GENESIS OF THE SWAPO ‘SPY-DRAMA’ :Part II
By Paul Trewhela
The totality of antagonisms in Zambia, sharply heightened by the war in Angola and the detente scenario of Vorster and Kaunda, became
concentrated within Swapo during 1975.
With the Zambian regime as active protagonist, the pressure bearing downward from the major bourgeois states coincided with a countervailing force pressing upward on the Swapo leaders.
In late 1971/early 1972, Namibia was shaken by the most important labour struggle in the country’s history: the strike of the Ovambo contract workers, who, as Soggot writes, demanded ‘freedom to travel, to work where theyliked, to live where they liked, and to work where the pay was highest’-basic demands against a system of labour control more severe than any existing in South Africa at the time.
This was the first salvo of the working class in its series of strikes in southern Africa during the 1970s, resulting in the organization of workers in combative trade unions: a phenomenon that was to change the balance of forces in southern Africa.
Then, in April 1974, the officers’ coup in Lisbon brought down the Caetano dictatorship, ensuring the emergence of
black-ruled states on the borders of South Africa and Namibia, headed by organizations which had undermined Portuguese colonial rule through armed insurgency.
The new working class militancy, followed by the collapse of Portuguese colonialism, radicalized young people in South Africa, especially high school and university students, and acted as a mighty stimulus towards the Soweto revolt of June 1976. The effect was felt even more immediately in Namibia, with student campaigns that were the precursors to the events in Soweto. Both in its labour and its student struggles, Namibia lit the fuse to a mass of combustible material that was later to explode in South Africa.
The interconnection between the two fields of struggle, at once so alike and so unlike, will prove a fruitful field of study for future historians.
In a chapter headed ‘The Young Prophets’, Soggot records that the year 1973 ‘ushered in a startling efflorescence of Swapo and Swapo Youth League (SYL) activity’ (p 76). Formed in the 1960s, the SYL had been roused by the Ovambo workers’ strike to act on its own, independently of its parent body, during the second half of 1972: The way the Youth Leaguers went about their work was particularly memorable: they presented their listeners with a remarkable melange ofprophecy and challenge.
Though not given to the mystical belief that freedom would fall from heaven, many members were gripped by the
certainty that 1974 was to be the definitive year of freedom in Namibia…[With] a mixture of interpenetrating fact and optimism, fantasy The Swapo ‘Spy-Drama’ Part 11 43 and political pragmatism, many SYL leaders came to believe and to put out the idea that 1974 was the final year of struggle (p 77).
Soggot does not refer to the Swapo crisis in Zambia in 1974-76; but he perceives its source within Namibia itself, indicating that the campaign of the SYL, with its ‘promises of imminent messiah-like liberation’, gave rise to a ‘tactical tension between Swapo and the Youth League…’ (pp 77-8).
This tension within Namibia was reflected in rebellion abroad. Swept forward by the activism of the SYL, large numbers of youth, especially high school students, and from a very broad ethnic spectrum, organized resistance within
their home communities against the South African regime. They suffered repression and fled abroad to join Swapo’s military wing. Shipanga, in Lusaka at this time, recalls his astonishment as ‘one group after another arrived. There
must have been about six thousand newcomers between 1974 and 1975′
(Armstrong, p 98).
Eager for combat, highly principled, courageous, intensely democratic, the young militants demanded intensification of the war with all the self-confidence of youth, just when the Vorster/Kaunda agreement required that Swapo be curbed. As one activist in the SYL during that period in Namibia recalls: ‘We felt that we had our own destiny in our own hands. Despite South African power and oppression, we felt that we could push it all through.”
In a memorandum to the Swapo leadership drawn up at the SYL’s head
quarters in Lusaka on 26 February 1975, the Youth Leaguers in Zambia
expressed their ‘fear’ over the relationship between themselves and ‘the
comrades who have been here before us’, noting ‘a gap between us…a result
of mistrust or suspicion’. Whenever they asked about something, the
we are accused of being.
2. destroyers of the Party
3. and that we are fighting for power
-Swapo: The 1976Anti-Comiption Rebellion, p 2.
