The following is an article that I presented to a seminar this year at Michigan State University. I am trying to find publishers for it in Namibia. Well, I hope it will be of benefit to those who are interested in women issues in Namibia. Kazembua Matundu Tjiparuro at the New Era has asked for it. Please, Namnet - give him a print-out of this!
[Rukee Tjingaete is a Ph.D. student at Michigan State University in the field of Mass Media. He is a Namibian]
The study is a in which I want to analyse the impact of the role played by women in the liberation war in Namibia My argument is that the success of the new social movements depends on its endorsement by members of the old movements who had fought for national independence. I will also try to provide a historical explanation for SWAPO's ability to attract more urban women into its rank and file during the war, compared to rural women.
The idea to pursue this topic came as an attempt to expand the issues raised particularly by Samir Amin (1993), as well as my reservation to the position taken by Mahmood Mamdani et al (1993) in the two articles that I have reviewed as reference for analyzing the new social movements at the periphery. In his article, Samir Amin argues that the social movements in Africa in the past century could not operate outside every nation's major struggle for national independence. They were obliged to accept the platforms offered by the party and its leadership which Amin describes as:
"a model of the unifying party setting itself the objective of bringing together social classes and various communities in a vast movement that was disciplined (often behind more or less charismatic leaders) and effective in action towards a single goal."
The inherent danger of this approach as Amin points out is how movements that are initially 'anti- systemic' become moribund once the single goal of national independence has been achieved. Progressive militancy is then replaced with a conservative tendency that allows co-option of the emerging nations into the unequal development of global capitalism in the periphery. This is the stage where polarization between the vanguard party and its many constituencies develops, unless the vanguard party is willing to embrace the challenge of either (i) embarking upon what Amin refers to as "the path towards the construction of a popular national state" or (ii) rethinking seriously "the question of a socialist transition" (p.82-83). A conflict ensues in which the liberation 'old' national movements is intolerant with any new social movement wanting to go beyond mere national independence. The question that we ought to ask is whether these new social movements have the credibility or capacity to go beyond the achievements of the 'old' national liberation movements and to effectively challenge capitalism's obstacles to the advances made by the people. Are these new social movements capable of advancing a fresh agenda to confront the new structural inequality of modern capitalism? This is how Samir Amin critically assesses the strength and credibility of the new social movements in the periphery:
"Some of these movements look to us like dead ends.... They are merely symptoms of the crisis, not solutions to it. Therefore they are products of disillusionment" (p.87).
Furthermore, Samir Amin correctly argues that the new social movement should first find their place in the rebuilding of societal project, as the initial step away from the "exclusive ground of conquering the state" without having a conception of the social power to be conquered. This advice is very relevant to leaders of new social movements who sometimes want to take short-cuts to state power without going through the vigorous experience of working with the people.
"The forms of organization built around the dominant traditional conception that power equals state, are doomed to lose a good part of their legitimacy as people always appreciate the nature of the conservative state!" (ibid, p.87).
I also disagree with Mahmood Mamdani (1993) et al who argue that the democratization issue must be at the heart of the agenda of new social movements in Africa. As long as the activity of the democratization movement is funded by the U.S. State Department through some of its external agencies such as the many freedom foundations, its chances of gaining grass-roots support is questionable.
But Mahmood Mamdani (et al) have a very strong case that in order for the 'democratic theory' to become popular, it must not merely be limited to "the right of those who labor in society" but it must also come to terms with the rights of the youth and women whose role in popular movements is important.
