9. Juni 2017

Namibian hero Toivo is no more

Struggle icon and former Robben Island prisoner, Herman Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, has died today. He was 93.

Ya Toivo played a crucial role as a founder member of Swapo in the 1950s, in fact the main force behind the creation of OPO, the fore-runner of Swapo. For his strong beliefs and convictions, he endured arrest, imprisonment, detention and harassment at the hands of the colonial authorities.

Along with the late South African freedom figther Nelson Mandela, Ya Toivo was incarcerated on the notorious Robben Island Prison, where he was imprisoned for a period of 16 years, enduring long periods of solitary confinement and other forms of harsh treatment. That was after he and 36 other Namibians were arrested on 9 September 1966 by members of the South African security forces in the north. They were charged under the Terrorism Act and on 9 February 1968 he was found guilty of contravening the act and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

After his conviction he made a statement to the court and said: “I know that the struggle will be long and bitter. I also know that my people will wage that struggle, whatever the cost. Only when we are granted our independence will the struggle stop”.

Throughout his years at Robben Island Ya Toivo refused to recognise South Africa's jurisdiction over Namibia and was the real troublemaker for the prison authorities. For instance, on 18 April 1970 Ya Toivo demanded that all Namibians be transferred back to their country and called for a drastic improvement of the medical services on Robben Island. He personified courage and steadfast commitment to the struggle.

Two years after he was released, Madiba recalled Toivo in a conversation with Richard Stengel, who collaborated with him on his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. “He was quite militant,” Madiba said. “He wanted very little to do with whites, with the warders.”

After Independence, he served in various ministerial positions until his retirement in 2006 and was also involved with, among others the Red Cross and the fight for the release of the Cuban Five. His last public appearance was this week at the Cuba-African conference. He leaves his wife Vicky and twins. (The Namibian, Windhoek; SADOCC)

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