The psychology of the Swapo leaders against their internal critics is summed
up here. This political mind-set, more than anything else, produced the purges
of 1984-89. Against this ingrained suspicion, the SYL demanded full internal
democracy within their organization. Their standpoint was emphatic and
eloquent: ‘we deserve every right to ask where we do not understand and to
contribute wherever necessary.’ These young militants had not left Namibia
to exchange South African repression for an equivalent regime in Swapo. ‘We
strongly repeat that our right to ask or criticize must not be denied or
ignored…The call that “all members are free to challenge” must be put in
practice.’ Specifically, the SYL demanded information about Swapo’s con
stitution following its amendment and review at the Tanga congress more than
five years previously, as well as requiring information about ‘what form of
government Swapo shall establish in Namibia’.
44 Searchlight South Aftica, Vol 2, No 2, January 1991
The letter noted that there were times when members in Swapo camps
Zambia did not have food, some were without clothes and there were severe
problems with transport, while at the same time party cars were ‘used as
individual properties’ by leaders. ‘Leaders must be good examples,
demanded the 3YL, noting that at almost every meeting up to that time th
reverse had been the case, leading to ‘a spirit of fear among the memberI
towards our leaders’.
These were telling demands to place on the leaders of any nationalism movement, ringing with the intemperate spirit of Paris in 1789. This reb*
from the Swapo youth led to a meeting on 4 March 1975 at Libala in Lusaka between six members of the Swapo’s executive committee (Exco) and 15 members of the SYL, the ‘first of its kind’, according to the leader of the SyL
delegation, Ms Netumbo Nandi. Nujoma and Moses Garoeb, the administra tive secretary, were absent, but among those present were: Shipanga, Misbake Muyongo (Swapo vice-president, later to play a venal role in the arrest of
Swapo critics, only to leave the organization with his own accusations of tribalism and regionalism in 1980), Peter Sheehama (Muyongo’s assistant in the 1976 repressions, now minister of security), Nanyemba as secretary for
defence, and Peter Mueshihange, now minister of defence, whom Shipanga accuses in his book of ‘working rackets’ in Lusaka with Nujoma and Nanyemba at that time. Shipanga is specific in his charges: Nanyemba was very shrewd. He had little formal education, but he was clever. He lived liked a warlord, womanizing and spending money freely.
He had many business interests: he was in partnership with Nujoma and Mueshihange in two nightclubs in Lusaka-the Klimanjaro and the Lagodara.
One of Nanyemba’s tricks was to order supplies from the biggest chemist shop in Lusaka and to get one of our supporting governments or groups to settle the bill. Next day the goods were on sale in the Second Class
Market [the Asian shopping precinct]…Nanyemba simply pocketed the proceeds. All this was well known in Lusaka, and there were even jokes about how blankets given bySwedish anti-apartheid groups were making
the leaders of Swapo rich (Armstrong, p 101).
Charges of corruption were prominent in the criticism of the Swapo leadership by the youth. At the Libala meeting, the SYL members expressed their ‘burning desire to know the constitution of the Party’. A member of the Exco
(no doubt Shipanga) confessed that ‘the drafting committee did not meet.
NOTHING IS DRAFTED.’ The minutes continue: ‘One member of the Exco stressed that it is high time that Swapo should be in possession of the constitution.’ It then emerged that the Central Committee had never met sinceit had assumed office, and that its term of office of five years had expired (so also, therefore, had that of the executive committee). The tone of the meeting was heated. As the minutes report, ‘anything short of the immediate calling of the [four months overdue] Congress was not acceptable, one youth shouted’, Severe criticism was made by the SYL of the absence of an acting treasurer general or an independent auditor. If this was not remedied, the Youth could not rule out ‘the suspicion of corruption and misappropriation of funds’
(Swapo: The And-Corruption Rebellion, pp 4-6).
What cheek! These young upstarts had dared interrupt their olders and betters, the future property-owners of Nanibia-in-exile, in their act of primitive accumulation. As the cauldron of civil war in Angola now began to boil over, the young militants of the SYL began an intense struggle against the would-be bourgeoisie of Swapo before it had even come into being. To the leaders of Swapo this was more than just a threat, it was an outrage striking
against their whole raison d’etre.jI was precisely an audit, financial or political,
to which they could not submit.1
By the end of 1975, with the South African invasion of Angola in full spate,
nothing had materialized from the March meeting of the SYL and the Exco.