"The focus on the question of popular movements and democracy should not lead to an exercise in abstract model-building... Rather the point is to underline actual forms of organization and participation, democratic or otherwise, that have emerged in the historical development of popular movements in Africa (ibid, p. 112)
Finally, I have also reviewed several articles, speeches and analysis by guerilla leaders that Aquino de Braganca and Immanuel Wallerstein (1982) compiled into a three-volume documentation of Africa's national liberation movement under the heading: "The African Liberation Reader." I also felt as if I was at the right time on the right spot in the MSU library, when I co-incidently stumbled upon a book written by Richard Gibson (1972), entitled: "African Liberation Movements: Contemporary Struggles Against White Minority Rule" which I read several years ago, in the dim of a candle-light in a United Nations refugee camp in Botswana. In this book, which I once considered my "revolutionary Bible" (apart from Mao's Redbook), Gibson provides a detailed picture of the ideological differences between the then pro-Soviet movements comprising the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa, Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU), and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) led by Agostino Neto, and the Southwest African Peoples Organization (SWAPO) of Namibia on the one hand - and the Chinese supported movements such as Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and the Southwest Africa National Union (SWANU) of Namibia (Gibson, 1972; Braganca & Wallerstein, 1982). Although Gibson traces most of these movements' ideological differences to the Sino-Soviet conflict, there were clear strategical and military differences. For example, the literature reveals that ZANU, a Chinese-supported movement strongly emphasized the peasantry as the 'foco' of its revolution, while the Soviet-trained SWAPO channeled resources into the mobilization of the labor movement in Namibia whose membership tends to be predominantly men.
SWAPO as a movement emerged out of labor politics. Its three prominent founder members, Sam Nujoma, Toivo ya Toivo and Jackob Kuhanga had strong labor background which motivated them to launch the first Namibian trade union that became known as the Owamboland People's Organization. OPO took a major political step when it was transformed into SWAPO, the main liberation movement that guided the country's independence struggle.
Although it is argued that OPO was tribally based, its initial affiliation with SWANU, the oldest liberation movement in Namibia, clearly indicates that its leadership consisted of broad-minded revolutionaries who considered national independence as the key priority. Therefore, it is politically naive to characterize the formation of OPO as tribally-motivated at the expense of the strong workerist element that guided its establishment. SWAPO's historical labor connection only provided a cosmetic blue-print for its appearance as a Marxist-Leninist movement of the working. While this approach proved a viable catalyst for Soviet-support, SWAPO leadership steered the party along nationalism and transformed the party into a solid mass movement for the single objective of attaining independence. This point was proved when at the eve of independence, its Marxist- Leninist ideology was dropped in favor of a socalled 'pragmatist' approach. Furthermore, SWAPO did not have a very strong ideological rival in SWANU for the support of the radical cadres. SWANU under a revisionistic leadership of Vekuii Rukoro, a strong pro-Western liberal who launched a hysterical witch-hunt to cleanse his party of its Ndjozeist socialist line [Ndjoze was one of SWANU's most briliant leaders who died before independence in Botswana]. As a result, SWAPO was able to benefit extensively from both the Soviet and Chinese resources in the absence of a SWANU rivalry. But SWAPO differed with its pro-Soviet camp led by the ANC in one major aspect: it conducted, just like ZANU in Zimbabwe, an effective Maoist/Guevarian guerilla warfare. Unlike the pro-Soviet alliance of ZAPU/ANC/MPLA whose Soviet military training emphasized a small efficient elitist guerrilla army, SWAPO adopted the Maoist philosophy of a people's army, which was sustained through a rural network. It attacked white commercial farmers to dislodge their claim to the land. Once again, SWAPO was in an advantage position in that it did not have to face any rivalry for peasant support, (mostly men) who left their homes to join the exiled wing of the movement. Although the peasantry as a social class carried most of the burden of the liberation war, in my view the movement did not emphasize it as a significant revolutionary class. It is in this aspect that SWAPO differed with ZANU. Unlike ZANU, SWAPO had a strong labor movement support that could not be abandoned in favor of the peasantry.
Women resistance against colonialism in Namibia dates back to 1904, when Herero women voluntarily launched their historic 'sexual intercourse strike' to pressurize men to fight and end German occupation (Cleaver & Wallace, 1990, p.80). They vowed that they would not bear children until the war against German settlers was over. However their resistance against the new South Africa regime, that had overthrown German occupation in 1915, took a more direct confrontation. On December 10, 1959, the Namibian women under the leadership of SWANU led an overt resistance to South Africa's forceful land confiscation policy in Windhoek. On that day the South African forces opened fire, killing twelve people and injuring 54. As in Zimbabwe, where Nehanda took the lead, the SWANU leadership during the 1959 demonstration included Kakurukaze Mungunda, a woman militant who marched side by side with other nationalists such as Sam Nujoma, Ngavi Muundjua, Aaron Tjatindi, Eliphas Tjingaete, Moses Garoeb, David Meroro and Johny Ya Otto and Mutumbulwa. Kakurukaze was gunned down and became one of the first women martyrs of South African brutality. Today, December 10 is official day in Namibia which is commemorated in honor of Mungunda and those other people whowere killed. It is also the day when people resolved to adopt the armed struggle as the only response.
