Death in the Desert: The Namibian Tragedy

Copyright 1989 Published by: Selous Foundation Press, Washington DC
ISBN: 0-944273-03-3 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 89-62602

Chapter 18

Civic Action

Footnotes appear in red, and appear at the end of the chapter, although in the original book they appear at the foot of the page in question.

"Winning the population can tritely be summed up as good government," said guerrilla warfare expert Sir Robert Thompson.1

The South African security forces took to heart Thompson's statement and, in partnership with the civil authorities, undertook a widespread active civil and military program to improve the quality of life for all Namibians.

Our focus, however, will be in Owamboland where the vast majority of the South African counterinsurgency effort was centered. Action taken in the operational area that hurt SWAPO had beneficial ramifications throughout Namibia. Since the majority of Namibians were living along the northern border and were potential targets of SWAPO coercion and propaganda, it followed logically the major counterinsurgency efforts would be there.

For an effective counterinsurgency effort to succeed, in Namibia or elsewhere, it must offer the people something better than what the revolutionaries are promising.

SWAPO was promising freedom from South African rule, but was actually offering a one-party Marxist-style society with its oppression and misery after independence. The South Africans were, in spite of UN meddling, offering Namibians a parliamentary-style independent government and a free enterprise market-oriented economy.

The main task was, while providing security from SWAPO violence, to develop political, social and economic infrastructures that would deliver a better life for all Namibians. This was a hard job to accomplish, but inaction would have handed Namibia over to the not so tender mercies of SWAPO.

This immense job had to be done while the security forces stabilized the security situation inside the country. As Thompson had said, ". . . it is a great mistake to imagine that either democracy or economic progress can be forced in unstable conditions. They will achieve a far more dynamic growth when normal conditions are restored and the population's energies, relieved from the strain of war, can be released for constructive purposes."2 Bearing that in mind, the South Africans decided that a successful counterinsurgency program in Namibia would require sufficient force to break any SWAPO hold on the people by providing adequate security to allow them to choose alternatives other than SWAPO. The authorities also felt they had to create new organizations or strengthen existing organizations to mobilize popular support for their program.

We will leave the security aspects of the counterinsurgency program to other chapters in the book with the caveat that the civic action program required success by the security forces or the civic action program would have been doomed from the start.

Since Namibia is an arid country, any program to better the lives of its citizens had to consider the essential question of water.

Apart from the rugged terrain in the extreme northwest near Ruacana, Owamboland is an exceptionally flat plain. This plain descends gradually in a southerly direction towards the Etosha Pan. Central Owamboland is covered with a network of shallow water courses known as oshanas The inhabitants have situated settlements and crop lands on what little high ground there is, between the oshanas.

A large part of Central Owamboland lies above a large subterranean brine lake. This means that people, animals and plants are dependent on surface water. During the rainy season (October to April) there is enough water in the oshanas but they dry up during the winter (June through August).

Improving the supply of water on a year-round basis would have a very positive effect on the lives of the inhabitants of Owamboland.

In order to make water more readily available to Owamboland, the South African government made an agreement with Portuguese Angola in the late sixties to provide water from the Caluequque Dam in southern Angola. South Africa also agreed to provide much of the financing for the project.

This project would have established an integrated irrigation scheme for Owamboland, and would also have provided electricity generated at the Ruacana hydroelectric complex, not only for Namibia, but for most of Southern Africa.
However, when the current Marxist regime took over in Angola, it cancelled the agreement. Now water must be pumped from Ruacana which can provide only ten percent of the planned amount of water.

The government built a pipeline and a canal system that carries the water from Ruacana along the main road to Oshakati and Ondangwa in central Owamboland. A secondary pipeline leads north of Ondangwa to serve Oshigambo, Etale and Eenhana.

Though SWAPO views these pipelines as sabotage targets they will normally only inflict minor damage on them as the terrorists know that permanent destruction would totally alienate the Owambo people who depend upon the water.

In spite of the non-cooperation of the Angolans, Namibia has undertaken an extensive program to provide enough water for domestic use, industry, mining, agriculture and recreation. The civil authorities currently administer 126 water schemes to provide water throughout the country. One of the more ambitious schemes is the Eastern National Water Carrier. When completed it will transport water over a distance of 710 kilometers from the year-round Kavango River, on the northern border to the interior as far south as the capital, Windhoek.