On 10 December the SYL in Lusaka issued a follow-up memorandum to the
Exco, reiterating its demand for a congress, accusing the leadership of
preventing a congress from being convened, and asserting that the its mandate
had expired (as it had, a full year previously). The SYL now also cited general
corruption, indiscriminate ’round-ups’, ‘threats’, ‘oppression’ and ‘ruthless
Four months later, on 21 April 1976, the Zambian army and police made a
pre-dawn raid in Lusaka, arresting 13 Namibians, six of them leaders of
Swapo, including the secretary-general of the SYL and three Exco members:
Shipanga, Mishima and Immanuel Engombe. The South African military had
begun its withdrawal from central Angola in January, Savimbi had begun his
retreat to southern Angola in February, the tortured ZANU military leaders
appeared in court on the same day as the Swapo arrests and Kissinger arrived
in Lusaka six days later (27 April). These arrests without charge or trial of the
most influential Swapo critics secured the political environment for the
detente talks in Lusaka between Kissinger and Kaunda.
The six Swapo leaders were detained in Namufobu Camp, where ZANU
members had until recently been kept (Swapo: TheAnti-Corrption Rebellion,
p 7). By this time the bulk of the ZANU fighters, detained in Zambia since
March 1975 following the murder of Chitepo, had been released and had left
for Mozambique. The imprisoned ZANU commanders had smuggled a letter
from their Zambian prison shortly before the Swapo arrests, addressed to the
front-line presidents, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the UN
secretary-general, stating that the Zambian government was ‘itself a suspect’
in the murder of Chitepo. They were convinced, now more than ever, that it
was because of
the resolute stand against detente and Nkomo which Chitepo and us
took, that Comrade Chitepo was killed and we are being processed for
our legalized murder (Martin and Johnson, 1981, p 189).
By now, Robert Mugabe had been provisionally chosen as leader of ZANU
by camp officers in prison in Zambia, in place of the more pliable Sithole. The
ZANU detainees took this decision after Sithole – secretly chosen by Vorster
and Kaunda to govern in a future Zimbabwe, along with Nkomo and Bishop
Muzorewa – failed to condemn the killing of thirteen ZANU members by the
46 Searchlight South Africa, Vol 2, No 2, January 1991
Zambian army in Mboroma detention camp on 11 September 1975. Sithole’,
silence on the killing of his own party members byKaunda’s regime, acting f
its detente partners, settled his future. Politically, he was finished as leader
ZANU. The lesson was not lost on the leaders of Swapo. When the Zambia
army killed four Swapo members at the same camp nearly a year later, 0o15
August 1976, Nujoa and the Swapo leaders around him preserved t&
positions by e’nforemg a permanent state of siege within the organizacoin
Sithole disappeared from view;, Nujoma became father of the nation.
In a statement known as the Mgagao Declaration, ‘one of the most importat
documents’ of the nationalist struggle in Zimbabwe (Martin and Johnson,
1981, p 200), the jailed ZANU fighters declared Zambia to be ‘hostile enemy
territory’ and called for the OAU Liberation Committee and the governmen
of Mozambique and Tanzania to evacuate them to a ‘safer’ country so that
they could continue the armed struggle. ZANU’s central committee, meeting
in Salisbury a week after Chitepo’s murder, had already sent Mugabe and
Edgar Tekere secretly to Mozambique at the end of March 1975 to prepare
for resumption of military activity.
Later, in London, Mugabe stated on the BBC Africa Service on 21 January:
President Kaunda has been the principal factor in slowing down our
revolution. He has arrested our men, locked them up, and within his
prisons and restriction areas there have been cases of poisoning, and
there’s also been murders.
Interviewer By who?
Mugabe: By his men. By Kaunda’s army.
(Martin and Johnson, 1981, p 210).
