Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Internal Struggle for Namibia's Independence - 1985-1989

During the 1980's the battle for the hearts of the Namibian people was being fought. The PLAN combatants were waging war with their Angolan, Cuban and Russian allies, but this was taking place outside the borders of the country. Inside the country, the battle was in the form of protest and civil disobedience.

The internal struggle included famous Namibians such as Hendrik Witbooi, Danny Tjongarero, Niko Bessinger, Anton Lubowski, John Pandeni and Ben Ulenga. They were harassed, beaten and arrested continuously by the South African regime.

However, the regime felt it was winning. They had created ethnic authorities and many of these leaders had convinced the people of the need for managed democracy versus the communist take-over by SWAPO.

All that changed when the students started participating in the struggle. In 1987 the police were unable to control and prevent the students from running through Katutura and Khomasdal, with some of the marchers reaching the central business district. By mid 1988, the South African regime and their puppet government was losing control. Over 75 000 school students were boycotting schools throughout the country in protest at the South African army and police repressions. The boycotts began at the Ponhofi Secondary School in Ovamboland.

Laws such as the Protection of Fundamental Rights Act (No. 16 of 88) were being used to prevent the gathering of any kind. This specific law was contested by the Namibian National Students Organisation and others and was found to be unconstitutional. This legal battle is still used around the world when discussing human rights as it "creates criminal offences for activities which in democratic societies have been perfectly acceptable and legal."[i]

In legal literature, "The period of 1985 to Independence ... an historical prelude because it arguably sets the stage for the constitutional development that followed Independence."[ii]

Unfortunately, this internal struggle for Independence has largely been neglected. This publication is a first step in bringing this story into the common memory of all Namibians.
Photo album of photos from the 1987/8 student unrest in Namibia
Comments collected during the two weeks of 21 March - 1 April 2011 via Facebook.
All photographs courtesy of John Liebenberg.­­­­

[i] Namibia National Students' Organisation & Others v Speaker of the National Assembly for South West Africa 1990 (1) SA 617 SWA, at 627.

[ii] Constitutional jurisprudence in Namibia since Independence - George Coleman and Esi Schimming-Chase