The authorities built dams, canals, and pipelines and sank boreholes to bring reliable supplies of water to more and more Namibians. In a semi-arid land water can be as precious as gold. Having a reliable supply of water has gone a long way to better the lives of the people and under-cut SWAPO propaganda.

Another program devoted to bettering the lives of Namibians was in the area of health care.

Namibia's health care service is among the best in Africa with a ratio of one medical doctor to every 4450 inhabitants. Its ratio of 166 people per hospital bed is Africa's third best.

In the operational area of Owamboland alone, there are fourteen hospitals. There is a 700-bed state hospital at Oshakati, three new government-run hospitals at Ogandjera, Tsandi and Ombalantu. In addition to the four government-run hospitals are ten private mission hospitals run by religious missionary societies-two Roman Catholic and eight Finnish. The central government in Windhoek subsidizes the mission hospitals even though most of the mission societies running the missions have been sympathetic to SWAPO. In addition there are thirty-one clinics throughout Owamboland. The Roman Catholic and Finnish mission societies run most of these.

The South African Defense Force (SADF) makes a large contribution to the maintenance of medical services in Owamboland. Regular clinics for the local population are held by the medical officers attached to the numerous military bases located throughout Owamboland.

As part of their "winning the hearts and minds of the people," medical corpsmen treat minor medical problems of people encountered by their units during their patrols in the bush. The medical corpsmen refer major medical problems encountered during these patrols to the nearest facility with a doctor-either a military base or one of the clinics or hospitals in Owamboland. If the problem warrants, the patient may be further transferred to the Windhoek State Hospital Complex, one of the most modern in Africa.

A system of regional hospitals, clinics and bush and mobile clinics, excluding those of the SADF, make health services available to, and within the reach of, virtually all inhabitants of Namibia. All together, Namibia has sixty-eight hospitals and 171 clinics looking out for the medical welfare of its people.

In the past, the health care system placed emphasis on treating and curing diseases. Now, even though these still are a large part of the Namibian health care program, emphasis is shifting to the prevention of disease.

The government has undertaken an extensive immunization program against such diseases as poliomyelitis, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles and tuberculosis.

Other public health programs include programs that involve the responsibility for the prevention and control of epidemics and fighting malaria and other infectious diseases.

Health education, family planning, care for the aged, medical and dental services at schools are also part of the civic action program undertaken by the civilian and military authorities in Namibia.

The authorities have launched major civic action programs in the operational areas on the northern border of Namibia to improve the economy of the area. Since most of this area is rural, the economy is based on subsistence agriculture.

Early in the terrorist war, while SWAPO was escalating its pressure on Namibia, both the government and private sector brought new development projects to the area. In 1976 and 1977 these projects included three new national corporations established to involve rural communities in the northern border area in self-help programs designed to provide new sources of jobs and industry

In 1978, in a move that showed confidence in Namibia's future, the economic planners decided to centralize the efforts of the three corporations and integrate them into a single national development effort. The First National Development Corporation of SWA/Namibia (FNDC) was founded. Its job was to develop trade, manufacturing, mining and agriculture throughout the country. FNDC functions as the central government's conduit to stimulate the development of a market-oriented economy in Namibia via government-backed loans. FNDC operates in the private sector and not only encourages private Namibian initiatives in developing the economy, but actively seeks investments in Namibia by foreign businessmen.

The FNDC also has another important function: it will finance and manage projects where private interests cannot or do not want to get involved. It, however, does not function in the American manner of "throwing money at a problem." Its primary goal has been to encourage and promote private enterprise and not to become a gigantic welfare scheme.

FNDC offers financing, training and expertise. Rural development, especially in the communal subsistence areas found in the operational area, have been an important part of its activities. It has made loans when projects appeared viable, and created or maintained work opportunities, processed local raw materials, manufactured products for the export market or produced commodities to replace items previously imported into Namibia.

Some projects that FNDC has been involved with include a number of crop farming and stock breeding projects, tourist facilities, three bakeries, two meat processing factories, garages, a dairy, soft drink bottling plant, wood-carving industry, agricultural research facilities and providing small industrial/ retail units for rent throughout the country.