On the same day, in another interview, Mugabe asserted that the detente
exercise had ’caused the death of our Comrade Chairman Chitepo’. Assisted
by the presidents of Tanzania, Botswana and also Mozambique (the Frelimo
leader, Samora Machel), Kaunda aimed to ‘throttle us and throttle us com
pletely.’ Chitepo had been murdered ‘through or by direct participation of the
Zambian government.’ The Zambian government had turned out to be ‘an
enemy of our revolution’ (Revolutionary Zimbabwe, No 3, pp 1-5). As Mugabe
pointed out in a speech in London on 30 January, the detente exercise had in
fact been ‘hatched in the cities of Washington and London’ (ibid, p 29): it was
to these powers that Kaunda was responding
Mugabe gave expression here to a verygeneral opinion within ZANU. Within
weeks of Chitepo’s assassination, an official ZANU publication produced in
Sweden accused the Smith regime of having carried out the murder ‘with the
connivance and complicity of Kaunda’, so as to further the ‘horse and rider,
master-slave detente in Southern Africa’ (Zimbabwe Chimurenga, March
From the subsequent detailed investigation of the assassination by Martin
and Johnson, Zambian state connivance with Chitepo’s killers is not proven
but is not excluded. The writers identify the actual killer as Hugh ‘Chuck’ Hind,a former member of the British Special Air Service (SAS), who had been
recruited in Britain in 1967 by Watchguard, a private security firm run by the
founder of the SAS, Col David Stirling, as one of a small team of instructors
of the Zambian Police Paramilitary Unit and Kaunda’s presidential
bodyguard. Possibly still while working with Kaunda’s bodyguard in Zambia,
Hind was recruited to the Rhodesian security body, the Central Intelligence
Organization (CIO), for which he did secret agent jobs on call on a retainer
basis after he had gone to live in South Africa. As Martin and Johnson remark,
one of Hind’s ‘very considerable’ assets was ‘his contacts with the Zambian
police and paramilitary from his days as a Watchguard instructor…’ (1985,
p.52). Hid had no problem flying out of Zambia shortly after Chitepo’s
murder, later returned ‘frequently’ to Zambia and was killed in a car crash
there on ‘one of the missions to Zambia’ in January 1977 (pp 85,86). It remains
possible that Chitepo’s assassination was a joint Rhodesian-Zamnbian state
operation, as ZANU radicals suspected at the time.
SA year later the Zambian state apparatus was turned on Swapo. Shortly after
the arrests ofShipanga and his colleagues in April 1976, two of the six escaped
and secretly told diplomats and the foreign press in Lusaka what had hap
pened. Unlike Mugabe and the ZANU commanders, however, the top Swapo
leaders had actively connived at the Zambian arrests. Shipanga reports that
Theo-Ben Gurirab (now minister of foreign affairs in Namibia) visited his
house suspiciously late a few hours before the arrests began, and two other
Swapo leaders- Muyongo and Sheehama-publicly supervised their deten
tion. ‘Muyongo was in a transport of delight. In his red sports car he drove
ahead of the convoy hooting the horn’ (Armstrong, pp 109-10). Shipanga
reports having been told earlier that Muyongo, Nanyemba, Ben-Gurirab and
Dr Libertine Amathila (now minister of health) had said they were ‘going to
arrest me and my group’, and that at another meeting before their detention,
Sheehama, Amathila and John Ya Otto (now secretary of the National Union
of Namibian Workers) had ‘sentenced us all to death’ (ibid, pp108,132).
Given the history of arrests and executions within Swapo, these are matters
that require investigation, especially since three of the six people mentioned
by Shipanga are now government ministers.
The arrest of Shipanga and his colleagues followed a further sharpening of
the political struggle within Swapo, similar to the struggle within ZANU. After
the abortive meeting between the SYL and the Swapo executive in March
1975, the focus of opposition to detente had moved to a still more potent force: the Swapo military wing, concentrated in Zambia’s Western Province. These troops were in camps intermediate between Zambia and areas controlled by Unita, and within striking distance of the eastern prong of the South African army’s thrust into Angola. With the South African invasion of Angola, it became both a political and a military necessity to neutralize them. Together Nujoma and the Zambian army ensured this.
