Reliving the years that led to independence

By Hilary Mare

IN 1966, South-West Africa People’s Organisation’s (SWAPO) military wing, the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) began guerrilla attacks on South African forces, infiltrating the territory from bases in Zambia. The first attack of this kind was the battle at Omugulugwombashe on 26 August. After Angola became independent in 1975, SWAPO established bases in the southern part of the country. Hostilities intensified over the years, especially in the then Ovamboland.
As the war to Namibia’s liberation raged on, Angola demanded in 1988 that as a condition for a withdrawal of Cuban troops, the independence of Namibia was to be made real. South Africa hesitated at first but South Africans were tired of war and so they agreed to negotiate with Angola and Cuba aand the USA as a mediator. The Soviet Union, that supported SWAPO, acted as background mediator.
After many negotiations, the parties resolved that the United Nations’ resolution No. 435 should become effective on November 1st 1988. Angola, Cuba and South Africa signed a ceasefire and South Africa withdrew its troops from Angola. One week after the elections in November 1989, the withdrawal of the South African army from Namibia was completed. An UN-appointed military commission (UNTAG) supervised the withdrawal.
Thanks to an amnesty, 42 000 exiles and refugees could come back to Namibia in June 1989, among them Founding Father of the Namibian Nation, Sam Nujoma.
In the elections of 1989, which proceeded calmly, SWAPO got an absolute majority. Nujoma was nominated for President. Late in 1989, the elected parties introduced a blueprint for a constitution. In January 1990, March 21st of the same year was pronounced Independence Day; Nujoma was elected first President of Namibia. A democratic constitution was passed in February 1990.
On midnight of March 20th 1990, Namibia became independent and thousands of Namibians watched Nujoma solemnly swear the oath of office to UN Secretary General Perez de Cuellar at the then Windhoek Athletic Stadium.
It was on this day that Nujoma affirmed Namibia’s independence with the following inaugural speech.
“For the Namibian people and for me, this day, the 21st of March, 1990, is the most memorable and indeed the most emotional moment in the annals of our history.
“This solemn hour is the moment which our people have been waiting for more than a century. This is the day for which tens of thousands of Namibian patriots laid down their lives, shed their precious blood, suffered imprisonment and a difficult life in exile. Today, our hearts are filled with great joy and jubilation because our deepest and longest yearning has been realised.
“For the past 43 years or so, this land of our forebears has been a bone of contention between the Namibian people and the international community on one hand, and South Africa on the other. The Namibian problem has been at the centre of bitter international dispute over the last four decades. The United Nations and other international bodies produced huge volumes of resolutions in an attempt to resolve this intractable problem.
“However, it pleases me to state that we are gathered here today, not to pass yet another resolution, but to celebrate the dawn of a new era in this land and to proclaim to the world that a new star has risen on the African continent. Africa’s last colony is, from this hour, liberated.
“It is, therefore, profoundly momentous and highly joyous for the Namibian people and myself, that the highest representative of the international community, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, together with the State President of South Africa, and the Namibian nation, which I am honoured to lead, are able to announce, here, today, to the world that a definitive and final solution to the protracted Namibian problem has, indeed, been unanimously reached by these three parties.
“For the Namibian people, the realisation of our most cherished goal, namely, the independence of our country and freedom of our people is a fitting tribute to the heroism and tenacity with which our people fought for this long-awaited day. We have been sustained in our difficult struggle by the powerful force of conviction in the righteousness and justness of our cause. Today history has absolved us; our vision of a democratic state of Namibia has been translated into a reality.
“With regard to the international community, the achievement of Namibia’s independence today is, we believe, a welcome and laudable culmination of many years of consistent support for our cause. The world’s demand for our country to be allowed to exercise its inalienable right to self-determination and independence has been achieved. We express our most sincere gratitude to the international community for its steadfast support.
“As for the government of South Africa, it can be said that the decision to accept the implementation of Resolution 435 has been the first demonstration of political will to find a negotiated solution to the problems of our region. Furthermore, President de Klerk’s proclamation here today that South Africa has reached a final and irreversible decision to relinquish control over Namibia, is an act of statesmanship and realism. This, we hope, will continue to unfold in South Africa itself.
“I seize this opportunity to point out that the protracted process of negotiating an agreement on Resolution 435 and struggling for its implementation has been difficult and, at times, acrimonious. It was only perseverance, forbearance and commitment which helped us to see the process through to its logical conclusion, namely, the birth of the Namibian nation which we are here to witness.
“Against this background, it is heartening for the Namibian people and I, to know that our independence has been achieved under conditions of national consensus and international unanimity. The impressive presence here today of so many world leaders and other dignitaries is a clear testimony to the fact that Namibia’s achievement of independence is an event of great world importance. For us, this is yet another reason for celebration.
“With respect to the important question of national consensus, I am glad to announce that, following the independence election last November, the various Namibian political parties have been able to work together in the Constituent Assembly, where we formulated and adopted a Constitution acceptable to the broad majority of our people.
“Against this background, I am indebted to the Namibian electorate for giving SWAPO an absolute majority, thereby enabling it to form the first government of the Republic of Namibia.
“In the same vein, I am grateful to the members of Namibia’s Constituent Assembly for the confidence they have placed in me in electing me as the first President of the Republic of Namibia. I pledge to do my utmost to uphold the Constitution of the Republic and to honour the trust which the Namibian people have bestowed upon me to lead this new nation at this critical juncture.
“To the Namibian people, I would like to state, on this solemn and historic occasion, that our nation has blazed the trail to freedom. It has risen to its feet. As from today, we are the masters of this vast land of our ancestors. The destiny of this country is now fully in our own hands. We should, therefore, look forward to the future with confidence and hope.
“Taking the destiny of this country in our own hands means, among other things, making a great effort to forge national identity and unity. Our collective security and prosperity depend on our unity of purpose and action. Unity is a precondition for peace and development. Without peace, it is not possible for the best and talented citizens of our country to realise their potential. Our achievement of independence imposes upon us a heavy responsibility, not only to defend our hard-won liberty, but also to set for ourselves higher standards of equality, justice and opportunity for all, without regard to race, creed or colour. These are the standards from which all who seek to emulate us shall draw inspiration.
“In accepting the sacred responsibility which the Namibian people have placed on me, as the first President of the Republic of Namibia, I would like to bow and pay homage to our fallen heroes and heroines, whose names Namibia’s present and future generations will sing in songs of praise and whose martyrdom they will intone.
“In conclusion, I move, in the name of our people, to declare that Namibia is forever free, sovereign and independent!”