In Owamboland FNDC activities include: a soft drink bottling plant in Oshakati that produces soft drinks under license from Coca Cola of South Africa; a meat processing plant and a bakery in Oshakati with a capacity of producing 17,000 loaves of bread a day.

A lively trade activity has sprung up in the operational area due to the influx of money from the security force presence in Owamboland. These are the numerous (over 6,000) small retail cuca shops that not only provide an income, but are also a status symbol for the owner.

The economic activity generated by the civilian and military authorities has transformed the lives of many Namibians for the better.

As a developing Third World country, Namibia suffers from a shortage of skilled labor. Part of the government's civic action program was to enlarge and use the educational system to provide the expertise needed by the labor force to successfully participate in Namibia's developing economy.

By 1987 these efforts were such that there were 11,945 teachers teaching a total of 364,400 pupils at 1,114 schools. This is a teacher to pupil ratio of about one to thirty.

The following chart portrays the progress made since 1971:

Year Pupils Pupils % Teachers Pupils/

Population teacher

1971 142,000 18.6 4151 34.3

1976 189,000 21.4 5459 34.6

1981 249,000 24.1 8139 30.6

1985 336,000 28.6 10,372 32.4

1986 350,000 30.0 11,121 31.5

1987 364,000 30.0 11,945 30.5

The schools include more than forty secondary institutions, thirty pre-primary schools, three centers for the handicapped and two agricultural schools. The primary schools instruct in the mother-tongue as far as possible.

The educational process encompasses all tribal and ethnic groups in Namibia as the following shows:

Distribution of pupils & teachers per ethnic group, 1987

Ethnic Schools Pupils Teachers


Owambo 501 198,533 4786

University 85 38,707 1460

Kavango 221 32,270 1052

Caprivi 65 19,453 729

White 65 16,823 1181

Coloured 37 15,696 652

Nama 46 15,351 625

Rehoboth 39 10,000 456

Damara 23 9,512 391

Tswana 2 1,016 40

1,122 364,404 11,945

Education in the operational area of Owamboland has grown substantially in spite of intense efforts by SWAPO to destroy the system. As the figures show, there are almost 200,000 pupils going to over 500 schools in Owamboland. When you consider that boys must stay home until the age of nine to twelve to look after cattle, the number of pupils in school is amazing. When you add the security situation in, it clearly demonstrates that raising the educational levels of their children is a prime goal of Owambo parents. The SADF are assisting in this effort. As the SADF has relied chiefly on conscripts for its manpower, a lot of teachers find their way into the ranks. The SADF assigns these teachers, as their military duties, to teach in the schools near the South African military installations in the operational area. The military, then, is also involved in a hands-on people-to-people educational effort throughout the operational area.

The central government in Windhoek directs education through its Department of National Education. The department is responsible for its far-reaching educational program and has overall supervision of training the teachers throughout Namibia. The schools under the authority of the department are fully integrated and are open to children of all races.

All government schools adhere to the same syllabus and pupils take the identical final school examinations to ensure uniform standards.

Looking forward to the future, the government established a center for higher education in 1980. Called the Academy, it is an institution of higher learning unique in Africa. It is an autonomous educational institute that provides three different kinds of education through three branches: the University of Namibia, a Technical College and the College for Out of School Training. The three branches of the Academy perform three major functions: (1) needs-oriented training to prepare students for the future; (2) research relevant to the country and its people; and, (3) community service.

The Academy has grown more than two-hundred-fold since its first classes in 1981 and has established accredited campuses at Oshakati, Rundu and Katima Mulilo, in northern Namibia.

The University of Namibia offers degrees and post-graduate work in five departments: Science, Arts, Nursing and Medical Science, Economics and Management Science, and Education. Nursing and education courses are offered at the Academy's campuses in northern Namibia.

The Technical College provides career-oriented training in the fields of business, commerce and management. Its courses are thorough requiring a minimum of three years study before graduation.

The College for Out of School Training offers both theoretical and practical training in many of the trades. This training allows students to not only learn a trade, but also to improve their skills in their current one. There is a section, the Distance Training Section, that allows students who live in outlying areas in the country the opportunity of furthering their studies without interrupting their careers.

