SWAPO—Secretary of Logistics SWAPO Coordinator and Secretary of Economic Affairs
Tor Sellström: What contacts did you have with the Nordic countries inside Namibia and when you worked for SWAPO in Angola?
Festus Naholo : Our contacts with the Nordic countries inside Namibia started, I think, around 1974-75. We began to communicate with Ben Amathila, who was then our representative in Stockholm for the Nordic countries. He started to send solidarity workers to us—in particular directly to me—so that was when we started to get involved with people from Scandinavia. We carried out certain underground work to collect information, which was needed for the exposure of the apartheid crimes in Namibia. Taking photos and filming. It was dangerous work and I wondered why these people were taking such risks to get involved with us.
When I came to Luanda in 1978, I was introduced to the Swedish embassy. I established friendships with many people there and we worked together in the interest of our refugees and of the liberation movement. I came to admire that the people from the Nordic countries were vocal. When you met them in international conferences and solidarity meetings, they were outspoken and supported the oppressed peoples.
In Luanda, I acted on behalf of comrade Pohamba. The SWAPO Central Committee had decided to put up a project office and comrade Shikongo was appointed as the first project officer. But there were tough demands and he was taken to Sumbe to become the administrator of the school there. So, I combined the work in the Treasury Department with projects and became involved with SIDA in the planning of a huge project. That was the building of the schools, hospitals, clinics and so on in the Kwanza Sul settlement. We soon realized that there was no construction material in Angola, so it had to come from Sweden. Then we realized that we needed trucks to transport the material from the port to the settlement. As we started to set up the hospitals and clinics, other problems came up. Electricity was needed and water was needed.
By then, Pohamba had arrived in Luanda and I was appointed Secretary of Logistics, working closely with SIDA. At that time, the work was massive and it needed much involvement, because we did not have the experience. Some of the projects were not going well, but it later changed when Berit Rylander and George Dreifaldt came in. They were really wonderful people. The Nordic people have a moderate culture, which you also find here in Namibia. They are wonderful, I must say. They fit in with the Namibians. When we were negotiating different points, we were just exchanging views, teaching each other. That characterized our negotiations. It was a wonderful working relationship.
The contribution made by Sweden and SIDA was immense. Wherever you went in Sweden, everybody was supporting the national liberation struggle or was involved in the effort to eradicate apartheid. In all the Scandinavian countries there was an admirable support. At international conferences you could see how their opinion influenced other countries to understand what apartheid was. The support and solidarity we received from the Nordic countries was important for the liberation movement. It was indeed a factor.
I remember—I think that it was in 1981-82— when the South Africans with support from the USA and Thatcher in Britain turned against the Nordic countries, Sweden in particular. They wanted to stop Volvo. It was difficult for us. We were afraid of not getting trucks from Sweden. By then we were also receiving some Volvos which were a kind of military vehicle. They were very important to get loads into the bush and people into hospitals and clinics. Even the shipping lines were organized not to receive our humanitarian goods, but together with the SIDA officials we worked very hard to find ways to get the food and medical assistance to Angola.
I also remember when sugar to ANC of South Africa was poisoned. They were assisted in the same way. There is no liberation movement—whether FRELIMO, ZANU, ZAPU or MPLA, not to mention SWAPO or ANC— which cannot really commend the work done and the support received from the Nordic countries.
There was work done in the education field. Support to our activities in the education centres and support to our students, who were deployed all over the world—particularly in the English-speaking countries in West Africa—to be trained. Today, we are proud that we have young people who are technicians in various fields, trained through the support of DANIDA, FINNIDA, NORAD or SIDA.
The Namibia Association of Norway and many other anti-apartheid organizations in these countries—as well as churches and cultural groups; everybody—were involved. Some were collecting used clothes to be sent to Africa. It was wonderful. People who were never involved do not realize that they missed something in their lives. It was a time of sacrifices and excitement, but you were satisfied, because what you did felt right. You were convinced. The greatest achievement that we had—all of us—was that we succeeded in crowning ourselves with the end of apartheid. Democracy in South Africa and freedom and independence in Namibia. Unfortunately, we have problems in Angola and in Mozambique, but democracy now seems to be taking root. All those successes are due to our friends.
