SWAPO: A Marxist-Leninist Organisation

Death in the Desert: The Namibian Tragedy

Chapter 6

By Morgan Norval

Copyright 1989 Published by: Selous Foundation Press, Washington DC

ISBN: 0-944273-03-3 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 89-62602

NOTE Page numbers appear between [square brackets] at the start of the page. Footnotes appear in red, and appear at the end of the chapter, although in the original book they appear at the foor of the page in question.

[57] The South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) evolved out of an organization founded in Cape Town in 1957 by a former railway policeman, Herman Toivo. It was called the Owamboland People's Congress (OPC) and underwent several metamorphosis-the Owamboland People's Organization (OPO) and then, finally, the South West Africa People's Organization. The main reason for the various name changes was twofold: to disguise the organization's tribal base of support in dealing with overseas supporters, and to try and attract members from other ethnic groups in Namibia.
In 1959, protests broke out in the capital of Windhoek over the forced removal of blacks into the new township of Katutura located northwest of the city. The protests eventually escalated into rioting and violence.

Leaders of the protests, among them Sam Nujoma, the future leader of SWAPO, called for a city-wide boycott of municipal services. During the boycott, while the police were arresting some pickets, the crowds around the scene turned ugly and menacing. Unfortunately, the police panicked and the scene erupted into violence. The police, later claiming they feared for their lives, fired into the crowd, killing eleven and wounding fifty-four.

Hoping to prevent an ugly situation from escalating any further, the authorities ordered the protest leaders back to their homes. Instead, Nujoma chose exile. Crossing the border into Botswana, he made his way to Tanzania. There he was welcomed with open arms by Julius Nyerere, the socialist leader of Tanzania.
On April 9, 1960, the name Owamboland People's Organization passed into history and the movement became SWAPO.
Among those who helped Toivo found the original OPC were names that would reappear in Namibia's turbulent political history-Andreas [59] Shipanga, Soloman Mifinawe, Emil Appolus and Jariretundo Kozonguizi. The Congress's main support came from the Owambos. Almost ninety percent of its membership were Owambos although some of its leaders were Hereto.
When Toivo changed the name of the Congress to the Owamboland People's Organization his two main lieutenants were Sam Nujoma and Mburumba Kerina, who is half-Herero and half-Owambo.
Personal, philosophical, and tribal differences began to cause tension and schisms within the organization and before the year was over the Hereros left to form the South West African National Union (SWANU).
SWAPO's initial goals were focused on exploiting grievances among the Owambos over migrant labor policies, changing the tribal headman system, and seeking independence for South West Africa/Namibia. But the key issue as far as SWAPO was concerned was majority rule. Given the demographics of Namibia this would amount to Owambo rule. Since SWAPO was essentially an Owambo-based movement this would translate into SWAPO rule.

By 1962, SWAPO, disappointed by its lack of political success, decided upon more radical measures to impose their will on Namibia. Armed insurgency was their answer to the failed less violent political policies of their immediate past. To accomplish this SWAPO created a military wing, the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN).
Armed force was now going to be SWAPO's vehicle to grab power in any future independent Namibia. To this end, two hundred SWAPO cadres were dispatched to Nasser's Egypt for military training.
In 1963, two events occurred elsewhere in Africa that would give SWAPO's fortunes a boost. Algeria gained independence from France and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed. Both pledged their aid to SWAPO. The Algerians provided military training and the OAU took up their cause as part of its agenda in the international political arena.
In 1964, SWAPO began to infiltrate its newly trained guerrilla-terrorists into the remote northern parts of Namibia to set up rural bases.
SWAPO's terror campaign was launched in February 1966 at Ondumbashe in Owamboland near the Angolan border. Two shops were plundered and the shopkeepers, a Portuguese and an Owambo, were murdered. Other incidents of a similar nature followed: an attack on the village of Oshikango in September; the beating up of two Owambo chiefs in November; a raid on another chief's office in December which resulted in the murder of one of the chief's bodyguards and an attack upon a farm in the Grootfontein area.
It wasn't all SWAPO's game, however, as the security forces struck back [60] and attacked a SWAPO base at Omgulumbashe in Owamboland. The attack was successful in destroying the camp and capturing twenty-seven guerrillas. SWAPO's military wing inside Namibia had gotten its nose bloodied. Of a more serious nature to SWAPO's efforts inside Namibia, the debacle at Omgulumbashe resulted in the round-up, trial and detention of SWAPO leaders throughout Namibia.
The attacks had the classic stamp of a Marxist-style terror campaign. The targets were not those that could fight back such as soldiers or policemen, but tribal leaders, the headmen and their families, as well as shopkeepers and other unarmed civilians. The brunt of the suffering at the hands of the self-proclaimed "liberators" has been borne by the ordinary Owambo citizen who risks being murdered, kidnapped or blown up by landmines whenever venturing out on the roads.
This shouldn't surprise anyone because by embarking upon a strategy of terror and intimidation, SWAPO sought out and obtained the support and sponsorship of the Soviet Bloc states. They responded in their usual manner by lavishing huge quantities of arms and equipment on their new comrades in arms. SWAPO cadres also were taught the fine arts of murder, terror and intimidation by scores of Soviet Bloc trainers and advisors.