The government and military are not the only ones involved in education in Namibia. Several private sector organizations are involved in uplifting the lives of the working. people in Namibia. Among those involved are: The First National Development Corporation (FNDC), the Institute for Management and Leadership Training (IMLT), the Private Sector Foundation (PSF) and the Rossing Foundation. Subjects covered are numerous and varied, from marketing, bookkeeping, taxation and personal finance to bricklaying, leather-work and needlecraft.

Education represents an investment in the future of a free and independent Namibia. Namibians will be better prepared than most of their neighbors to shoulder that burden.

The governing authorities have placed a high priority on housing as part of its civic action program. Government policy has been developed to support the idea that each inhabitant of Namibia should be able to own property according to his means.

The housing needs of people who have a good steady income are taken care of by the normal workings of the real estate market and the normal finance capital associated with it.

Many employers in Namibia, including the permanent government bureaucracy, have developed housing assistance programs to help their employees purchase their own homes. The banks and two building societies, the SWA Building Society and Namib Building Society, all provide private loans for home purchase.

In 1982, the government instituted a program to lessen the housing shortage for lower income families. It sec up the National Building and Investment Corporation (NBIC) which put the government in the home building and real estate business. NBIC designs houses that are within the reach of the low income families and will lend up to 100 percent of the purchase price. The loans are repayable over a thirty-year period, and depending upon the size of the loan, the interest usually won't exceed ten percent.

However, to ensure that a family does not use their entire income to repay the loan, NBIC structures the loan so that a family will not spend more than twenty-five percent of its monthly income on housing. This leaves the rest of the family income for necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, medicines, etc.

"Home ownership can be seen as one of the most stabilizing factors and to a large extent, the backbone of any community," said the Managing Director of the SWA Building Society. In the Namibian context it is very important as it instills a sense of ownership right in property in the individual. It gets him used to owning his house or patch of ground. Such a state of affairs is directly contrary to what SWAPO preaches: socialism with its abolition of private property.The deeper the roots of private property ownership sink into the consciousness of the Namibian people, most of whom come from tribal areas steeped in the concept of communal ownership traditions, the less attraction SWAPO's socialist program will have for Namibians.

The civic action program carried out by the South African and local Namibian authorities, in general, has followed McCuen's blueprint.

SWAPO intends to force its program of scientific socialism on Namibians, whereas the governing authorities used persuasion to sell their program. They did it by the simple method of showing that the governing powers were offering something better than SWAPO was: a self-governing freedom within a prosperous free-enterprise economy.

Debating SWAPO on the merits of free enterprise versus socialism was not enough. The governing authorities had to show proof of the advantages they advocated through action or implementation at the local level. The civic action program, which was more involved than that briefly described, demonstrated the wisdom of McCuen that "the population will be won or lost depending on whether or not the governing power can solve the direct, day-to-day problems of the people."3

Satisfying the day-to-day needs of the people, combined with their growing political maturity convinced the people that, not only was the government operating for the benefit of the people, but that it was carrying out programs of a permanent nature. This gave the people of Namibia a stake in the stability being brought about by the civic action programs and raised hopes for the future of their country.

Was the program a success? At this stage one can say yes, with the caveat that excessive UN meddling in the up-coming independence elections could undo a lot of the achievement of the counterinsurgency effort-much to the detriment of the people of Namibia.

Barring such UN meddling or an unchecked SWAPO intimidation campaign during in the election process, the program will have been successful. A good indication of this success is that the attitude of the people in the operational area has swung in favor of the security forces.

"With greater awareness amongst the local population of the true nature of SWAPO and of essential elements involved in a revolutionary war, coupled with a feeling of greater personal security, a new dimension has emerged. This was mainly brought about when the people started reporting the presence of terrorists and terrorist equipment to the security forces. This voluntary flow of tactical information to the security forces resulted in the present situation where the population is increasingly becoming an environment hostile to the terrorists. As the members of PLAN [Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia] are depending on the people for their survival, it is obvious that PLAN is losing the natural advantages which were previously taken for granted. Mao Tse-tung's basic principle governing successful insurgency, namely that the insurgent should be a fish in the sea of people, does not apply to PLAN anymore . . . It has been claimed that the people are supplying security forces with information merely for the financial gain to be had. This may be true. However, it should be borne in mind that the system of financial reward was originally instituted during the previous decade, and that it has only been since 1984 that the people of the affected area have started availing themselves of this. Reprisals are an ever present possibility in an insurgent environment and it therefore appears that the system only became viable once the personal security of the people could be guaranteed to a greater extent than had been the case previously "4