"She was hit by a bullet in the chest; realizing that she had been fatally wounded, Mama Mungunda...stumbled, despite profuse bleeding, towards a parked car belonging to the (white) superintendent of the city and managed to set it ablaze with a box of matches. Shortly thereafter she died...It is a tribute to the bravery and heroism of Kakurukaze Mungunda, that SWAPO has designated 10 December Namibia's Women's Day." (SWAPO, 1981).
Potuse Appollus a woman activist would say later that she saw in the Windhoek massacre a change in the nature of women resistance as they "activated the hitherto patient force embodied in the indomitable willpower" of the Namibian women. Following this massacre, Nujoma's labor movement broke away from SWANU which was reluctant to take up the armed struggle and reconstituted itself into SWAPO which eventually led the Namibian masses to freedom through an armed liberation war. But unlike in Zimbabwe, where women had always been part of the 'Second Chimurenga,' the Namibian women were not fully energized into a vibrant combat force at the early stage of the war. For example, the SWAPO Women Council (SWC) was not formed until 1969, but then only among the exiled community until in 1980 when the first SWC congress was held in Angola. At this meeting demands were made for changes within SWAPO to "recognize the women's participation in all aspects of the struggle and to share leadership" (Cleaver and Wallace, ibid, p.81). But as Sparks and Green (1992) confirm, the policy of SWAPO women in combat role was questioned by men at first. But since the SWAPO's 1989 election manifesto mentions very limited roles for women in the army of an independent Namibia, it confirms earlier assumptions that the partys "role for women in combat was always considered extraordinary." (p.143), despite Namibian women's commitment to participate actively. The ratio of Namibian women to men in the army today ought to be an issue of affirmative action just like in the other sectors of government service..
"At the launching of the armed struggle in 1966, there were only a handful of women in the movement in exile. But within the last 20 years, the women have become visible in practically every aspect of the struggle" (SWC, 1987).
Most prominent women activists in the rank and file of SWAPO were young and urban-based. SWAPO initially filled its rank with female students, nurses and many domestic workers from the largest urban centers such as Windhoek, Keetmanshoop, Tsumeb and Walvisbay. In fact, a number of SWAPO's women 'heavy-weights' such as Getrude Kandanga, Martha Ford, Pendukeni Ithana, Libertine Amathila, Ida Jimmy, Rauna Nambinga, Maria Kapere and Ida Hoffman were urban-based. According to Tessa Cleaver and Marion Wallace (1990) women and children constituted the majority of those who remained in the villages, while generally the men had left to join SWAPO or to work in the migrant labor system. But still, the Namibian women could not avoid the war. Just like in the situation of Zimbabwe, they were the object of the white soldiers' brutality. One of the brave women who had endured police brutality in jail was Rauna Nambinga. Rauna was detained several times for being an active SWAPO leader. She recalled part of her ordeal in jail in an interview published by the International Aid and Defense Fund (1988):
"Electricity was attached to the little fingers of both my hands. It was switched on and off...A rope was tied around my neck and pulled. I fell down unconscious. When I woke I was in a pool of blood and realized that I had broken my jaw and blood was running. I asked for a doctor but was told I was not going to be given one until I told the truth...then they started with their electrical instruments; this time it was administered on my breasts. It went on for almost three hours..." (1988, p.64).
