Tribute to Attie Beukes
By Harry Boesak
I met Attie Beukes in the late 1980s in what was then the clandestine Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP) under the leadership of the comrades from Workers’ International League of Southern Africa (WILSA).
Upon joining the group, Attie militated against the democratic centralism as it was practiced by the leadership and also voiced his opposition of the leadership’s silence and suppression of the Swapo detainee issue. The WILSA leadership had a centrist position and regarded Swapo as a truly revolutionary party and this eventually led to a split between the Namibian and South African counterparts.
The late 1980s were interesting and hectic times as far as politics in Namibia are concerned. The working class became more and more restless and were unified and stronger. Student protests were rampant.
The demands for all colonial South African troops from Namibian soil, the campaign for the release of Swapo detainees were increasing and more intense. And we, the revolutionaries that we were, met daily to discuss a plan and intervene in the situation by producing our newspaper, The Worker. Attie and a few comrades were the full-time distributors of the paper and faced harassment on a daily basis due to communism being banned and due to Christian fundamentalism in the country. But their persistent efforts paid off and tested the political waters for the launch of a political party.
Their small effort led to the legitimising of Marxism in Namibia and they could be regarded as the foot soldiers of Marxism here.
MARXISM IN NAMIBIA
Attie came to the group with an impressive political CV. He cut his political teeth in the Rehoboth Volksparty that decided to disband and join Swapo. Attie had a good grasp of Marxism as he was part of Hewat Beukes’ reading groups. He worked as a full-time Swapo southern region mobiliser and established branches in remote areas such as Berseba, Gibeon, Vaalgras, etc.
Attie got arrested while transporting a Plan combatant after the 1978 assassination of Clemens Kapuuo, the DTA president at the time. He was charged under the prevention of Terrorism Act, which was eventually extended to detention under Proclamation AG 26.
He spent over three months in solitary confinement and endured torture that inflicted permanent damage to his lungs. It is still a mystery why the terrorism charges were dropped and what happened to the Plan combatant. Was he released, executed, turned into an askari, or perhaps a victim of Wouter Basson’s biological warfare? Only a truth commission could have shed light on this but the Swapo government refused it despite many calls from civil society.
Attie was employed by the Council of Churches of Namibia and became the director of the development cluster. But he and’ Erica Thiro-Beukes got dismissed for their leading role in the Committee of Parents, a pressure group for the release of Swapo detainees.
‘NAMIBIA: THE STRUGGLE BETRAYED’
They co-authored (with Hewat Beukes) and published the book ‘Namibia: The struggle betrayed’. Attie got the material after breaking into the office of Pastor Siegfried Groth in Wuppertal, Germany. Growth was a member of the World Federation of Lutheran Churches responsible for Namibian refugees. In later years, that chaplain would publish a book ‘Breaking the Wall of Silence’ that detailed the atrocities committed by Swapo in exile.
The publication of Beukes’ book came with its own consequences. A bomb exploded at Hewat’s house in Khomasdal, as well as under a car in front of Attie’s house in Katutura. A pamphlet distributed throughout the country stated that Attie, Hewat and Erica were enemy agents. That would have been another matter for the truth commission.
On the 151 of May 1989, the public announcement of the formation of the WRP under the leadership of Werner Mamugwe was made. Attie, deputised by Samuel Naomab, became full-time organisers responsible for recruiting and distribution of The Worker, under the editorship of Jeremy Davis, with a focus on the land question, workers’ struggles, health rights issues, etc.
In the course of 1989, the ex-detainees were released from Swapo camps. Some joined the WRP but the majority decided to form their own movement, Patriotic Unity Movement (PUM), under the leadership of Eric Biwa.
In November 1989, the WRP and PUM participated in the first democratic elections under the banner of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and used the campaign to highlight the plight of Swapo detainees. And it is also during these elections that the South African apartheid government availed slush funds for the Namibian elections, but the WRP took a principled decision to refuse the funding and rely on funds from its members. Apart from the daily activities, the WRP also intervened and made submissions on various Namibian government commissions, such as the wages commission. Attie presented the WRP position at that commission, while at the land conference the party position was presented by Werner Mamugwe.
In November 1992, with the first ever local and regional government elections, Attie stood as a WRP candidate for Rehoboth Rural, while Hewat was in Rehoboth Urban. Despite the lack of significant votes, Attie was beaming that the red flag was being hoisted throughout the country.
REVAMPING THE LEFT-WING
In the mid-1990s, due to ill health and the constant in-fighting over positions, Attie gradually withdrew from active politics to study Marxism and to write his memoir. Unfortunately, the female journalist who was tasked with editing it supposedly lost it. It would have been relevant to know his views on several issues such as the national question, the land issue, eco-socialism and the way forward for the left-wing.
In 2009, Attie was instrumental in the revamping of the left-wing under the banner of the Communist Party of Namibia. He stood in the presidential elections and garnered more votes than the party in the national assembly elections. So he always quipped that he is more famous than the party.
In 2011, a new left formation the Marxist Reading Group was formed and became a thorn in the flesh of Attie and Hewat. They boycotted the Marikana protest and the socialist conference of 2012 of the Marxist Group, as well as the national teachers strike. It took many years for Attie to admit that the Marxist Group is on the right track.
During 2014, sections of SWATF, Koevoet and the Caprivi Concerned Group joined the CP with the aim to contest the presidential elections of that year. Hewat Beukes undemocratically changed the name of the CP to the WRP at the Electoral Commission and usurped that membership from Attie. With the result that the two seats of the WRP were taken up by conservative elements who are pseudo-socialists. Attempts were made by international comrades such as Lars in Denmark and Bob Archer in the UK to unite the two factions, but it was fruitless and there were court litigations that were unsuccessfully concluded. After five years, the WRP is not in parliament and it is not clear where the centre of the party is.
It should be said that Attie was not granted war veteran status in the country and never received an official apology from the CCN with regards to the SWAPO atrocities.
Attie was a sincere fighter, very critical but humane, fierce but compassionate, sarcastic but gentle, but most of all a committed activist for the overthrow of global capitalism.
Rest in power comrade. You played your role. We salute you.