Swapo’s Secret War The South African army had moved in strength into southern Angola in
September 1975, a month after the beginning of fighting between Unita and
48 Searchlight South Africa, Vol 2, No 2,J January 1991
the MPLA.11 By mid-November a South African motorized column had’
arrived at H4uambo (formerly Nova Lisboa) and Bie (formerly Silva Porto) o,
the Benguela Railway, half way to Luanda. Under ‘enormous pressure;
emanating from Washington’, according to R W Johnson, writing not lo
afterward, the South African army attempted to hold its forward position i i
the coastal route to Luanda despite superior MPLA and Cuban forces (p 15
Some time after this, units of the Swapo military were ordered into battle i
Angola on the same side as Unita and the South African army, agant the
MPLA and its Cuban allies. This crucial, hidden episode in the histoy of
Swapo was the subject of a letter written on 13 March 1976 by members of the,
Swapo military wing based in Zambia in Western Province. Addressed to,
Nujoma as president, the letter of the Swapo fighters implicated the top
leadership. According to the letter, Nujoma had taken responsibility for the
Angolan front and Nanyemba for the Zambian front. The then chief of
intelligence ofSwapo, JacksonKakwambi, had himself led our fighters toi ght
alongside the Boers against the MPLA’. Although it was Kakwambi who had
given this order to the fighters, it is unthinkable that as chief of intelligence he would have taken such a perilous political step without a policy decision at the. highest level of Swapo. The subsequent purge of Swapo members who
opposed collaboration with the South African army rules out any other
interpretation. There can be no doubt that Nujoma, Nanyemba, Sheehama,
Mueshihange and others, under pressure from the Zambian military and from
Kaunda himself, ordered this action.
The Swapo fighters who sent this letter to Nujoma in March 1976 apparently
still had no knowledge of the detente operation or the constraints it placed on
Swapo’s military struggle Against the South African regime. They supported
the SYL demand for a national congress and a new constitution, repeated
accusations of corruption, denounced the closing down of SYL offices and
reported the following bizarre incident:
Captured Metal Boxes
The Investigation Committee has captured two metal boxes…which were
at a certain Island approximately 1000 metres from enemy [presumably
South African] bases m Angola. It was guarded by a speciaigroup paid
by Defence Secretary comrade Peter Nanyemba. These guards receive
special treatment. On the day when the Investigating Committee cap
tured these Metal Boxes, the Chief in Commander [sic] Awala told the
Committee that these boxes contain Party Secret Documents.
a. Why are the Party Secret Documents kept at the front-line while the
headquarters is in Lusaka?
b. Why are these comrades [the guards] paid although they are Party
(Swapo: The And-Cornupdon Rebellion, p 8).
The Swapo fighters were near to mutiny, but on opposing grounds to those
of the revolt led by Thomas Nhari in ZANU. They complained that their
commanders had given their weapons to Unita, leaving them without guns.
The Swapo ‘Spy-Drama’ Part 1 49
Other weapons had been buried, while they had had to arm themselves with
sticks. Some 150 Swapo fighters had been sent into Angola ‘without enough
ammunition, weapons, no communication and no food, and their fate is
unknown to this date’. Further, a certain Shikangala had been ‘given a gun by
Peter Mueshiliange to kill the comrades who are against corruption’. They
protested against public accusations that Shipanga (not yet arrested) was
‘collaborating with the enemy. Against the ‘treacherous acts of the com
manders,’ in whom they’had ‘completely lost faith’, they declared:
A ANY MISSION ASSIGNED BY THEM
B. TO BE LED INTO BATRE BY THEM.
This was, unwittingly, an act of defiance against the detente scenario itself. It
could not go unpunished, nor did it.
in another letter, written the same day and addressed to the Liberation
Committee of the OAU (which at this period also endorsed detente), the
Swapo military wing in Western Province declared that it had passed a motion
of no confidence ‘in the leadership of the whole party, and the commanders
in particular’. Their arms had been intercepted by the Zambian authorities
and their commanders had told them they were ‘not allowed to operate from
Zambian soil anymore’. They were resolved to go and fight, but not under the
present leadership. First they had to reorganize the party through the holding
of a congress. Concerning their own safety, they wrote:
we have 900-1000 ready-trained soldiers without arms or any means of
self-defence. We are expecting a surprise attack at any time. The enemy
is always shelling in our vicinity. At night we observe flare-lights from the
Effectively, they had been disarmed within distance of the South African
army and its allies. Their own leaders had placed them in a situation in which
they could be massacred at will. Out of desperation, they appealed to the OAU to provide transport to convey food to them at the front ‘during the whole transitional period until the congress is held’, as well as arms for each soldier and heavy guns for self-defence. This appeal from the expendable victims ofdetente, an appeal against a cynical act of betrayal, leaves a sickening impression: as also the whole of the subsequent spy-drama, which followed inexorably from the conduct of the Swapo leaders at this time. The dedication and
naivety of the Swapo fighters had its complement in the duplicity both of the
organization to which they belonged and of the OAU to which they appealed – fruitlessly- against it.