Soviet support is still continuing to SWAPO in spite of the phony atmosphere of glasnost being used by the Gorbachev regime to hoodwink the West.
The Omgulumbashe disaster also caused further turmoil within the organization. Nujoma's flight from the country he was supposed to be "liberating," gave SWAPO in essence, a schizophrenic twist by creating two groupings within the organization-an internal and external wing.
The internal wing consisted of those who worked through peaceful political activities to bring change to Namibia. Perhaps a better classification of the internal wing would be to consider them as supporters or strong sympathizers of the SWAPO program of radical social reform. Church members, intellectuals and others who saw the organization as anti-white made up the bulk of this faction.

The external wing was committed to a "war of national liberation" and seizure of power in South West Africa/Namibia by force. The external wing was not a cohesive body either. There were divisions within it that caused problems for the organization.
The leadership of the external wing was composed of those who had left Namibia in the 1960's and had never been back. As time passed, they became more and more out of touch with what was going on back inside the country.
[61] With its offices in Luanda, Lusaka, London, New York and elsewhere, the external wing gained worldwide attention, and collected the funds for their guerrilla struggle.
Through their ability to control the flow of money, the external wing had the ultimate say in how the struggle was going to be waged. The ability to give or withhold funds prevented potential rifts between those inside Namibia and their comrades who were globetrotting around the world drumming up support for the movement.

However, all was not well within "SWAPO external." A growing rift was developing between the moderates and the hardliners. The hardliners, led by Nujoma, were insistent upon following the path of a war of liberation. They looked with disdain on those seeking a political solution to the independence question in Namibia.
For example, speaking to the United Nation's General Assembly in May 1973, Nujoma said: "I pledge here and now that we will continue to talk to South Africa in the only language they understand and that is intensification of armed liberation struggle . . . . SWAPO will continue to mobilize the masses and intensify and expand military operations until all the objectives of the struggle are realized."1
Disillusioned by the intransigence of their leaders, many exiles returned to Namibia to work within the system and seek a political solution. Among those were such leaders as Jackson Kambode, formerly secretary of SWAPO's trade union organization, Silas Shikongo, a former SWAPO guerrilla commander, and Mburuma Kerina, one of the cofounders of SWAPO.

"I broke with SWAPO on the issues of tribalism, Soviet sponsorship, and increasing violence against their own people," said Kerina, over his break with SWAPO. 2
The return of the exiles didn't end the problems of SWAPO. A number of those remaining outside the country were still unhappy with Nujoma's leadership.
This growing split finally broke out into the open in March 1976 when the disillusioned members, under the leadership of Andreas Shipanga, held a conference in Zambia to air their grievances. They drew up a list of their complaints against the leadership of Nujoma and his henchmen charging them with nepotism, corruption, waste, inefficiency and the most heinous [62] crime in their eyes, a failure to exhibit sufficient zeal for Namibian independence.
They demanded the convening of a new SWAPO party congress to discuss their grievances, submit them to the congress for their approval and to decide firmly the course of action SWAPO would follow in the future.
Shipanga's action was a direct challenge to Nujoma's leadership. He responded quickly, and rejected their proposal. His rejection prompted Shipanga and his followers to march on the Lusaka headquarters of SWAPO in protest. Nujoma asked President Kaunda of Zambia for his help in bailing him out of this sticky situation.
Kaunda came to his rescue and ordered the Zambian Army into action to help Nujoma. The army moved in and surrounded Shipanga and his followers. They were rounded up and tossed into a prison camp at Baroma.
Using the Shipanga incident as an excuse, Nujoma had Zambian officials thoroughly purge all those who weren't totally supportive of Nujoma's leadership.
In addition to the problems of violence to advance the SWAPO position and the question of Soviet sponsorship, tribalism-the curse of Africa infected its poison into SWAPO's body politic. The premier power group within SWAPO is the Kwanyama, the most numerous subgroup of the Owambos. The next most important subgroup in the terrorist organization is the Ndonga. So dominant is Kwanyama power that Sam Nujoma, a non-Kwanyama, knows well that his survival depends on his role of legitimizing Kwanyama control.
The leading SWAPO power brokers make and proclaim policy as they see fit. (Chief among the Kwanyama power brokers are Hidipo Hamutenya- SWAPO's Minister of Information, Peter Mueshihange-SWAPO's Minister of Defense, Finance Minister Lucas Pohamba, and, the People's Liberation Army of Namibia [PLAN] chief of staff, Dimo Amambo.) SWAPO's Central Committee does nothing more than rubber-stamp their decisions and there has never been a formal congress of SWAPO cadres, something Shipanga was trying to organize. Such an internal despotic environment was bound to produce friction within the organization.
The imprisoned dissidents didn't fare too well. According to the Report of the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, on Soviet, East German and Cuban Involvement in Fomenting Terrorism in Southern Africa: "Mr. Shipanga and 18 other SWAPO dissidents were eventually released by Tanzania in May 1978. The subcommittee has been unable to develop any information about the fate of the other dissidents arrested at the [63] same time. In his testimony, Mr. Shipanga stated that 2,000 SWAPO members were arrested in April 1976 in Zambia. Other than the 600 who were released in April 1977 and the 18 who were released in May 1978, among them Shipanga, he does not know the fate of the remainder, who he last heard had been taken to Angola."3

