friend Andimba Toivo ya Toivo’s birthday.

I would not have made the excursion to this bash, had a good friend in the Pan African Centre (PACON) not undertaken to sponsor the air ticket, accommodation at the Windhoek Country Club - all expenses paid. Very unpredictable world we live in.

One moment you may be an outcast, enemy number one of someone for no rhyme or reason and the next moment you may be recognised as the dearest of dear friends to be spoiled and pampered like the one and only child of the most child-loving parents on this normally child-hating planet.

I hopped into Windhoek from Johannesburg at 9 am local time and was met at the airport by friend Bankie of PACON. His Cape Town registered BMW delivered me to the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation Studio for a radio interview in which Hon Minister Andima Toivo ya Toivo, Brigadier General Sandie Sejake and myself participated. Sandie and I, of course, lavished, not undeserved applause on Andimba as we knew him but the three of us reminisced on our historic experience on the Island prison.

Andimba is not someone one can over-praise. Although a complex character - iconoclastic, straight-talker, haughty, fiercely militant and uncompromising on certain things close to his heart - he is also a very pleasant individual: charming, humble, down to earth, honest, simple, friendly and likeable.

On Robben Island, he was the only foreigner in our Single Cells Section, which held the Liberation Movement’s alleged “diehards” from the ANC, PAC, SACP, YCC, NEUM, and the Liberal Party. All the members of these organisations were South Africans, if one conveniently embraced the convenient argument of the Apartheid government, that I was also a South African.

Toivo was isolated from his Namibian colleagues, because he was ‘hardegat’/cheeky! His way-wardness was demonstrated in 1984 when he refused to be released for two “good” reasons: first, in terms of his 20-year sentence he still had 4 years to do; second, he could not be released leaving his co-accused in gaol. He had to be tricked by the authorities to get out of gaol!

Namibian independence, more than the freedom of black South Africans, was always on the cards. Besides the pressure of the armed struggle by Swapo guerrillas, the United Nations was permanently seized of the issue. It was a question of time. The prominent question in the minds of Namibians and political observers was who, among the Swapo leaders, was to emerge as the President in the independent Namibia - the name SWAPO had adopted and which Andima popularised in gaol. He addressed his entire letters home under the name, defying all threats and harassment by the authorities.

Generally, except perhaps in exile, it was presumed that Andimba was destined to be the first President of the new Namibia. He was the founder and moving spirit of SWAPO. In court he had said: “The South African government creates hostility by separating people and emphasising their differences. We believe that by living together, people will learn to lose their fear of each other. We also believe that this fear, which some whites have of Africans, is based on their desire to be superior and privileged and that when whites see themselves as part of SWA, sharing with us all its hopes and trouble, then that fear will disappear. Separation is said to be a natural process. But why, then, is it imposed by force, and why then is it that whites have the superiority?”

What complicated the issue was also that the apartheid press came into the picture in favour of Andimba against Sam Nujoma. For this reason alone, for patriotic reasons, Andimba would have decided to withdraw from competing for the lofty seat of presidency. But besides this uncalled for apparent interference from unlikely quarters, Andimba is far from a typical self-serving politician who only sees the political good in himself not in the masses/majority interest. If you know him well, he is in politics for strictly altruistic reasons....for other people, not for himself, or friends and relatives.

He has served in three ministries following independence of his country - Minerals, Labour and Prisons. Quite clearly, his Ministerial status had been going down and down. The gossip in government, social and political corridors, was that his successive demotions were as a result of his open-mindedness and his outspokenness. Very few leaders tolerate being told they are wrong when they are wrong. And Andimba is one man who will not say “yes” when he feels deep inside him that the right answer is “no”.

The birthday celebration of this man showed just how popular this unassuming man still is among his people. He is hero-worshiped across the social spectrum by workers, youth, women, men, white, yellow, pink, professional and non-professional. Long queues of admirers patiently stood in lines to shake his hand, embrace him, kiss him, ululate him for hours on end. I was deeply touched and awestruck by all I witnessed. Andimba has never been artificial in my mind. He has always been a fabulous human being. But for the first time, reluctantly I began to compare him with all my former fellow freedom fighters, and I found him head and shoulders above many.

Andimba is one of the very few, who when they happen to be in Gaborone will consistently call at my house, and if I happen to be in Windhoek he will insist I sleep in his house even when I am in Windhoek for my own private business having nothing to do with him. If we had leaders of the calibre of Andimba in Africa, would Africa be the same?

About the Author

Michael Kitso Dingake was born on 11 February 1928 in Bobonong Village, Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana). Dingake joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1952 during the Defiance Campaign and went on to serve in various capacities in different structures of the ANC. He was sentenced to a total of 15 years on 6 May 1966 at Robben Island. He was released on 5 May 1981 and repatriated to Botswana, although the apartheid regime had, ostensibly for trial purposes, claimed that he was a South African citizen. He wrote this article (slightly edited) which was published in the Mmegi of Botswana in 2004, after attending Andimba’s 80th birthday.PF