On 23 April 1976, two days after the arrests of the dissident Swapo leaders
in Lusaka supervised by Muyongo and Sheehama, the disarmed fighters on
the front again defied what they expected to be their imminent death, this time
by execution. From Western Province, they issued ‘The PLAN Fighters’
Declaration’, noting that some members of their committee had already been
50 Searchlight South Africa, Vol 2, No 2, January 1991
detained by Swapo. Swapo’s Political Commissar had told them ‘we are going
to cut off your heads’.
The whole history of Swapo, they declared, was ‘a tragic one. In the face of
anticipated death, they made a specific statement of their ideals. They gavei
detailed account of Swapo’s military collaboration with the South
African/Unita forces and-for the first time in these documents-issueda
general declaration of their belief in a socialist future. ‘We won’t be silenced
because of fear to be executed’, they stated.
To be silent means to betray our country. This is a noble task to us, for
we believe that Namibia will only be free if these internal enemies are
destroyed. We sacrifice to die in order to open and smooth the way to
the next generation. To close one’s eyes to these evil things means not
only to betray Namibia, but also to betray Africa as a whole. Some people
may prove us wrong today but history will prove us right. (p 12)
They considered the Angolan civil war to be ‘a tragedy to Africa’. Indeed it
was, and is, except so far as it served at the cost of immense suffering to wear
down (but not defeat) the South African military. Once again, the PLAN
fighters expressed their revulsion at being ‘forced by reactionary commanders
to fight alongside the boers against the MPLA’. They had illusions in the
socialist character of the MPLA, whose troops they regarded as ‘not only our
African brothers, but…allies in pursuing socialism.-.our comrades in arms
against colonialism, imperialism and foreign domination from the African
soil’. While naive in taking the politics of the MPLA at its face value, the
declaration called emphatically if simplistically for socialism, against which
they contrasted the corruption and property interests of the Swapo leaders.
They had information from reliable sources, they wrote, that there were:
people in the Swapo leadership who are having farms, hotels, shops and
b accounts, that is why they are less interested in the liberation
struggle. When we demand the National Congress where a clear, socialist
line be drawn, they consider us enemies, this is because we believe that
socialism is a better society. We are against exploitation of man by man
and condemn in the strongest terms the exploitation of our mineral
resources by foreigners. This is one of the reasons why they don’t want
the Congress to be held, because they know that in a socialist Namibia
there will be no room for private owned shops, hotels etc. (p 13).
The declaration gives extensive details of Swapo battles against the MPLA in
central Angola: at Munyango, Kangumbe, Luso and Serpa Pinto. These
appear to have been railway battles, in keeping with the interest not only of
Unita but of the Kaunda regime and its patron, Lonrho. As Bridgland reports,
Kaunda had ‘stressed to Savimbi the importance of reopening the Benguela
Railway’ (p 187). The same interest was doubtless stressed, no less forcefully,
to the leaders of Swapo, dependent then on Zambia for their military bases.
Luso, Kangumbe and Munyango are station-towns running east to west along
the railway. Keeping these open for Zambian (and Zairean) colliery traffic
under a Unita administration was the main concern of the Kaunda regime.
Further west along the line of the Benguela Railway, Unita had major bases
at Huambo and Bie during the period of the South African advance. It was
from Huambo that Unita had declared a Social Democratic Republic on
independence day (11 November), at the same time as the MPLA declared
the People’s Republic in Luanda. Serpa Pinto was the eastern terminal of a
shorter, more southerly east-west railway line meeting the Atlantic at
Mocamedes. It would appear that Swapo troops were committed to battle in
early February during the MPLA/Cuban counter-offensive which dislodged
the South African army, and with it Unita, from the Benguela Railway, from
Huambo and Bie, and from central Angola. Their role would then have been
to help protect the South African army and its Unita clients in retreat, when
they were most vulnerable. It was a complete reversal of the military goal for
which the PLAN fighters had left Namibia to join Swapo.
In each case, the Swapo commanders in these battles against the MPLA are
named: Kakwambi, Nakade, Intamba, Haulyondjaba and Embashu. Details
are given about three separate incidents in which Unita was given truck-loads
of Swapo arms, while Swapo fighters were in one case left only with sticks.
