Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration of Namibia’s Ex-combatants
By Hewat Beukes 11 June 2016 at UN PLAZA, Windhoek
The struggle for what is today known as Namibia started in 1884 with the advent of German colonialism. At first it started with the southern peoples, the Nama, Baster, Damara, the Herero and the Bushman where the Germans had immediately seized land. The groups initiating the struggle against the German were first the Nama followed by the Herero. The Baster later followed.
These struggles against the Germans culminated in the extermination wars against first the Nama and Herero in 1904-8 and thereafter the Baster in 1915.
In 1919 the League of Nations ceded the administration of the ‘territory’ including Ovambo and Kavango lands with the Çaprivizipfel’ to South Africa. Having been driven out of South Africa by ever expanding colonial annexation and land expropriation, the Khoisan in specific the Rehoboth Basters were the first to resist. Since 1919 they filed petitions to the League of Nations to object against South African colonialism. In 1923 an uprising of the Herero and Baster was looming in Rehoboth, but the town was encircled by South African troops with machine guns and canons. The Baster and Herero were disarmed, the Herero banished from Rehoboth and more than 40 ‘ringleaders’ of the Baster were to die by firing squad. A last minute intervention by the League of Nations staved off the execution.By then the Herero had lost virtually all their land and the Baster 2 thirds of their land.
The resistance continued on the political level with frequent petitions to first the League of Nations and then its successor in 1945, the United Nations Organisation (UNO). Civil resistance was continued by the nationalities led informally by Hosea Kutako of the Herero. He would later commission Baster, Herero, Ovambo emissaries to the UN to argue the case for Namibia and present the demands for in particular the land and self-determination of the nations of Namibia.
In the meanwhile a new evil had arisen under South African colonialism. Contract labour. In 1943 as a measure to institutionalise slave labour from the populous northern areas of Ovambo and Kavango lands, the South West Africa Native Labour Association (SWANLA) was established by the South African Administration. It brought young men from the north under conditions tying them to specific employers (owners/hirers) in the south in particular the mines, but also to the farms. Farmers and even small businesses of all races and tribes in the south used the facilities of this slave system.
Farms became killing fields for many of these young workers.
Together with skilled and semi-skilled labour from the south they built the Namibian infra-structure and untold profits and wealth for the mining bosses, commercial business and a fledgling industry including fishing.
The toll on them was horrendous. Besides the horror on farms, fathers and youngsters were broken from the families in humiliation and deprivation. It was the most complete system of deprivation and dehumanisation.
By 1960, the following social-economic and political demands and expectations, expressly and implied, led in the national demand for self-determination:
- An end to contract labour and proper wages and labour conditions;
- An end to restriction of movement and pass laws;
- A restoration of landed property of the Herero, Nama, Damara and Bushman;
- The right to self-determination of all nationalities in the territory now known as Namibia, including the independence of the Caprivi.
In 1959 there was the Old Location Uprising. SWANU leaders such as Kaukwetu played distinctive roles in directing the masses led by Damara and Herero women.
The sixties saw SWAPO initiating a token guerrilla war on the insistence of the AOU. This was not a serious attempt as illustrated by the fact that the Commander-in-Chief Sam Nujoma and his second-in-command Lukas Pohamba from Lusaka visited the South African Army and Intelligence at the international airport in Windhoek from where they went to Pretoria after which they returned to Zambia.
By 1970 the nation was politically represented by tribal chiefs, SWAPO was an Ovambo tribal organisation, SWANU a nationalist organisation supported by workers and lower middle class elements. Workers were embroiled in labour struggles in particular the contract labourers but by 1978, there was a fully-fledged national workers movement led by the Rössing miners articulating broad workers’ demands.
In 1971/2 contract labour staged a national General Strike which ignited the whole of the Southern African sub-region and led to 4000 youth fleeing in its aftermath to Zambia following persecution and torture by northern tribal authorities.
In 1970, in an attempt at a United Front, the National Convention was convened on 13 November 1970 in Rehoboth by the tribal chiefs, the Volksparty, SWAPO and SWANU. In response thereto the UN declared SWAPO the Sole and Authentic Representative of the Namibian Nation.
This was a clear renunciation of the Right to Self-Determination of the Namibian People.
Again, in 1975 after the declaration of the Namibia National Convention as the successor of the National convention the UN reiterated the status of SWAPO.
But, already a crucial incident had occurred earlier in 1974. Chief Clemens Kapuuo commissioned by the NC visited Europe and the United Nations to argue the case for independence for Namibia. While in Europe he sought the assistance of Peter Katjavivi the West European Representative of the SWAPO. While hosting the Chief and his delegation, Katjavivi blocked his access to African, European and Carribean Governments by slandering the Chief as a South African agent. The Chief met closed door upon closed door and was informed of SWAPO’s Sole and Authentic Representation status.
