Nujoma and Kozo’s race to independence

25 March 2019
Author   Dr Rukee Tjingaete
Just like the biblical Cain and Abel, Jariretundu “Kozo” Kozonguizi and Sam Shafishuna Nujoma are organic creation of the apartheid system with its far-reaching tentacles of divide, control, repress and rule.
They were two faces of the same coin (goal):  the uncompromised liberation of their country.  Their race to free Namibia took them on different paths, but united them in commitment to the liberation of their people.
Jariretundu Kozonguivi, an intellectual militant internationalist was a brainchild of the African National Congress in Eastern Cape while at Fort Hare University, while Sam Nujoma is born of the railway contract labor system that forced him to adopt African nationalism to fight for their rights. 
Having passed through the phase of African Nationalism, the strategy of the ANC was to internationalize the struggle beyond the confine of the African borders and to find new friends in the Communist Party of Joe Slovo and others.  This had an epitomic impression on the radical Kozo who went abroad before most Namibian leaders to canvass international support for the armed struggle, especially from China and the Soviet Union.  Kozo never relinquished his membership in the ANC, a position that initially motivated SWANU leadership to support the ANC as the first legitimate liberation movement in Africa formed in 1912. 
Contrary to the contemporary historians who argue that the germination of SWAPO was influenced by the ANC, the founding members of OPO including Toivo Ya Toivo, worked closely with the Pan-Africanists especially in Cape Town. 
This is the group that would eventually form SWAPO and consistently proclaimed Pan-African Nationalism.   This latter proclamation and the harsh injustice being perpetrated against the Namibian people, helped Nujoma gain support and admiration from many African leaders on the continent and the diaspora.
This was precisely the reason why Sam Nujoma or Toivo Ya Toivo did not subscribe (in those days) to the ideals of the ANC’s Freedom Charter that for many years was perceived by many in the diaspora and on the continent, to compromise Pan-Africanism.  The Namibian political and historical context at that time, could have never entertained the Freedom Charter in all its manifestations. To this end, SWAPO was never a brainchild of the African National Congress during its formative phase.
The events of 10 December 1959 in Old Location was a cardinal point that influenced the divorce of Sam Nujoma from OPO’s regional identity. He understood that the limited “O” (Ovambo) of the OPO was not reflective of the need for a nationally united struggle against apartheid and colonialism.  To that end, he joined the platform of SWANU to consolidate a broad-based nationalist struggle that brought him in direct contact with the central leadership that included non-Oshiwambo speaking leaders such as Hosea Kutako who inspired him to shake off the tribal identity and assume national leadership as history has unequivocally confirmed.
Kozo was by then out of the country on a mission initially endorsed by Hosea Kutako that unfortunately did not bear fruit. It is alleged that he was deported to Cuba by the USA immigration at his arrival from Moscow to JF Kennedy International Airport in New York, preventing him from addressing the United Nations. 
Incidentally, Mburumba Kerina who was also an emissary of Kutako and a staunch supporter of Nujoma was already in New York where he was an effective petitioner.
Using his influence at the UN, he advised Nujoma to form SWAPO and in so doing to become a rival to Kozo and his party SWANU.  Today, it is speculated although not confirmed that Kerina’s presence at the UN might have played a pivotal role in Kozo’s denial of the UN platform, knowing that his mission was not to deliver a petition as such but to drop the bomb shell that Namibians inside the country were ready for an armed liberation struggle.
Unlike the Pan-African pragmatist Sam Nujoma, the dogmatist neo-Marxist Jariretundu Kozonguizi had, at the height of the Cold War, already declared his allegiance to China and the Soviet Union, a position that made him unpopular in parts of Africa and rejected by Hosea Kutako at home.
Kozo declared the two socialist Eastern super powers, China and the Soviet Union, as the true friends of Africa, and in the process, down-played the role of Pan-Africanism in world politics. 
This proved to be a serious strategic mistake that backfired on his party SWANU as the African block accused him of arrogance and ditched him in favor of the moderate and pragmatic Sam Nujoma who courted the Organization of African Unity (at that time, OAU) to support SWAPO’s Pan-African nationalism as opposed to SWANU’s international socialism.  Kozo’s temporary elevation to the high ground of international politics that was partly due to his oratory gift and ideological firmness, later affirmed the move by many Southern African liberation movements to turn to the Eastern Bloc countries for support.  They also chose him to represent them at various platforms of the Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Organization (AAPSO), a political organ that campaigned on behalf the African liberation movements for international support.