Tor Sellström : You got support from the Eastern countries for the military struggle. Apart from the Nordic countries, what was the position of the Western governments?
Festus Naholo: The West was a great disappointment to all of us. When we grew up, we heard so much good about the Queen of England. We thought that the Queen was the most humanistic person on earth. Then, all of a sudden, we understood. When the struggle started, we did not see the Queen. There was no support. It shocked us all. I remember when Sir Alec Douglas-Home came to Namibia in 1959, pleading that the royal ships—their battleships—should have a base in Simonstown, South Africa. The whole world was against it. He came to Namibia to address us. I thought of ‘Long Live the Queen’. This man was saying terrible things against our independence. We thought that he would tell us that there was something good from the Queen. But, instead, he said that they were thinking about Britain.
We were later offered support from all corners, even from people at the extreme, close to fascism. People who vandalized human rights, for example Idi Amin of Uganda. I remember when we went to the OAU Heads of State Summit in Khartoum in 1978. Amin was passing the chairmanship to the President of Sudan. He went to our President to offer him young people to deploy them to fight apartheid in Namibia. Nujoma was quiet. He never responded. How can you respond to that kind of things? We did not want to indulge in such behaviour. We avoided getting involved with certain regimes or organizations, although it was not always easy. Sometimes we really needed the support to further the struggle.
Tor Sellström: As a church person yourself, how do you look upon the involvement of the Finnish church and mission in Namibia?
Festus Naholo: The Finnish church has done a lot of good in Namibia. The early education—particularly in the northern parts—was by the Finnish church. Schools, kindergartens, hospitals and clinics. The people who were trained at that time are good civil servants. When the South Africans created the bantustans, they also took over the schools, in particular the lower grades of education. However, the Finns kept one secondary school. It had been the best and I understand that it is still the best.
The Finns have done quite a good job. They furthered education and training. The community profited from their efforts. So did spiritual leaders of immense importance, like bishop Auala, who really was the father of the nation. His voice was accepted throughout the country and internationally. He was a man of peace, reconciliation and righteousness. Bishop Dumeni and many others continue in the same spirit even now. In Swakopmund, there were also Finnish missionaries and I had a very good relationship with them. I also had very good Finnish friends who had been working as doctors, nurses and teachers in the north and who really had been part of the struggle and helped a lot, even treating guerrillas. It was wonderful.
Tor Sellström: Did you as a liberation movement see any problems with the division in the Nordic countries between the more militant solidarity movements and the governments?
Festus Naholo: I would say that it was a blessing that so many forces worked for the liberation struggle. For example, there were conferences to which we were invited and where everybody contributed. The fact that there were various ideas—coming from the clergy, the students, the politicians and from other walks of life— was very important for us. We also learnt a lot through such interaction. Tor Sellström: In exile, did you feel that the relations between the Nordic countries, SWAPO and the host countries were constructive and based upon common understanding? For example, if you wanted to set up a farm in Zambia, you would seek funding from SIDA, but, in turn, SIDA would seek clearance from the Zambian government?
Festus Naholo: Of course, we understood that fully. SIDA is a government agency and governments have diplomatic relations. Definitely, SIDA had to act according to the wishes of the host government. But I suppose that they also worked to influence the host countries’ attitudes towards the liberation movements. That was quite obvious and we really appreciated it.
Tor Sellström: So you experienced that the Nordic countries served as your ambassadors vis-à-vis third countries?
Festus Naholo: Yes, particularly in the international organizations. It is not easy to deal with international organizations. First we looked around to see if there was somebody from the Nordic countries or Southern Africa present. That is how we had to do it. Otherwise we could not get our positions through.