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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo

Andimba Toiva Ya Toivo was born on 22 August 1924 at Omangudu village near Ondangwa in the Oshikoto region of Namibia. He attended the Ongwediva Industrial School for three years and graduated as a teacher at St Mary's School in 1950. He served as a teacher until 1951, when he left for Cape Town, South Africa.

In Cape Town he came into contact with members of various political organisation involved in the liberation struggle. He became a member, and later Deputy Chairman, of the Modern Youth Society, which was organised by progressive youth.

Together with Elias Tuhadeleni and other Namibians working in the Western Cape, he founded SWAPO. He was expelled from Cape Town and restricted to the north of Namibia, where he served as organising secretary of SWAPO. He was arrested and detained on several occasions. In 1966 he was arrested and taken to Pretoria, where he and other Namibian were tortured and interrogated. Altogether 37 of them were finally brought to trial under the Terrorism Act. Two were sentenced to five years imprisonment, two were acquitted, three were given suspended sentences. The rest were sentenced to twenty years and life imprisonment.

Andimba was released on 1 March 1984 and rejoined his colleagues in exile in September 1984. He became a member of the Politbureau and Central Committee and the Secretary General of SWAPO. After the first democratic elections in Namibia he was appointed to the post of Minister of Mines and Energy in 1990. In 1999 he was appointed Minister of Labour.

Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo
by Kagiso Pat Mautloa


Namibian political prisoners - all members of SWAPO - held a special position on Robben Island. South Africa, through the League of Nations mandates system, had virtually reduced Namibia to its colony.

Toivo and his comrades had been arrested in Namibia and then charged, sentenced and made to serve sentences in a foreign country for 'offences' perpetrated in their own country, Namibia. They had to determine a consistent approach to their imprisonment and therefore to the conditions under which they were incarcerated in South African prisons.

First, they held on to the principle that South Africa and its courts had no right to try them. It followed from this principle that South Africa had no right to hold them in South African prisons. The prison authorities tried their utmost to break down and erode this position of principle. When a Namibian prisoner complained about conditions in prison, the authorities treated this as a de facto acknowledgement of South Africa's right to hold them in South African prisons. Led by Toivo, the Namibian prisoners therefore refused to raise any complaints. They stuck to their principles and demanded one thing: their immediate removal to Namibia.

At one stage Toivo was put into a cell across the quadrangle from us. He was kept almost entirely alone in that block of cells, consisting of about 30 single cells. Like all cells, it was about seven feet wide by seven-and-a-half feet long. The windows overlooking the corridor - a strip of four panes stacked vertically - were sealed and the two upper panes removed. There was also a two-pane window about seven feet above ground level, overlooking the communal section of the prison. For Toivo's incarceration in this cell, these two panes were painted black to prevent him having any view of the outside and the sky.

He was condemned to this cell for an indefinite period. His offence? During a late-night raid of our section a large number of warders had gone from cell to cell, forcing each prisoner to strip and stand naked while they searched his cell. From time to time the warders would assault the prisoner. Three warders led by a head warder, Carstens, entered Toivo's cell and the head warder descended on him, battering him with a series of vicious baton blows. Toivo retaliated with a single blow he brought the head warder to the floor. Summoned before the prison authorities, he was charged with assaulting an officer. Toivo admitted throwing the punch, but demanded that they charge Carstens for the unprovoked assault on him instead.

Toivo remained in this cell, totally isolated. He was denied all reading material as well as the company of his fellow prisoners. We feared for his sanity. We smuggled news to him. And we urged him to lay a complaint against the conditions of his incarceration. Whenever a senior officer or the National Commissioner of Prisons visited us, Mandela would take up the matter. On one occasion the National Commisioner went to Toivo and asked him whether he had any complaints. Toivo remained silent. The Commissioner then told Toivo that if he were to request his removal from the cell so that he could rejoin us he would facilitate this. Toivo had a simple response: 'You put me in this cell. You have the power to get me out of it. When you put me here you did not do so as a result of a request by me. I see no need for me to make a request for you to remove me from this cell.'

Eighteen months later, on the eve of a visit by the International Red Cross, the authorities took him out of the cell, removed all traces of the blackened windows, and brought Toivo over to rejoin us.

Then there was the time when Jimmy Kruger, then Minister of Justice and Prisons, (the same Jimmy Kruger who in 1977 commented on the murder of Steve Biko in detention that '[His death] leaves me cold') visited us on Robben Island. He had a long meeting with Mandela. In the course of this meeting Mandela urged him to see and hear Toivo.

Kruger called for Toivo and began aggressively with the statement, 'So you are from South West Africa.' Toivo interrupted and corrected him: 'Namibia'. Kruger insisted, 'South West Africa'. Toivo repeated, 'Namibia'. That was the sum total of their discussion. Toivo never got the chance to put his demand for their removal to Namibia, and Kruger never made the effort to hear Toivo.

In the course of the settlement process that led to elections and independence for Namibia, Toivo was released from prison in the mid-1980s. He was reunited with his SWAPO comrades and given a State reception in Lusaka by the President of Zambia, Dr Kenneth Kaunda. I was in the group of exiles who lined the walls of the reception hall. Toivo walk around shaking hands and hugging each one of us. Suddenly he spotted me and leapt across the room. The two us hugged and embraced, and joy set about play-fighting, punching and shoving and literally throwing each other around.

I woke the next morning with a fractured rib from one of his bear hugs. I suppose I can legitimately claim to have been tortured by the South African authorities and by my own comrade!

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