The nation was plunged into mourning this week following the death of SWAPO co-founder, Robben Island prisoner and stalwart agitator for Namibian independence, Herman Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, last Friday.
He was 92.
Sources close to the late Ya Toivo’s family said the liberation war icon died while finalising his planned speech for the SWAPO Central Committee meeting that was held last Saturday.
At the time of his death, Ya Toivo was said to be in fine spirits and reasonable health, given his age and recent medical treatments. He had just returned that morning from a trip to Walvis Bay with his close friend and fellow Robben Island prisoner, Helao Shityuwete.
Ya Toivo and his wife, Advocate Vicki, had worked on his Central Committee statement just before she left on Thursday for Geneva, Switzerland, in order to complete official duties related to her work in the Ministry of Labour Relations and Employment Creation.
At around 13h00 on Friday, two comrades from SWAPO came to deliver papers to Ya Toivo and he answered the door himself. He had been having lunch with his daughters.
After answering the door and greeting the guests, they walked together down the short entryway to the sitting room. En route to the sitting room, Ya Toivo said that he felt too hot and began removing some of his warmer clothing, asking for assistance in doing this.
After he sat in his lounge chair, he became very still and family members present in the house became alarmed and called paramedics.
Ya Toivo passed away sometime around 15h00 after the paramedics diligently tried for about 45 minutes to revive him.
Within hours, news of YaToivo’s death shot like cell phone and internet lightning around the country and the world.
In the daily mourning ceremonies at Ya Toivo’s residence that began that Friday evening, and in subsequent conversations with family and close friends, all agreed that now is the time to celebrate the life of this great man rather than mourn his passing or quibble over any issue that divides people.
Several people who have delivered speeches at Ya Toivo’s residence have stated that the long-time SWAPO leader’s contributions to this country are the “foundation of re-commitment, nationalism, and fond remembrances”.
President Hage Geingob visited the residence to express his condolences to the family on Sunday evening and informed mourners that the great man had been officially accorded national hero status.
During his presentation on Monday evening, former President, Hifikepunye Pohamba, delivered a riveting first-hand account and historical overview of many events, before and during the liberation struggle.
He gave a heart-warming salute to Ya Toivo, light-heartedly recalling that, “Those who knew Ya Toivo only after his hair was gone, may not know that once he had a full head of hair, parted in the middle, and was quite handsome”.
The former leader went on to recount how he met Ya Toivo.
“I met Ya Toivo for the first time in 1959…we watched from inside buildings as he was arrested and taken away in police vans because of his work for an independent Namibia…on 19 April 1960, SWAPO was born because Ya Toivo insisted that the Ovambo People’s Organization (OPO) change its name to SWAPO so that the party can cover the whole country,” Pohamba said.
As condolences and messages of sympathy stream in from all around the world, many have expressed appreciation for the achievements made by Andimba Toivo ya Toivo.
Photos and posters cover many walls in the Ya Toivo home. Loving pictures, drawings and paintings of him with his wife and children are prominent.
Other distinguished museum quality photos range from old shots of Andimba with his brother, Nestor, from 1955, a photo of him in his WWII military uniform in 1942 and a snapshot of him in his shop in the North in the early 1960s where he sold clothing material.
Of course, portraits of Fidel Castro of Cuba and Ho Chi Men of Vietnam have places of prominence in Ya Toivo’s home photographic and portrait gallery.
Letters of condolences with innumerable stories of interactions with Ya Toivo from many decades past, up until the present, continue to flow in from Government leaders (past and present), former liberation movements and political parties from other countries, human rights and former anti-apartheid activists and organisations, as well as church and trade union groups from around the world.
Ya Toivo made many visits to galvanise support from liberal governments and progressive communities in many countries, after he was released from prison in 1984. These people have memories, stories and photos of his time with them and have been sending them in, as a sign of their admiration for Ya Toivo.
Local newspapers have given complete accounts and biographical details about Ya Toivo. Further information on his life can be learned in his completed and soon to be released biography written by Dr Ellen Namhila, which was due for release on Ya Toivo’s birthday, on 22 August.
References to Ya Toivo and his life’s story are readily available from many sources including Reflections in Prison: Voices from the South African Liberation Struggle: Essays by South African leaders written in secret in Robben Island Prison(2002) and Where Others Wavered- The Autobiography of Sam Nujoma by Sam Nujoma (2001).
Family spokesperson, Helmut Angula, announced on Thursday that there will be a memorial service at the Ondangwa Show Grounds on Friday, 16 June at 14H00.
Ya Toivo’s remains will return to Windhoek on Saturday, 17 June.
A final official memorial service open to the public, will be held in Windhoek on Friday, 23 June, at a venue and time to be announced in due course.
The interment at Heroes’ Acre, also open to the public, will take place on Saturday, 24 June.