A tribute to Meme Susan Nghidinwa…29 August 1937 – 7 October 2022

Meme Susan Nghidinwa, who was the first democratically elected Mayor of Tsumeb, a long-time SWAPO Women’s Council activist, and a senior official in the Pan-African Women’s Organisation, has died at the age of 85.

Meme Susan was born on August 29 1937 at Eenhana. Her mother was Olivia Nangula Nghishidimbwa and her father was Jesaja Nghitoolwa. Her mother passed away in 1943 when Meme Susan was six years old.

Between 1947 and 1955 she completed her primary and secondary schooling at Eenhana, Omundaungilo, and Engela.

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At the age of 19 she trained as a teacher at Okahao where the female students were looked after by Helvi Mpingana Kondombolo, the mother of founding father Sam Nujoma.

After qualifying as a teacher, Meme Susan taught at Eenhana and Omundaungilo until the early 1960s when she moved to Tsumeb where, for a time, she worked as a nanny. It was at Tsumeb where she joined SWAPO after being recruited by Andimba Toivo ya Toivo and Hifikepunye Pohamba in 1961.

In 1964 she married Tulipohamba Nghidinwa from Ongenga. The couple settled at Okalongo where both taught in the secondary school. They were blessed with seven children – Medusalem, Maila, Nangula, Jesaja, Maria (Mboono), Natasha (Takatu), and Kiti (Kirsti).

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In July 1974 the couple crossed the border into Angola with their children to fight for Namibia’s independence.

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At the time the youngest, Kiti, was only seven months old. They were one of the first families to join SWAPO in exile.

After several weeks of walking through southern Angola and western Zambia the family arrived at the Old Farm transit camp near Lusaka.

Later they moved to the Nyango camp in Zambia’s Western Province.

In 1976 Meme Susan went to further her education in Lusaka at the newly established UN Institute for Namibia, which was headed by Hage Geingob. In 1979 she graduated with a diploma in Development Studies.

She then worked at the Swapo office in Lusaka as a representative of the SWAPO Women’s Council (SWC).

She was appointed as the SWC Secretary for Foreign Affairs in 1980. During the following decade she spent much of her time travelling and campaigning for aid, such as food, clothes, and educational material, to be sent to the SWAPO camps in Zambia and Angola.

To carry out this work she visited many countries including Algeria, Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, France, New Zealand, Norway, the Soviet Union, Sweden, and the USA.

In 1982/83 she studied Aid Administration at Selly Oak College in Birmingham in the UK.

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Meme Susan returned to Namibia in 1989 as independence approached. She mobilised support for Swapo in the Tsumeb district ahead of the November 1989 elections and set up the Swapo office at the town with the late Peter Tshirumbu.

In 1993 she was elected as Mayor of Tsumeb. She was the first black woman to serve as Mayor of the town. She served for five consecutive terms until 1998.

Meme Susan was the inspiration behind the friendship agreement between the Norwegian town of Elverum and Tsumeb which was signed in 1993. Her experience of visiting a cultural museum in Elverum motivated her to start the Cultural Village project at Tsumeb.

From 1993 to 1997 Meme Susan worked as Senior Chief Control Officer at the Oshikoto Regional Council. She was appointed as Managing Director of Pioneer Engineering in Ondangwa from 1998-99.

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The government sent her to take up a senior post – Secretary for Finance – at the Pan-African Women’s Organisation (PAWO) in Luanda from 2000 to 2002.

She then retired from public service and continued to live in Tsumeb and Windhoek.

She is survived by her five daughters – Maila, Nangula, Maria, Natasha, and Kiti, and ten grandchildren – Feiyo-Peik, Ariel, Wendy, Jesaya, Emily, Lucy, James, Ethan, Nathan, and Atushe.

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