Shipanga's and his followers' harsh treatment can possibly be explained by other events that were going on inside SWAPO during the same period of time.
In 1976, SWAPO was taking action that would align it more closely with the Soviet Bloc. SWAPO's central committee approved two documents that not only spelled out the organization's programs and goals, but did it in Marxist terminology. These documents, The Political Program, and SWAPO's Constitution, set out the doctrine and program which have been reaffirmed since in books, magazines, pamphlets and all other writings of an ideological nature published by them. In addition, the statements by its leaders have all followed the ideological hue developed in The Political Program or the Constitution.
A reading of these documents leaves no doubt of their Marxist moorings.

". . . The real ideology, objectives, methods, internal structure, and very mentality of SWAPO are absolutely the same in all respects with those of the Soviet Union. SWAPO is nothing but an auxiliary force of Russian aggression in southern Africa working in a context of Soviet revolutionary psychological and disinformation warfare," said co-founder Kerina of his former comrades.4

SWAPO has spelled out in its constitution that it is a "national liberation movement" with a messianic mission of "rallying together" the people of SWA/Namibia with two goals; "the struggle for total independence and social liberation."5
These buzz-words reflect pure Leninist jargon: "The social revolution can come only in the form of an epoch in which are combined civil war by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie in the advanced countries and a whole series of democratic and revolutionary movements, including the national [64] liberation movement in the underdeveloped, backward and oppressed nations."6
What is social liberation? It is traveling the road to socialism until all vestiges of capitalism are destroyed and the socialist utopia has been reached.
Leonid Breshnev told The International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties held in Moscow in 1969, that: "Experience shows that the road of different countries to socialism is marked by such common milestones as the socialist revolution in one form or another, including the smashing and replacement of the state machine of the exploiters; the establishment of one or another form of the dictatorship of the proletariat in alliance with other strata of the working people, and the abolition of the exploiting classes; the socialization of the means of production and the consolidation of socialist relations of production and other social relations in town and countryside; the bringing of cultural values within the reaches of the masses of working people, ie., the cultural revolution in Lenin's meaning of the word."7

How does SWAPO's program jibe with Brezhnev's statement? SWAPO's program, bizarrely termed "economic reconstruction," will consist of the "complete elimination of all forms of imperialist domination and the transformation of capitalist exploitation into genuine socialist democracy"8
How will this be done? SWAPO's constitution gives the answer: "the people's government exercise control over the means of production and distribution, and pursues a policy which facilitates the way to social ownership of all the resources of the country."9
This message is reinforced in their Political Manual. It explains that SWAPO will "use the political supremacy of the people's power to wrest State power from the colonial bourgeoisie, for the purpose of centralizing all the means of production in the hands of the worker and peasant masses."10
Who and what are the "people's power" and the "people's government"? Again, SWAPO's own writings spell it out for us: "SWAPO is the people: the people are SWAPO."11
[65] SWAPO is reminding one and all that it is the only authentic representation of the "people" of South West Africa/Namibia.
SWAPO isn't the only group that makes that claim either. The world's bastion of unreality, the United Nations, also declared SWAPO in 1976 to be the sole "authentic representation of the Namibian people."12 Incidentally, in the same resolution, the General Assembly gave its approval of terrorism when it supported SWAPO "in their struggle, by all means, including armed struggle, to achieve self-determination, freedom and national independence."

Another key element in a Leninist revolution is that it must be led by a small elite who form and control a socialist vanguard party. It is the communist parties, and only they, who will lead the revolutions.

