Last week, co-founder and director of the Windhoek Observer, Lazarus Jacobs (LJ) and Editor-in-Chief, Kuvee Kangueehi (KK), had a reflective, sincere, and insightful interview with the distinguished former President, Hifikepunye Pohamba (HP).
Due to the length of the entire interview, not all of the points covered could be reported in the articles published last week.
We felt that the content and context offered by the former president were so valuable and historically relevant, that the outtakes from that interview would be published this week.
LJ: Do you have any regrets in terms of things that you wanted to do that you didn’t do or anything that you wanted to complete and didn’t get a chance to complete.
HP: No, to me it was an honour to occupy the highest office in the land; I have no regrets. I was lucky that I was not the first president; I went to the office that had been occupied by the Founding President, and I think his, let’s say, first five years of his presidency, must have had a lot of problems.
He had the difficult job of changing the attitude of our people who had been under the yolk of colonialism for some time and there were some who felt it couldn’t work.
When I took over, I found the ground had been levelled; I did not have the problems that I think President Sam Nujoma had. I recall when the Founding President took over the presidency of this country; I was appointed minister of home affairs. I dealt with the police; I dealt with prisons; and I dealt with civic affairs. I found it to be a bit difficult, especially dealing with the police. Back then, you had to transform the police who worked under the apartheid system; you had to bring new people into the police force who were once freedom fighters.
They had to be transformed from the freedom fighting mentality to the the law enforcement mentality and develop some level of unity between those who once were fighting against one another. Here, I’m referring to the apartheid police and the freedom fighters. It was not easy.
The prison services was the same thing, you had to bring in new people who have not been trained on how to handle those who were imprisoned and you had those who were still using terms like: bliksem donner (kafir). Those from the colonial system were used to using violence and saying racist things about blacks without any problem. But, now, after independence those from the old dispensation knew they had to rethink everything immediately; ‘these blacks are no more bliksem, they were now our colleagues.’ And these things were only a small portion of the activities and attitude changes that I had to deal with.
Now think about Sam Nujoma who was dealing with every ministry, every aspect of life, and each and every person, including the army, and working with the changes that had to happen immediately and trying to build something strong to last.
That’s why I said it was not easy, so when I came in, things were a little bit put in order in the fulfilment of the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic.
I received the cooperation, particularly of the colleagues who worked with me as ministers. The cooperation from the colleagues who worked as permanent secretaries in the ministries and the colleagues in the defence force as well as in the police force, worked together very well. We worked together to implement what Sam Nujoma had started and when he left, it was not completed.
I had the responsibility to ensure, for example, the road from Rosh Pinah to this village called Aus was completed. (This is just an example I’m giving). The road from Rosh Pinah to Aus was not completed when I took over office and I could not just throw up my hands and say, ‘it’s not me who started it’. It had to be completed because when we talk about development, it’s a process. Whoever comes into the office of the presidency has to continue the implementation of what has been started before.
For example, my administration initiated a road from Oranjemund to Rosh Pinah because our workers at Oranjemund travelled through South Africa to go to Rosh Pinah and we said we had to change that situation. But, when I left office, that road was not yet completed. I want to believe it is now completed, but those are just a few of many examples when President Hage Geingob took over, that he had to implement. But, now, in his case, his work to complete projects has been made more difficult because of the resources that are now depleted.
I had a very trustful team of ministers, including the current president, who worked tirelessly to bring about what we wanted to be developed. So one has to say thank you to the comrades, but also to the Namibian population for the cooperation they had rendered.
As I said, these are people who were born under a system of bliksem donner. And yet, they worked together with the Government too and then you had to think those who were elected and had to go to Parliament under the dynamic leadership of different speakers. We had the late Honourable Mose Tjitendero; we had Honourable Theo-Ben Gurirab, and today, we have Honourable Professor Peter Katjavivi working together, assisting one another and making laws.
When they make the laws, they ask the Government to implement those laws and of course you have the judiciary. Sometimes when I see the representatives of the judiciary of this country, I look at them and I realise that I know a lot of them from before, when they were not in the judiciary. Some of them were students in exile and when I see them I feel proud, Honourable Petrus Damaseb is one of those people and yet sometimes, there are certain individuals who criticise the Government saying that we are not doing anything, but look at the people who are doing great things. Look at Peter Shivute the Chief Justice. Look at all of them heading the complicated and independent judiciary of the Republic of Namibia, it fills me with pride.