McCuen maintains that it is important to "commit the local leadership of all hues to the side of the government."5 The evolution of the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) and the Multi Party Conference (MPC), to a large extent, showed the South Africans had a reasonable degree of success. They were not able to attain large-scale Owambo participation in either the DTA or the MPC (fear, tribal animosities, or both can explain this). But even without Owambo wholesale participation the counterinsurgency efforts obeyed McCuen's dictum: "the legitimate aspirations and rights of all elements must be carefully considered and nurtured."6 The South Africans did have a program which took away the psychological and political initiative from SWAPO. In fact, SWAPO's sole hope now lies with the United Nations and the implementation of UN Resolution 435.

A primary objective of the South African counterinsurgency strategy was to establish a motivated, informed and politically stable population which is not amenable to the siren song of SWAPO's Marxism.

The Institute of Strategic Studies of the University of Pretoria (ISSUP) pointed out that, "In this process most of the political and social grievances have been done away with. As a result, the emotional wave generated by SWAPO has been neutralized to a great extent, although the organization is doing everything in its power to regenerate emotional animosity against the Transitional Government of National Unity. The second purpose of the strategy was aimed at bringing about a division between the population and the terrorists. At present a small number of terrorists are active in only a part of Owambo and as a result of a higher degree of personal security, the people of Owambo are able to hold their own to a greater extent against PLAN."7

In Namibia SWAPO, even at the height of its activities between 1976-83, was never able to destroy or infiltrate the civil infrastructure. Therefore, it was not necessary for the South Africans to start from scratch and replace it. Instead, their task was to restore order and tranquility so the existing civil administration could still function and carry out programs and reforms. As the ISSUP report shows, "In the execution of the counterrevolutionary strategy, the security forces are employed in a supportive role as the sharp edge against the armed revolutionary enemy. It is the responsibility of the security forces to create the physical environment in which the policies of the state can be implemented."8

This counter-revolutionary strategy requires a long-term process by the government as McCuen stresses, "which will allow him not only to stop the rebels' progress but to seize the initative and drive them back through the successive stages until they have been neutralized.’’9

Under the security umbrella provided by the South Africans, the authorities have not only stopped SWAPO, but have taken away their ability to gain a victory through their own efforts. By the end of 1987, South African counterinsurgency experts were convinced that "in order to ensure its continued existence, SWAPO will ultimately be forced to return to the democratic political system in SWA. As soon as this occurs the revolutionary wheel will have turned full circle, and SWAPO will have to return to the evolutionary process of development which it abandoned on 26 August 1966."10

Although Namibia is still a developing country and has a long way to go, by Western standards, the average person lives a lot better today than he did ten to fifteen years ago before the authorities embarked upon their massive civic action program.

As the various parties as the implement the provision of UN Resolution [206] 435, SWAPO will return (on the coattails of the UN) to the political process in Namibia. The success of the South African counterinsurgency program will have forced them to do so. The South Africans have proved that a democratic state is capable of successfully waging a successful protracted war against a revolutionary opponent.


1. Thompson, op. cit., p.42.
2. Ibid., p.113.
3. McCuen, op. cit., pp.59-60.
4. The War in SWA/Namibia, Institute for Strategic Studies, 4/87, Pretoria, pp.8-9.
5. McCuen, op. cit., p.86.
6. Ibid.
7. The War in SWA/Namibia, op. cit., pp.10-11.
8. Ibid., p.11.
9. McCuen, op. cit., p.79.
10. The War in SWA/Namibia, op. cit., p.11.

@ A Forgotten War
@ No more heroes
@ What happened to the boys on the border?
@ In conflict

@ Death in the Desert: The Namibian Tragedy Chapter 6
@ Chapter 7
@ Chapter 12
@ Chapter 13
@ Chapter 14
@ Chapter 15
@ Chapter 16
@ Chapter 19
@ Chapter 20
@ Chapter 21

@ Civil supremacy of the military in Namibia



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