What does SWAPO consider itself? In announcing its new constitution in 1976, SWAPO said it was going "to unite all Namibian people, particularly the working class, the peasantry, and progressive intellectuals into a vanguard party capable of safeguarding and the building of a classless, non-exploitive society based on scientific socialism ideals and principles."13
Even the United Nations has referred to SWAPO as a vanguard organization. The United Nations Institute for Namibia, in its report: Namibia: Perspectives for National Reconstruction and Development, referred to SWAPO in the following: "The tradition of resistance and struggle, and the lessons learnt in the process have made it possible for Namibians to create a national vanguard organization (SWAPO) and to wage an armed struggle under its banner with total independence as the immediate goal before it."14

Nujoma has tied his fortunes to those of the Soviet Bloc: "SWAPO will establish political connections with all the countries who wish to do so, but above all with friendly countries such as the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic."15
He also extolled the virtues of his Russian masters during remarks made to the 26th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March 1981. During his remarks, Nujoma acknowledged Soviet assistance to SWAPO to the point that without the support of the Soviet Union, SWAPO [66] would not have been where it was in 1981. "We address ourselves to the Soviet Union which is giving comprehensive support to the people of Namibia. 16
It is not the custom of the Soviet Union to allow its communist party Congress to be used as a forum by non-communists. The conclusion is inescapable that Nujoma and SWAPO are part and parcel of the communist movement.
It is also interesting to note that Lenin's birthday is a day of celebration at SWAPO camps. For example, on Lenin's 112th birthday, graffiti on the wall at a SWAPO center read: "Long Live V.I. Lenin."17

In fact SWAPO's adulation of Lenin goes well beyond celebrating his birthday SWAPO uses Lenin as a role model in their terrorist war in Namibia. A SWAPO youth magazine tells why: "To cite Lenin, the revolutionary struggle educates the exploited people, imparts them with the realization of the greatness of their power, widens their horizon, promotes their capabilities, sharpens them in their desire to achieve the self-appointed goal of liberation. That lets us look into the future with confidence."18

If many in the West are confused over the question of whether or not SWAPO is a Marxist group, there is no confusion in the Soviet Bloc: "SWAPO at all times confirmed its determination to consolidate and deepen close cooperation on the basis of a joint struggle against imperialism and racism, for independence, democracy and socialism," said an East German publication. 19
It is hard, therefore, for any person to escape the obvious conclusion that SWAPO is a Marxist-Leninist organization. By thrusting itself violently into the political arena surrounding the question of Namibian independence it poses a threat to the well-being of all the citizens of that troubled land.


1 "How the U.N. Aids Marxist Guerrilla Groups," op. cit., p.8.

2 Kerina, M., A Letter to American Friends, Namibia Democratic Coalition, Manassas, VA 1987, p. 1.

3 Report of the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, Senate Judiciary Committee, "Soviet, East German and Cuban Involvement In Fomenting Terrorism In Southern Africa," 92nd Congress, 2nd Session, US Government Printing Office, Nov 1982, p.9.

4 Kerina, op. cit., p.7.

5 Constitution, Art. II, p.3 and Art. III, p.4cf; also Political Program, pp.5-6; see also Appendix E

6 Lenin, loc. cit.

7 International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties, Moscow, 1969, p.11.

8 To Be Born a Nation, ZED Press, London, 1981, p.296.

9 Constitution, III, B, 7; see also Appendix E

10 Namibia: The Struggle for Final Liberation, Political Manual of the Namibian Institute of Revolutionary Studies, Office of the SWAPO Organizing Secretary, 1977.

11 SWAPO Information on SWAPO, Interlink Longraph Ltd., London, 1978, p.26.

12 UN Resolution 31/146, para. 2.

13 Report of the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, op. cit., p.10; see: Appendix E

14 Namibia: Perspectives for National Reconstruction and Development, United Nations Institute for Namibia, Lusaka, 1986, p.44.

15 Babing, Alfred and Brauer, Hans-Deter, Namibia, 2nd Edition, Berlin (DGR), 1981, p.347.

16 Report of the Chairman, Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism, op. cit., p.14.

17 Namibia Youth, Match-April 1982, back cover. Namibia Youth is the bimonthly SWAPO magazine published in East Germany.

18 "Towards National Democratic Revolution: Perspective on Stages of the Namibian Revolution, Namibia Today, Luanda, 6 (198G), p.25. 

19 Socialism and International Relations, published by Institute for International Relations of the Academy for State and Legal Science of the GDR, Berlin, 1981, p.158f.

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

@ Chapter 7
@ Chapter 12
@ Chapter 13
@ Chapter 14
@ Chapter 15
@ Chapter 16
Chapter 18
@ Chapter 19
@ Chapter 20
@ Chapter 21

@ Civil supremacy of the military in Namibia


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