When they demanded weapons, they were told ‘Swapo is Unita and Unita is
Swapo’. In another incident, PLAN fighters say they were ‘defending the
MPLA flag at Ruyana and Mivungu in a major engagement involving trucks,
helicopters and reconnaillance planes, against ‘the boers, Shipenda rebels
and foreign mercenaries’. The civil war in Angola, which was also a war of
the super-powers and thus also an ideological war, had become a civil war
within Swapo, with its troops committed simultaneously on both sides: by
coercion on the side of Unita, voluntarily on the side of the MPLA. It was a
critical moment for the Swapo leadership.
Under these conditions, write the PLAN fighters, the Swapo commanders
‘began to hate us’ and made a separate base for ‘loyal’ forces. ‘They began to
call us rebels and a splitting faction within Swapo with Andreas Shipanga as
president.’ At this point the declaration becomes unclear. It emerges
without details- that between fighting inAngola and their subsequent sup
pression, the PLAN fighters mutinied.13 They arrested two commanders
(Kafita and Ushona), whom they accused of burying arms in the ground. Ten
days before Shipanga’s arrest, on 11 April, a delegation of 15 PLAN fighters
from the rebel camp went to the ‘loyal’ camp at Shatotua to present their case
to 150 fighters and trainees, under the command of a Swapo officer, Namara,
and under the overall control of a Zambian lieutenant with his own troops.
The PLAN delegation was overpowered by Swapo loyalists, seriously beaten
up, tied up for a night and a day and compelled to release the ‘two corrupted
commanders’ in return for their own temporary freedom. According to the
PLAN fighters, the Zambian troops saved their lives but did not intervene
when they were tied up. When they wrote their declaration 12 days later, they
expected the firing squad.
Mass round-ups by the Zambian army were already under way, clearly with
the agreement of Swapo leaders, when the declaration by the PLAN fighters
was written. By June 1976, well over a thousand dissidents were in the Zambian
army’s detention camps (Swapo: The 1976Anti-Comtption Rebellion, p 16).
52 Searchlight South Aftica Vol 2, No 2, January 1991
Nujoma and the exile leadership responded to the threat to their authority by
the method of the witch-hunt, with Shipanga cast in the role of Satan.
At the same time two other means were employed by the leaders against th
members: a party conunission of inquiry, which was not to inquire bt
exonerate, and the long-delayed Swapo congress, which was not to expres
the interest of the membership but to thwart it. In the report of the patty
commission of inquirysubmttedtoNujoma in June 1976 there was nomenfion
of Swapo’s part in the detente process, and only rudimentary references to
corruption: wisely for the commissioners.
Shortly before this the Swapo congress, convening at long last in Walvis Bay
at the end of May, condemned those who had most ardently called for it
then in detention in Zambia- as South African government spies. The participation of the exiled leaders in the Vorster detente strategy, alongside the
South African army, together with their corruption, was concealed from the
members within Namibia. Only with the detention of a major part of the exile
membership could the leaders have safely convened the congress, and then
only by staging this fraudulent token of democracy as faraway as possible from:
those who knew what had happened. Nujoma was re-elected president. As
the editor of the anti-corruption document wryly observes:
In telephonic contact with Lusaka, the internal leadership distributed
pamphlets describing how the youth were ‘misled’ by Andreas Shipanga,
the arch villain. At public meetings, house-gatherings, and in private
conversations an account was given of Shipanga, the Pied Piper of
Windhoek, leading two thousand well-trained guerrillas and Youth
members against minor problems in the movement. He ‘plotted’ against
the life of Nujoma, etcetera, etcetera (p 16).
In the same month, leaders of the Youth League arriving from Europe were
taken straight from Lusaka Airport to detention. In effect, they were lured by
the Zambian state and by Swapo leaders into a trap – a phenotenon that
appeared again in the Swapo spy-drama in Angola in the 1980s. With the
PLAN fighters and the SYL imprisoned in Zambia, the Walvis Bay congress
subverted the substance of the demand for democracy by conceding its
appearance. It had a strange and horrifying sequel. For many who played a
prominent role in organizing this corruption of democracy, or who slandered
the Youth League in the interests of the clique around Nujoma, there followed
a tragic fate.
