Namibian turning point – forty years ago today
Forty years ago today the World Court announced its judgement that South Africa’s rule of Namibia was illegal. It happened, most appropriately, on the Winter Solstice. Until then the nights had been longer than the days and getting longer. But thereafter, though the nights were still longer than the days, they were getting shorter.
It was to be another nineteen long years before the last South African troops crossed the southern border, and Namibia heaved a collective sigh of relief.
The longest night was still the longest night, but for the first time it gave real hope, hope that the dawn was getting ever closer. Nothing changed, yet everything had changed.
Here’s what I wrote in my diary at the time, for what it’s worth. Perhaps I should explain, by way of background, that I was at the time a self-supporting priest in the Anglican Church in Windhoek and worked at the Windhoek Advertiser as a proof reader, and that Deve de Beer (who also worked for the Anglican Church) and I were stringers for the Argus Africa News Service, which fed most of the evening newspapers in South Africa.
Monday 21 June 1971
I took Musrum up to Woodway to have its silencer fixed, and then Dave took me to work. I sent off stories to the Argus Africa News Service about the World Court verdict due to be given today. There was a surface calm, and apparent indifference, but people in high places appear to be worried. Die Suidwester had an editorial asking people to keep calm, and not to take hasty decisions, and Dirk
Mudge, the acting administrator, also made a plea for calm.
At lunch time I went to the court, and saw Chris Nicholson there. He said he had heard on the radio that the World Court had decided by 13 votes to 2 that South Africa had no right to be in South West, and thought it would be interesting to see who the 2 were. It would be a guide to the impartiality of the court. If they were British and French, it would show that national self-interest dominated the proceedings, rather than a real concern for justice.
We carried the story on the front page of the Advertiser, and Cowley wrote an editorial about Bantustan presidents or leaders going overseas to do a power of good to the homelands policy. Jimmy [Jimmy Simpson, the subesitor]was bitter about the World Court, and said it looked like his fishing would be over. When I asked him why, he said, “Well, with the United Nations taking over”. I don’t see why the United Nations will prohibit Jimmy from fishing, but he seemed convinced they will.
After work I went to the diocesan office and Dave was there; I went out to see Clemens Kapuuo, but was told he had gone to town, and on the way saw Johan Penderis walking back from rugby practice, and gave him a lift. I went out again later to try to find Clemens Kapuuo, calling at the diocesan office again. Abraham Hangula was there, and he asked what the verdict was and when I told him he beamed and shouted “Alleluia!” and then said “If the South African government leaves, then we can really preach the gospel.”
I gave Dina a lift to Katutura, and ran out of petrol. I asked her what she thought about the World Court decision, and she said she didn’t think. But she asked all sorts of questions, like what would South Africa do, what would happen if they pulled out, and would they really pull out. When I got to Clemens Kapuuo’s shop there was a group of men standing outside, Mbuende among them. Mbuende introduced me to the others, who were Herero councillors from Aminuis. One of them burst out “We are so glad about the World Court decision that our country is ours”, and there were great smiles all round. Mbuende said that Kapuuo was not at home, but had gone to Omaruru. I asked if any of the councillors was prepared to make a statement, but they all wanted to wait until Clemens came back.
I then asked him about a Mr Meroro, the chairman of Swapo, who had recently issued a press statement denying that he had said what the SABC had said he had said. Mbuende took me to see him – his shop was nearby – and he said he would not like to make any comment until he had spoken to his vice president in Walvis Bay. But he would say that he was very pleased with the decision. He seems quite a pleasant bloke – though
not a leader like Clemens Kapuuo. I took Mbuende back to the diocesan office to see the bishop, and arranged what was to happen about the Herero church conference, but the bishop and Dave had gone to see pastor Reeh. We spoke to Clive Whitford who said we could quote him as saying he was “overjoyed” by the World Court decision. He said I should attribute it to “a white professional man” and not to a “teacher”, since he and Chris Roering were the only teachers (white) in town who could possibly make such a remark.
I took Mbuende back to Katutura, and started writing stories for the Argus Africa News Service, which we went to put in the telegram box at the post office, and returned to listen to Vorster’s speech on the radio at 8:00, which was predictable enough. It was funny to hear a man who bends the law to suit his own purposes complaining that others were doing this. The fact that it was the British and French judges who dissented might lend credence to this, because it was their national self-interest that was at stake.
After the speech Meroro phoned, and said I should ring the acting president of Swapo at Walvis Bay, Nathaniel Mahuiriri, and he would give me a statement, and how he did. They seemed to be having a party at his house to celebrate the decision, and he asked loudly in Herero what they all thought of the judgement, and everyone clapped. He said he regarded the judgement of the World Court as the judgement of God, and that they did not hate whites, the whites must stay, but there must be no more
apartheid, no more homelands, only one homeland for all, one nation, one Namibia. He went on for half an hour, cataloguing his objections to the contract labour system, saying Vorster’s speech on the radio was hypocritical, and when I asked him what he thought of Clemens Kapuuo, he said Swapo respected him as an honest man who spoke for his people; unlike Ushona Shiimi who was a stooge, a puppet, a tape recorder, who repeated what he was told to say.
That, I thought, was true, but nobody in their right mind could take Ushona Shiimi seriously, or think he spoke on behalf of anyone but the South African government. I have not met a single Ambo who does not think Ushona Shiimi is a big joke. After the call ended, I wrote out his statement, or the relevant bits of it, and Dave wrote a description of Windhoek at lunch time, and then we dumped those in the telegram box too, and then went off to have a drink at the Berg Hotel to celebrate, and went home to bed.