Unfortunately, Kozo’s international commitments that compelled him to shuttle between continents resulted in his neglect of his SWANU offices in Cairo and Dar es Salaam as well as Namibia’s internal political dynamics.  He had to an extent also parted ways with Hosea Kutako whose petition strategy he never fully endorsed. 
This was one of the strategic differences between Kozonguizi and Nujoma who at all times expressed his adoration of Hosea Kutako, a position that gained him support among the likes of Peter Katjavivi, Hijakati Katjiuanjoi and Ngarikutuke Tjiriange who preferred the platform of SWAPO than SWANU.  This strategy also helped Sam Nujoma to have free access into the domain of the Chief:  the Herero-speaking community.  Not only that, Katjikururume (as Hosea Kutako was known), had gained national endorsement from many non-Herero speaking leaders.
Today, several political analysts argue that Hosea’s rejection of Kozo in favor of Nujoma was out of his preference for a gradual peaceful political process through the UN, based on his belief that the armed struggle was the last option.  Besides that, he was traumatized by the 1904 Herero genocide war in which he personally fought. It is claimed that he was reluctant to endorse the armed struggle out of fear that the Herero community who suffered the brunt of the 1904-1908 genocide, would not be in a position to sustain the proposed resurrection.  In addition to this fact, most of the African countries that supported Namibia’s petition at the UN did not support the armed struggle out of fear of the Western countries.
SWAPO under Nujoma continued to strengthen its home base, following PLAN’s first military contact with the South African apartheid security forces at Ongulumbashe in 1966.  Although the PLAN combatants were defeated in that battle, it inspired many people to join the rank and file of the party leading to the arrest of Toivo and his comrades in Namibia. 
SWANU which faced isolation in exile, encountered the same fate at home when its most active leader, Gerson Veii, was also arrested and taken to Robben Island where he spent five years with fellow detained SWAPO leaders on the notorious prison island. The campaign for the release of Herman Toivo Ya Toivo abroad helped to popularize the SWAPO cause.  However, the SWAPO diplomats at the UN did not mention Veii which helped to ensure that his detention was rarely heard of outside the borders of Namibia as part of their strategies to downplay and isolate any other Namibian political party, including SWANU. 
In the event, Kozo retired into oblivion, highly frustrated by the African continent, the UN and to a partial extent, the Herero Traditional Authority, that had embraced Clemens Kapuuo’s leadership at home at the expense of SWANU.  His legacy was left with Moses Katjiuongua and Zed Ngavirue as well as other members of the SWANU External Council to pursue.  Unfortunately, the party never gained the political heights that it once enjoyed during Kozo’s leadership abroad. 
Realizing that he had been too fast in his attempt to advocate armed struggle rto liberate Namibia.  Also, to fulfill his ambition to outperform Nujoma, Kozo apparently abandoned the struggle in unexpected ways by enrolling at Oxford University in the UK where he obtained his qualifications as a barrister at law before becoming Namibia’s first black advocate. 
As the Kozo rivalry became a non-issue, Nujoma continued to ignore any other Namibian political party abroad, including SWANU, to ensure that they would never compete with SWAPO on any level or in any arena.
The remaining members in the SWANU External Council (EC) returned home, knowing that the time was ready for the implementation of Resolution 435.  It was too late for the militant youth of SWANU in exile who formed the SWANU Revolutionary Council to re-explore the friendships that Kozo and his colleagues in the EC had cultivated with the then Soviet Bloc.  By then, SWAPO was already recognized by the UN as the ‘Sole and Authentic Representative of the Namibian People’ and enjoyed the financial and political support of the vast international anti-apartheid movement.  
The ‘rivalry’ ended with the attainment of independence in 1990 when Nujoma as a mature statesman, offered Kozo the position of Ombudsman and asked Dr Zed Ngavirue to take on the position of Director General of the National Planning Commission (NPC) in a free Namibia. 
Kozo passed on and he is buried at the Old Location Cemetery in Windhoek.  Nujoma concluded his chapter by handing over his presidency to Hifikepunye Pohamba.   He retired in peace, having obtained the title of being the Founding Father of the Nation.   He will celebrate his 90th birthday in May 2019.
Let us, as we celebrate Namibia’s Independence Day, this week, stop for a minute to honor these two giants in the history of our brave nation. They remain Namibia’s true heroes.
Dr Rukee Tjingaete is a social and political analyst and researcher holding a PhD Michigan State University.  He currently teaches various subjects in tourism and strategic management at IUM.  This opinion is written in his own capacity.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Article shortened for space– Ed.


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.

Contact Us

Windhoek Observer House
c/o John Meinert & Rossini Street
Windhoek West
Tel: +264 61 411 800
Fax: +264 61 226 098