‘Ya Toivo shunned riches’

16 June 2017 Author   Sonja Smith
Fallen anti-apartheid icon, Herman Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, has been described as someone who “hated lies”, and who did not use his “hero status” to amass wealth or power.
These were some of the many glowing tributes from Dr Leake Hangala, Major General (Rtd) Charles Namoloh and Dr Theo-Ben Gurirab, who were the main speakers at the late struggle icon’s residence on Wednesday night.
Ya Toivo died in Windhoek on Friday, 9 June. He was 92.
Dr Hangala served as the first Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Mines and Energy under Ya Toivo, who was portfolio Minister from 21 March 1990 to 26 March 1999.
He narrated how he met the selfless icon, their working relationship and what he learned from him.
“He had good memories of things. Ya Toivo would tell you that in the afternoon of March 10, 1957, this and that happened. He taught me that tell no lies; claim no victories that are not yours; do not try to be a different person to different people; do not be greedy and do not forget your friends. He was never captured by lies or money.
“He was my direct boss. My mentor and he opened new horizons for me, I will always remember him,” Hangala said.
Other speakers said Ya Toivo never used his name or status to acquire personal wealth or covet the country’s resources.
Namoloh, whose father trained Ya Toivo and other freedom fighters, described the late icon as a giant who never claimed glory.
“It is a trend that is very popular in Namibia, where sometimes people claim the achievements of others. He was a giant who never claimed the glory and a hero who never boosted about his achievements. I will forever remember your selflessness, simplicity and kindness,” Namoloh said.
Former Prime Minister and Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Theo-Ben Gurirab, said he first met Ya Toivo through Simon (Mzee) Kaukungwa, who was a best friend of the SWAPO co-founder. He praised Ya Toivo’s wife, Vicki, for her commitment to her husband and her work in New York with the anti-apartheid movement in the US. 
“I have come to know, respect and love Andimba, but it is unthinkable to talk about him without mentioning Vicki.  I met Vicki before she married Ya Toivo through her work as an attorney as she helped Namibia win its independence and assisted many Namibians studying in the US.”
Dr Gurirab spoke about Ya Toivo’s absolute dislike for some of the American leaders he met during the late 1980s while on tours to raise awareness about the struggle for freedom in Namibia. 
 “Ya Toivo did not like Chester Crocker (Assistant US Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1981 to 1989,) because he was a liar.  He did not like Ronald Reagan because he was ignorant about Namibia and yet made pronouncements and policies that affected us, but he didn’t like Crocker more,”  Dr Gurirab said.
“Their Constructive Engagement Policy at that time halted the Namibian independence process and defended apartheid and strengthened the South Africans during the negotiations and Crocker told lies about that.  Ya Toivo never liked liars.”
After Independence, some who did not understand who Ya Toivo was expected a showdown between him and Dr Sam Nujoma for the SWAPO presidency. 
The South Africans in fact accelerated the release of Ya Toivo from Robben Island in 1984, precisely to try to foment a schism in SWAPO, with Ya Toivo presumably vying for power against Nujoma.  They failed. 
Ya Toivo, never ambitious for power, platforms or positions, stated unequivocally upon his release from prison and ever after, that he would accept any position to which SWAPO appointed him.  His commitment was always to serve SWAPO and the Namibian people; he repeated this point throughout his political life.
Ya Toivo was a stalwart activist for independence, agitator against labour exploitation, and an astute politician, active in the pre-independence movement and one of the founders of the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO) in 1960, and its predecessor the Ovamboland People’s Organisation (OPO) in 1959.
He served 16 years of a 20 years sentence to Robben Island prison in South Africa, after serving two years prior in the jails of Cape Town. 
While on Robben Island he was held in solitary confinement most of his 16 years for his unbending refusal to accept the South African government’s right to try, convict or jail him. 
He believed he was being held by a foreign government, illegally and said so at every occasion.  He battled the guards and warden at every opportunity, disdaining their system of granting favourable status to ‘cooperative’ prisoners.  He had the occasion, while in prison, to meet and befriend former South African President Nelson Mandela.
Ya Toivo was released from prison in 1984 and rejoined SWAPO in exile in Lusaka, Zambia. He is survived by Vicki and their twin daughters, aged 24.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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