Rauna's experience was not in any way better than that of another activist, Ida Jimmy, who gave birth to a baby boy, Kondjeleni, in jail under all kind of complications due to torture during her five- year imprisonment. The boy was taken away from her and immediately died, but she was never allowed out of jail to attend the funeral (IDAF, 1989, p.61). The torture and brutality perpetuated against women activists under apartheid had left permanent scars which today serve as reminders of the price Namibians had to pay for freedom. Whether reparation will be paid to those who were rendered physical disability and mental derailment is perhaps one of the key questions that the new social movement must address. Many women in Namibia have not yet come forward to tell their stories. Most of them are still frightened to speak, and are still haunted by UNITA bandits who are roaming in North-Eastern Namibia. According to Tesca and Wallace (1990) the stories women tell are emerging only now as Namibia is "becoming a safer place to speak openly." Most of the prominent SWC leaders were first tortured and then 'banned' from appearing on SWAPO political platforms. This group includes Libertine Amathila, Lucia Hamutenya, Ida Jimmy, Getrude Kandanga, Ellen Musialela, Rauna Nambinga and Nhambo Shamena (Eriksen, 1989, p.205). With independence, women in Namibia hoped that their return out of exile will provide impetus to the women movement inside Namibia. It is expected that they will help to clear the lack of clarity that has always surrounded the women agenda in the context of Namibia. Due to this lack of clarity, the agenda of the Namibian women has been prey to false interpretations. For example, I take strong exception to Cleaver & Wallace's claim that "from its inception, SWC has gone on to focus 'exclusively' on women's oppression and the struggle for equal rights inside Namibia (p.82). This, in my view is an inaccurate and exaggerated interpretation. The women activists both inside and outside Namibia never pursued an exclusively different agenda from that of the liberation movement. In fact, SWC had never attempted to sustain a gender-based agenda outside the contextual text of African nationalism. Besides, the exodus of the women activists into exile, created a 'brain-drain' that only the Namibian Council of Churches (CCN) could fill with an ecumenical than a gender-based philosophy. It provided funds and facilities for women to organize for community development programs guided by a strong liberation theology approach.
Since independence, Libertine Amathila (Minister of Local Government and Housing) has been urging women to stand up and be counted as a powerful force of social change. But a substantial number of women have not been sure if they must at this stage wrench the initiative away from SWC's activists-turned- politicians such as Libertine Amathila, Pendukeni Ithana (Minister of Youth and Sports) Nora Chase (Ambassador to Germany) or Netumbo (Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs) in favor of independent grassroots empowerment programs. For example, some of the small pressure groups that emerged on the eve of independence were caught up in this dilemma. Lacking the support and endorsement of SWC which had been strengthen by the return of its exiled leadership, they disbanded and joined ranks with SWC. This was a very important strategic approach in view of South Africa's attempt to deny SWAPO of an electoral vote. The Namibia Women's Voice (NWV) was one of these groups. Despite its claim of a widely national support, it only operated locally, with representation only in Windhoek, Oshakati and Keetmanshoop. Most of its activities were funded by the CCN and co-ordinated with the YWCA. But their urban-based approach raised serious questions of legitimacy due to the apparent lack of the voice from the silent rural majority. This lack of rural voice is a very serious concern that threatens the credibility of most women organizations in Namibia today. Despite this inherent weakness the CCN had always endorsed them and provided them with sufficient funds to continue. The YWCA started its operation in Namibia in 1985 at the instigation of its counterpart in South Africa. Its leader, Agnes Tjongarero, an active SWAPO activist during the struggle prescribes to a more grassroots approach. She, Lindy Kazombaue, and Andre Straus, who had been very active inside Namibia during the struggle, perhaps should have been supported to pursue independent grassroots projects. It is simply not possible for government to cover all the areas in need of development. The size and budget of the government has got its own limits. Therefore, all progressive elements in the Namibian society must be energized to compensate government efforts in development. According to Cleaver and Wallace (1990):
"NWC's political position was perceived as ambiguous, its opponents claimed that it had been divisive, drawing people away from the SWC, failing to consult with other progressive groups, and that it was open for infiltration as there were insufficient checks on membership and that the sources of funding were unknown... but many women choose to be members of both NWV and SWAPO, maintaining the view that conflict between the organizations is unnecessary" (p. 93)
In response, Kazombaue maintained that she only wanted open membership because "politics is a segregator."
