A certain Christian A. Williams, as cited in a paper titled; “SWAPO IN EXILE AND AFTER: DILEMMAS OF PRAGMATIC NATIONALISM” by Bernard C. Moore, wrote an unpublished Dissertation at the University of Michigan (2009), under the title: “Exile History: An Ethnography of the SWAPO Camps and the Namibian Nation,” and a Reworked version of the dissertation titled: “National Liberation in Post-Colonial Southern Africa: A Historical Ethnography of SWAPO’s Exile Camps” (New York: Cambridge, 2015).
In such writings, Williams made some wild accusations alleging that “SWAPO did not denounce the Zambian government for negotiating with its arch-enemy…” This is a blatant lie peddled by the apartheid propaganda machinery to oppose and eventually destroy SWAPO and therefore cannot go unchallenged as it is meant to tarnish the good name of the Founding President of SWAPO and the Republic of Namibia, who was given the title of leader of the Namibian Revolution, and deservedly so, as he led the Namibian liberation struggle to its logical conclusion with a majestic sense of purpose.
Before we get into the details of the Détente in Zambia, as Bernard C. Moore wrote, it is essential that we understand how the 1974 Coup in Portugal affected the Southern African security situation. Between 1966 and 1973, South Africa began to outsource a large portion of its security interest to the Portuguese colonial military. For example, between 1969-1970, in what was declared “joint defense efforts,” South Africa provided nearly 200 million Rand in loans and donations to Portugal. According to Jamie Miller, this totaled nearly half Pretoria’s annual defense budget for the period. (Jamie Miller, “Things Fall Apart: South Africa and the Collapse of the Portuguese Empire, 1973-1974,” Cold War History 12, no. 2 (2012), 188.).
Because Pretoria had been outsourcing its defense to Lisbon, the April 1974 Carnation Revolution and the end of the Estado Novo created a massive reversal of defense policy, bringing forth a 400% increase in military spending and a rise in “total onslaught” rhetoric.( Ibid., 196-197. Also see Christo Botha, “South Africa’s Total Strategy in the Era of Cold War: Liberation Struggles and the Uneven Transition to Democracy,” Journal of Namibian Studies 4 (2008), 75-111.) Indeed, by this point, the SADF was beginning to entice UNITA to take on a similar role that the Portuguese once played, and plans for Operation Savannah were being drafted.
Pretoria took a slightly different strategy in Zambia. Starting in 1966, President Kenneth Kaunda’s government in Zambia offered support to the Southern African liberation movements; SWAPO had several camps, the largest at Old Farm and Nyango. In addition, both Zimbabwean movements (ZANU and ZAPU) had offices in Lusaka, as did the ANC and FRELIMO.
Zambia, however, was overly reliant upon South Africa, Rhodesia, and the Portuguese regimes in Angola and Mozambique for its economic well-being. Most of Zambia’s electricity came from the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River, jointly-operated with Ian Smith’s regime in Salisbury; most of Zambia’s copper exports relied on smooth operation of Angola’s Benguela Railway to the west and access to Beira to the east.( Paul Trewhela, “The Kissinger/Vorster/Kaunda Detente: Genesis of the SWAPO ‘Spy Drama,’ – Part I,” Searchlight South Africa 2, no. 1 (July 1990), 76.)
To complicate things further, the 1970s plummet in copper prices made Zambia further reliant on South African economic engagement: regular air service between Lusaka and Johannesburg had been resumed by 1973 and the boycott of South African goods was lifted in the capital. In short, President Kaunda’s government in Zambia during the years 1973-1975 became increasingly precarious; he had an increasing number of armed fighters in his territory, and the threat of Rhodesian attacks led him to agree to talks with the White regimes.( Saul & Leys, “SWAPO: The Politics of Exile,” 47.)
