Andimba Toivo ya Toivo (1924 - )
The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in
Andimba Toivo ya Toivo was born on 22 August 1924 in the Ovamboland region in the north of South West Africa (now Namibia), which had been one of the few German colonies in Africa. Toivo’s father worked for the local Finnish Lutheran Church, teaching catechism to people preparing for their baptism. Toivo attended local mission schools and then studied for a teaching certificate.
He worked as a teacher from 1942 to 1951, taking time out to fight with the South African Army in World War II. In 1951, he re-located to Cape Town and became active in anti-apartheid and independence politics. During the 1950s, while working in South Africa’s gold mines, Toivo became increasingly sickened by the apartheid government’s treatment of black people both in South Africa and South West Africa. He also became concerned with the bitter struggle between the South African government and the United Nations over South West Africa’s status as a mandated territory.
In 1957 Toivo was banished from South Africa to Ovamboland when it was discovered that he was smuggling out taped testimony to the UN about the savage conditions experienced by black mine workers. The following year Toivo finally managed to petition the UN on behalf of the Ovambo people, and continued his campaign for independence by forming the country’s first nationalist party, the Ovambo People’s Organisation (OPO).
In 1959, the OPO sponsored demonstrations against the continued presence of the apartheid government. Toivo was now a marked man, but he decided to remain in South West Africa rather than go into exile. In 1960 Toivo and fellow nationalist Sam Nujoma formed the South West African People’s Organisation (Swapo). While both were on occasion jailed, Nujoma escaped the country – travelling via Tanzania and Ghana to reach the UN where he presented their case to the Security Council.
The apartheid government’s persecution of Toivo continued and in 1966 he was one of 35 independent activists arrested and transported to Pretoria. He was held for a year under brutal conditions and subjected to repeated cross-examination before he was finally taken to trial. The case lasted six months and in February 1968, Toivo was sentenced to 20 years under South Africa’s new anti-terrorism legislation.
With Toivo in prison, Nujoma, who had been involved with the creation of headquarters and guerrilla training bases in Tanzania, took over the presidency of Swapo and continued to act as its spokesperson on an international level. Swapo was acknowledged as the legitimate political voice of South West Africa by the OAU in 1968 and by the UN in 1973.
By the late 1970s, South Africa was working hard to avoid the implementation of the new UN Security Council Resolution Num-ber 435, outlining a transition to independence. Under South African support, an opposition group to Swapo, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA) was formed – a supposedly multiracial group led by Dirk Mudge’s Republican Party. Mudge was selected to lead the resultant coalition government.
In 1984, after a petition by Mudge to the South African government, Herman Toivo ya Toivo was released. He had served 16 years of the 20-year sentence, some of the time on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela. On release, Toivo joined the rest of the Swapo leadership in exile. Toivo returned to South West Africa (about to become Namibia) in 1989 to help pave the way for independence and to take part in the country’s first truly democratic general election.
Swapo obtained 57% of the vote and Nujoma, still president of the organisation, was elected President of the new nation. Toivo accepted the post of Minister of Mines and Energy. The following year, Toivo was replaced as secretary-general of Swapo, a post he had been elected to on release from prison in South Africa in 1984. In 1999 a cabinet shuffle moved Toivo to the post of Minister of Labour and in 2003 he became Minister of Prisons and Correctional Services.
Throughout, Toivo had played a key role in freeing Namibia, and bravely contributing to the freedom that came to South Africa.