Words to nurture a nation
At the age of 73, Mvula ya Nangolo is a legendary Namibian writer, poet and journalist, among the many other roles he has played and continues to play in the unfolding history of the Land of the Brave.
Ya Nangolo’s story is weaved into the rich texture of the liberation struggle. He joined SWAPO in 1961, at the age of 18, on the same day in October as his cousin, Titus Shilongo.
His very first membership card was signed by “Uncle Andimba Toivo ya Toivo”.
His first name means ‘rain’ – a self-fulfilling prophecy and testament to how his words have over a 50-year career watered and nurtured a nation that has gone through so much, and yet today stands proudly among the inhabitants of the global village.
In the introduction to Ya Nangolo’s internationally celebrated book of poetry titled, Watering the Beloved Desert, Malawian writer, editor and university professor, Frank Mkalawile Chipasula, writes: “Most importantly, Mvula, whose name means ‘rain’, is now able to water his beloved desert and to inspire his compatriots to more noble action.
“Aptly named, this volume evokes the tremendous sacrifices of the combatants in the liberation struggle who watered their beloved lands with their blood and tears as they prosecuted a protracted armed struggle that resulted in the decolonisation that made possible the exiles’ return to the soil.
“His poems pulse with the Namib’s heartthrobs, the quiet rhythms of the shifting mountainous sand dunes as the land continues the liberating dance.”
It is therefore sad that Ya Nangolo’s poems are not being taught in schools and are largely missing from libraries and the country’s historical archives.
In 1994, when Walvis Bay was formally returned to Namibia by the South African government, Ya Nangolo was not given an opportunity to recite his poem titled, Walvis Bay, at the historical reintegration event. Instead, a South African poet was ‘imported’ and paid handsomely to recite a poem.
In addition to his poetry, Ya Nangolo has also written a political documentary titled Kassinga: A Story Untold (1995), in which he details the brutal massacre of Namibian men, women and children by apartheid South African troops at the Cassinga Refugee Camp in Southern Angola on 4 May 1978.
Born in Oniimwandi, in the Oshana region of northern Namibia on 9 August 1943, Ya Nangolo attended Augustineum Training College in Okahandja, where he counted President Hage Geingob among his fellow students. Today, he is the Special Advisor to the Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Tjekero Tweya.
This week, Ya Nangolo related a story about his time at Augustineum, which perfectly captured the pervasive racism and humiliation that so many of his generation had to go through at the hands of those who actively supported the institutionalised racism of the apartheid regime.
“I remember when I was at the Augustineum Training College in Okahandja, when one of our teachers came into our class early in the morning. We stood up and said: ‘Good morning Mrs Smit’. She didn’t respond, but simply said ‘daar is swart barbare’ (there are black barbarians).
“I then jumped up and said ‘Mevrou Smit, as daar swart barbare is, dan moet daar ook wit barbare wees’ (Mrs Smit, if there are black barbarians, then there are also white barbarians). And then she said ‘Petrus gaan uit my klas uit (Petrus, leave my class)’, and I left.
“At lunch hour, I went to the dining room and as I was about to eat, her husband, who was the acting principal, came to me and said: ‘Petrus, watter onnoselle dinge het jy vir my vrou gesê vanmorê? (Petrus, what stupid things did you tell my wife this morning?)’.
“I stood there and said: ‘Mnr Smit, ons gaan julle uitroei, met wortel, tak en alles – die poppe gaan dans (Mr Smit, we are going to destroy you, root, stem and everything – the dolls will dance)’. The dining hall was quiet. One hundred boys and about 30 female students at Augustineum all remember that statement that I made in 1959.”
Ya Nangolo went into exile in 1963, and furthered his journalism studies in Germany. After obtaining his diploma in 1966, he worked for two major radio networks in Central Europe, before returning to Africa, where he worked at Radio Tanzania in Dar es Salaam, and helped to launch the Namibian Hour, which would later be transformed into the anti-apartheid radio service known as The Voice of Namibia.
“The Voice of Namibia was a radio broadcast, a creation of Moses ǁGaroëb and myself. Before we established The Voice of Namibia, Radio Tanzania had enabled the various liberation movements based in Dar es Salaam to translate relevant news bulletins and selected news items into the various languages spoken in their countries.
“I was there on a daily basis, because I could translate into various languages. We were only given 20 minutes per programme, so I know the first people to translate news bulletins, not necessarily SWAPO members only, but SWANU members too. When they ceased with that, even though it continued later, we launched our various radio programmes, giving them names, and this is when the Voice of Namibia was born,” Ya Nangolo said during an in-depth interview this week.
The Voice of Namibia
“Being multilingual, I started broadcasting in Otjiherero, Oshiwambo and English, and we later on got a dictionary in Afrikaans, and someone to help, and we started broadcasting in four languages. There were times when I would be alone, broadcasting in those four languages, because of the scarcity of people who could help me.
“The others were busy at the office, and Moses ǁGaroëb, who started the Namibian Hour with me, was given another job at the office. Apart from The Voice of Namibia, I had other things to do. At Radio Tanzania, I also read the national bulletin in English to Tanzanians – the only Namibian to do that. I was also given a programme by David Wakati to interview prominent personalities from Tanzania and from abroad, which was a weekly programme, plus a Friday programme called, ‘From the Press’, where I dealt with editorials.”
Ya Nangolo said that at the SWAPO headquarters, he had the task of compiling the party’s newspaper mouthpiece, Namibia Today.
“And later on it ended up with me writing and editing it alone, until I moved to Lusaka as well.
“I edited and produced Namibia Today single-handedly on a number of occasions, as everyone would testify to.
“Now in Tanzania, in as far as the local press was concerned, I continued to write a number of feature articles on Southern Africa in general, Namibia in particular, and at times also about Africa and other issues, as they related to Africa. On one occasion, a journalist from New Zealand or Australia called Adrian Begg, who was writing a weekly column left the Daily News and the editor asked me whether I can take over the column, so again in Dar es Salaam I was the only Namibian who became a columnist in a newspaper, and I have never heard of a Namibian columnist, either in Zambia, Zimbabwe or Angola.
“So, The Voice of Namibia continued in Dar es Salaam, but also opened in Lusaka years later, following the transfer of the SWAPO provisional head office to Zambia. In 1973, I was transferred to Lusaka to help relaunch and reinforce the Voice of Namibia there, and then continued with the publication of Namibia Today.
“So, we established The Voice of Namibia in various other countries, including Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, Harare, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, before our independence. So, The Voice of Namibia was broadcast from various countries, in order to avoid the jamming from Pretoria, because when we had one station it was easy to jam, but if you were broadcasting from many countries, at different times, it was much harder.
“When the headquarters of SWAPO moved to Zambia, the liberation of other African countries allowed us to do The Voice of Namibia broadcasts from these nations.
“While in Lusaka, my common-law-wife then working for the United Nations was transferred to Luanda in 1983. I then continued to work for The Voice of Namibia for one year until my wife, who was suffering from cancer, passed on. I was then transferred back to Lusaka to work as a SWAPO-UNESCO project coordinator, training still photographer video camera men and women until we were repatriated back to Namibia in 1989 to participate in the United Nations supervised elections,” Ya Nangolo said.