The South African Prime Minister Vorster proposed a détente by which President Kaunda protects his economic interests and solves South African and Rhodesian insurgency issues at the same time. President Kaunda’s assistant Mark Chona met with Gen. Hendrik van den Bergh, head of the S.A. Bureau of State Security, and Marquard de Villiers, S.A. Director of Lonrho PLC, in Paris, New York and Lusaka between March-October 1974 to discuss the terms.( Trewhela, “The Kissinger/Vorster/Kaunda Detente . . . Part I,” 78.) On October 8, 1974, a document titled “Towards the Summit: An Approach to Peaceful Change in Southern Africa” was produced and signed, calling for a “peaceful, negotiated settlement” regarding the liberation movements. ( M. Tamarkin, The Making of Zimbabwe: Decolonization in Regional and International Politics (London: Frank Cass, 1990), 27.)
According to Trewhela: “The detente document envisaged circumstances in which ‘the current armed struggle will be replaced by a new spirit of co-operation and racial harmony . . .’ Zambia ‘and friends’ would ‘use their influence to ensure that ZANU and ZAPU desist from armed struggle and engage in the mechanics for finding a political solution in Rhodesia.’ A similar clause relating to South Africa covered ‘ANC or other insurgent activities.’
In addition Zambia ‘and friends’ undertook to persuade SWAPO ‘to declare themselves a party not committed to violence provided the SAG [South Africa Government] allows their registration as a political party and allows them to function freely as such’ – a minimal concession, since SWAPO was already technically legal within Namibia, despite unrelenting harassment.”( Trewhela, “Kissinger/Vorster/Kaunda Detente . . . Part I,” 78.) The document had little to do with apartheid or racial issues; it was plain, power politics, and in the economic decline of the mid-1970s, Zambia had to play ball and agree to the terms.
It was at one of these meetings in Lusaka, Zambia, when President Kaunda called the liberation movements in his country to inform them of the accord and to persuade SWAPO ‘to declare themselves a party not committed to violence provided the SAG [South Africa Government] allows their registration as a political party and allows them to function freely as such’.
On that occasion the President of SWAPO, Dr. Sam Nujoma, strongly objected to that proposal saying that he can’t allow Namibia’s liberation struggle to be betrayed as SWAPO took up arms to speak to the apartheid regime in the language they would understand and he then walked out of the meeting. Therefore, it is historically incorrect to allege that “SWAPO did not denounce the Zambian government for negotiating with its arch-enemy…”
From 1974, in line with the “peaceful,” “anti-communist” and “negotiated settlement” terms of the Summit, the Zambian army took up a major role in policing the liberation movements within its borders. In the same way that the Portuguese military and police played a major role in Pretoria’s defense policies, UNITA and Lusaka took over. For this reason, SWAPO had to find alternative options, mainly by opening new fronts in Southern Angola which provided the rear base for SWAPO’s struggle.
SWAPO had a pragmatic response to the changing international political scene. Changes in the diplomatic arena facilitated Namibia’s appeals to the East Bloc for military aid and recognition under the United Nations. This also was part of the reason for SWAPO’s decision to move the headquarters from Zambia to the MPLA’s Angola. Eventually, SWAPO gradually moved its focus to Southern Angola in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Indeed, it is worth recalling here that in the aftermath of the Portuguese coup of 1974 and the violence after the boycotted Ovamboland Bantustan elections of 1973, between 4000-6000 Namibians fled into exile, eventually making their way to the Old Farm and Nyango refugee camps in Zambia. Logistically, this posed new challenges to manage this flood of new exiles and provide sufficient food, accommodation, and transport.
In addition, a significant proportion of the exiles were women and children, now schools and other services had to be coordinated. Importantly, as Serfontein points out, “the bulk of the new exiles were educated as many were matriculants who could not continue their studies because they had been involved in some of the student and high school protests in previous years.”
Angola provided a safe haven for many of these exiles with training facilities and resettlement centers. Thus, SWAPO leadership helped Namibians receive military training abroad, mostly in Tanzania and Egypt; some went to the USSR and other Eastern Bloc countries. Many received scholarships abroad to help the liberation movement. In this regard, it was the Founding President’s resilience, tenacity and strategic thinking which saved our Liberation struggle from being betrayed and from failure.
No amount of revisionism of history and the dirty campaigns waged to tarnish the reputation and good name of the Founding President will prevail as he already has his place in history and the Namibian people will not forget how he led the Namibian Liberation struggle to its logical conclusion with a majestic sense of purpose. Happy Birthday Tatekulu Dr Sam Nujoma, may you experience many more happy returns of the day!
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.