This broke up the National Convention. The Chief returned and joined the South African initiative to ostensibly lead Namibia to self-determination through what would become the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance in 1976.
This opened the door to forced conscription of Namibians into the Territorial Army.
There would have been no successful forced conscription if it was not for this particular event offset by SWAPO’s Sole and Authentic Representative status.
The malice of this act by the UN and the imperialists is seen in the fact that at the time they conferred Sole Representative status on SWAPO, PLAN and SPYL were in political struggle on the following issues:
- SWAPO was in alliance with UNITA and South Africa against MPLA.
- The SWAPO leaders were selling provisions (clothes, food, medicines, weapons) donated for the guerrilla war stored in massive warehouses as wholesalers while PLAN fighters were dying in the camps of hunger, went barefeet and many were without weapons.
- SWAPO had no political programme.
- SWAPO was not the representative of the Namibian peoples.
The foreign missions and the United Nations in Zambia were aware of the full extent as the SWAPO leadership’s inability to be the Government of Namibia.
SWATF, PLAN and the agreements for DISARMAMENT, DEMOBILISATION AND REINTEGRATION
It is within the above historical background which the question of the SWATF and PLAN must be viewed.
With the clear denial by the UN and the imperialists of the Namibian peoples’ right to choose their own representatives, tribal chiefs saw their only way out of a prospect of dominance by a tribal force itself as accepting the prospect of at least limited self-rule by the colonial power.
A result was forced conscription which saw teenagers and young men forced into the army most against their will, some out of joblessness, and a few out of choice. They were from the working class and poor peasantry.
The war itself was a low intensity war. More SWAPO members were killed by the SWAPO leadership and the SWAPO leadership in collaboration with South African than died in the war. The war reached some degree of seriousness only because of the commitment of fighters who thought they were fighting a just cause. Those who excelled were killed, because the war was not meant to be serious.
(Cassinga in 1978 and 1 April 1990 alone caused an estimated 1500-2000 deaths.) Thousands more were killed and thousands were not accounted for.
Nevertheless, this ‘war’ is the stuff from which the SWAPO leadership manufacture enduring myths: the war (meaning they as freedomfighters) brought independence. SWAPO was not part of the negotiations, in any event, not a decisive participant: The terms of independence were determined by the 5-Western Powers and negotiated with the Soviet Union, and South Africa. The period 1976-89 had seen a giant working class rise in South Africa in solidarity with the Namibian working class who were fighting pitched battles and brought the South African economy to its knees. By 1989 4 million workers could down tools at any one time.
South Africa could no longer rule under Apartheid and it found in the SWAPO leadership the tool to continue its rule.
Thus, since 1982 they worked out the conditions under which Namibia would become independent. SWAPO as a condition to be allowed to rule Namibia agreed to every condition guaranteeing the continued rule of the colonial ruling classes.
The issue of the SWATF and its demobilisation and reintegration were merely technical issues.
These modalities were contained in the 1982 and subsequent agreements and in terms of the Labour conventions of Namibia. Severance pay, pension and insurance had to be paid out. Jobs had to be created, preferably by integration into a Namibian Army.
SWAPO reneged on these terms immediately upon taking over government.
The reason why they did so and why they could so were twofold:
- The need to enrich themselves as quickly as possible, and,
- The lack of leadership amongst the demobilised soldiers.
- The lack of good faith from the side of the brokers of the agreements.
A black irony started to emerge. The issue of PLAN and SWATF were treated as a moral dichotomy: the one was a freedom-fighter and the other a murderer.
However, most PLAN fighters and former SPYL members were barred from benefits as slandered as spies.
Today, both groups remain on the edge denied income and work.
The criteria for conciliation, benefits and the coveted War Hero status took contradictory forms: Aupa Indongo a billionaire and known collaborator with South Africa has been anointed as War Hero with street names in Windhoek, police spies and former collaborators are SWAPO parliamentarians: Elton Hoff, a demobilised SWATF is Supreme Court Judge, etcetera, etcetera.
The problem which the soldiers and the PLAN face is that they have no clear programme to counteract the denial of the SWAPO leadership on the following:
- No effective counter-propaganda;
- No effective action plan;
- No clear set of demands.
Our position is clear as contained in our manifesto. We support the soldiers not only for compensation but as a section of the working class of this country which is being exploited and oppressed.
We will continue to propagate their position as part of our overall programme for the working class to take political power.