"NWV is open to all women adhere to the policy of not working with the system. We have to uplift people now in order that they can take part in the struggle."M
This was very clear that NWV had a strong anti-systemic policy towards the regime of South Africa before independence. Unfortunately, NWV was disbanded for the sake of women unity and solidarity and to prevent division at the height of a very important decolonization stage in the history of the country. But now that the country is free, it is perhaps important for SWC to endorse and support progressive and decentralized community and grassroots initiatives to speed up the development and empowerment process of the women component of society, particularly in rural Namibia. Every effort should not be dubbed divisive.
What about the newly formed Namibia Women Action for Equality Party (NAWAFEP)? This group was formed this year and its president, Ilenikelao Latvio is contesting the coming general election scheduled for this week in Namibia on a women ticket (MISA Report, December 1994).
According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) report, the aim of the organization is to "protect the dignity, self-respect and personal freedom of Namibian women in view of mounting religious and cultural fundamentalism." Latvia's organization seems to be type that Samir Amin refers to as "dead ends" [see analysis in introduction of this paper]. She is trying to reach the state house on a wild-ticket of the women vote, without having a "conception of the social power" that comes through mobilization and hard work. Latvia had never been in the picture and NAWAFEB clearly lacks an agenda.
Women activism in Namibia has been an urban-based phenomenon due to SWAPO's historical labour origin. Today, the women's new social movement is in danger of inherriting an urban-based agenda that may neglect the voice of the silent rural majority. The question of land reform needs to be seriously addressed by policy-makers as land remains the central incentive to rural people's power. The problem of structural inequality and poverty and its effects on Namibia's rural women must be addressed by the country's Land Reform Commission that has been operating under the supervision of the Prime Minister. Increased women participation at the next land reform conference is necessary.
The motivation behind NAWAFEB's formation, which is stated as "fear of religious fundamentalism" is outrageous! It demonstrates the danger inherrent in the new social movemts lack of an agenda which can be exploited by those who wants to take a short-cut to state power. Namibian has not yet fully recovered from the effects of her brain-drain suffered during the long period of banning and exodus of the experienced cadress into exile. Unfortunately most of these activists have been absorbed into the public and private sector since independence, and the women grassroots organizations continue to face the effects of a new post-independence brain-drain. In order for the new social movements to gain credibility, it must address these issues. Presently, this has not been done. The Namibia independence is only a four-years- old girl, trying to find her way in a male-dominated world!
Amin Samir (1993). "Social Movements at the Periphery," in Pona Wignaraja: The New Social Movements in the South: Empowering the People. New York, Zed Press.
Cleaver Tessa & Marion Wallace (1990). Namibia Women in War, Zed Books Ltd. Lodon.
Dumbutschena Enoch (1991) in Women Action Group (1991) Speak Out, Taurai, Khukumani (January-March 1991), Harare, Zimbabwe.
Eriksen Linne Tore (1989). The Political Economy of Namibia: An annotated Critical Bibliography. The Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, Sweden.
Gibson Richard (1972). African Liberation Movements: Contemporary Struggles Against White Minority Rule. Institute of Race Relations, Oxford University Press, London.
Herbstein Denis & John Evenson (1989). The Devils are Among Us: The War for Namibia. Zed Books Ltd. London and New Jersey.
IDAF/AAM, (1988). "Children, Apartheid and Repression." A Papaper presented at London Conference of the International Defense and Aid Fund/Anti-Apartheid Movement.
Media Institute For Southern Africa (MISA) Report, Novemeber 1994, Windhoek, Namibia.
Mahmood Mamdani et al (1993). "Social Movements and Democracy in Africa" in Pona Wignaraja: The New Social Movements in the South: Empowering the People. New York, Zed Press.
Nzenza Sekai (1988) Zimbabwean Woman: My Own Story. Karia Press, London.
Sparks Donald L. and December Green (1992). Namibia: The Nation After Independence, Westview Press, San Fransisco
Wallerstein Immanuel and de Braganca Aquino (1982). The African Liberation Reader: Documents of the National Liberation Movements (Vol.1-3), Zed Press, London.
Weiss Ruth (1986). The Women of Zimbabwe. Kesho Publications, London.