The development process is long, but we cannot stop. There are solid achievements to point out. Places like Walvis Bay are good examples. Look at the port and the work done on the port and compare it to what was there before independence. The growth is huge.
Then you look at the service that the port renders not just to Namibia; it serves neighbouring countries like Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and you feel so happy especially when you think of being part and parcel of the SADC and indeed of the AU, you feel so proud that we are making a contribution to Africa and again I want to keep on saying development is a process; a process that must be continued by somebody that can take it from one point to the other.
KK: Tate, are you collecting research and recording the things you did during the struggle? How is that going?
HP: Trying to record what we did during the struggle and what we did just after independence and putting some historical things together, is not easy. To spend time doing research and trying to look at the old documents of things that happened in the 60s and 70s and trying to write what happened in Tanzania (then Tanganyika) is a challenge.
You record your initial memories and then something else pops into your mind, a new thought, and you tell yourself, ‘I had forgotten to put in that one.’
I recall that we (SWAPO) had a lot of activities back then which we started in Cairo, then shifted to Dar es Salaam, then to Lusaka, then to Luanda and finally to Windhoek. During that period, a lot of activities happened. Some things occurred under difficult situations.
When you think of what happened in Angola, how our people were killed at Cassinga and what had happened at Omugulugwombashe, and the subsequent arrest of many of our comrades including comrade Andimba Toivo ya Toivo. So in organising this history, there is a problem of putting all of this together in correct chronological order.
There are many things to remember and you feel bad when you have nobody to consult. All of those you worked with in the 60s,70s have passed on; you feel ‘If so and so was still here I could go to him and ask him what had happened when we crossed the river and the boat turned and we swam to the other side.’
But, those people are no more here to ask them things, they are now gone - then you tell yourself, ‘oh, I should have started compiling this thing 25 years ago immediately after we came home.’
Back then, many colleagues were still alive and you could go there for consultation, passing information to one another, filling in memories where you had forgotten. Your old colleague will remind you and you don’t have to go and read something, you were there. So, you say ‘oh yes, when it happened we did this and that and that.’ That is all the verification you would need.
There is nothing you can do to bring these comrades back; they are gone. Moses Garoeb, Peter Nanyemba, Peter Mushange and David Meroro - there are many - and they have gone. Did they know when they will be departing? And the automatic answer is no, they did not know; but then, how long am I going to be here? I too do not know when the date of departure is coming. Should it come next week, you would leave things that you were working on, incomplete. Those who pick up your research after you are gone are going to check things and say, ‘oh, what did he want to say here?’ And yet, there will be no one any more who can answer that question.
LJ: Is there anybody to help you to compile this information?
HP: Well, these are some of the problems we face. Some people, if you engage them, they are working other regular jobs and that comes with obligations. Other times, it becomes unfair to engage people in the project when you are not going to compensate them. These are some problems, but I have met a lot of the people willing to come and assist, but to date, I have not been able to deploy anyone full time on this project of gathering past information and documents to re-tell the history of days gone by.
LJ: Tate, if it will help, our newspaper has an archive that goes back to 1923. We will also see in our archive if we have any information we can avail to you or to whoever is helping you from our side.
HP: I will appreciate it especially when it comes to the information in the archives. If your newspaper will be willing, I have questions on the events that happened, for instance in 1990. I will come to the Windhoek Observer representative and ask them if he can retrieve some of that information. I would want to know when the people of Windhoek shifted from the Old Location to Katutura and what some of the daily stories around that were.
And perhaps on those days when I was imprisoned in Windhoek, some of the things I have forgotten, and those are the things that happened a long time ago now. In 1962, that’s when I was in prison here and the old location people where still there, but very few had left for Katutura because many people were refusing to move.
There were a few who went to occupy some houses that were built for the residents of the old location. There are stories there. I’d want to remind myself about them. So some of those things you might have in your newspaper’s archive that would be very helpful.