Tauno Hatuikulipi, later a member of the central committee and the military
council, died in a Swapo prison in Angola in 1984, accused of being a South
African government spy. In the 1970s had been the director of the Christian
Centre in Windhoek, a forerunner of the Council of Churches of Namibia
which functioned practically as the religious arm of Swapo. His death was not
announced for six gonths, and it was then alleged that he had died by
swallowing poison. Another member of the central committee, Lucas
Stephaus, was killed by Swapo in Lusaka the same year, and his body never
found. Eric Biwa, also on the central committee and now a representative
of the Patriotic Unity Movement (PUM) in the assembly in Windhoek, was
The Swapo ‘Spy-Drama’ Part 1I 53
deported from Cuba to Angola by plane in 1984 with one leg in a plaster cast,
detained on arrival and kept for five years in pits in the ground. Benedictus
Boois, also on the central committee, suffered the same fate. The vice
secretary of the Walvis Bay congress, Othniel Kaakunga, subsequently a
member of the Swapo politburo, went into exile and was then tortured and
detained for three years, two of them in solitary confinement. Of these,
Hatuikulipi, Stephanus, Biwa and Boois had scornfilly dismissed a group
Swapo members, led by Hermanus Beukes, who approached them inNamibia
in August 1976, concerned about rumours of impending executions of dissi
dents (Swapo: The 1976Ant-Conupdon Rebellion, p.16).
Having helped to strangle the demand for democracy raised by the’74 Youth
League, these internal leaders were caught in the noose they had helped to
weave. The accusation ‘South African spy’ which they had pinned on the SYL
and the PLAN fighters in the 1970s came to haunt them in the 1980s. At the
same time, the PLAN security apparatus necessarily took on the character of
witch-finder general, the grand inquisitor for whom even the slightest sign of
mental independence was threatening.
In this it was assisted by its alter ego, the South African army. Not long after
the May congress, perhaps aiming to inflame internal strife within Swapo and
discomfort the opponents of the now discredited detente strategy, South
African forces attacked two camps of Swapo ‘loyalists’ in western Zambia on
11 July, killing 24 guerrillas and wounding 45. That, more than anything, wrote
finis at the bottom of the detente scenario. One of these camps, Shatotua, was
the base at which Nujoma’s loyalists had captured and nearly killed the
members of the PLAN fighters’ committee exactly three months earlier, on
11 April. Despite Shipanga having been in detention at this time for 82 days,
Katj avivi continues to report- without investigation or even further comment
-that ‘Swapo attributes this attack to Shipanga’s followers and holds him
responsible’ (p 107).
By the time of the Shatotua attack, the Swapo leaders were rapidly adapting
to the changed turn of events. They had committed their troops to the losing
party in the Angolan war, and had compromised themselves through their
association with the South African army policy blunders which could only be
covered over by suppression of the most principled of their members, sys
tematic falsification of the truth and vilification of any critic. It still remained
necessary to adapt to the winning side. This Nujoma and his cohorts did with
alacrity. Nujoma’s alliance with Savimbi had begun in the mid-1960s, when as
Bridgland reports, Swapo enabled the i-st trained Unita fighters to traverse
Tanzania and Zambia in order to reach Angola, and when Nujoma provided
Savimbi with a Soviet Tokarev pistol (pp 69-71). Now, with the cry ‘vae vicdis’
in the air, Nujoma threw in his lot with the conqueror, abandoning Swapo
soldiers in Unita-held regions to their fate. Former Swapo members say these
fighters were killed by Unita.
Despite continued fighting, the result of the Angolan war in its first phase
was clear. By December 1985, the US Congress decided to end all aid to Unita
and the FNLA. As Shipanga explains, from that time:
54 Searchlight South Africa, Vol 2, No 2, January 1991
the Vorster-Kaunda-Ford plan for Angola, with Nujoma in tow, was
NuJoma began defaching himself from the Pretoria-Lusaka.
Washigton coalition, and by March 1976 he was spending a lot of time
in Luanda negotiating with the MPLA and the Russians…’ (Armstrong,
Alreadyin December 1975he wasvisiting Cuba and theUSSR (BlackR&Wew
1975-1976, p 215), and in July 1976- following an enlarged central committee
meeting near Lusaka-Swapo played the Brezhnev card with a new politicat
programme cut to the changed political situation, adapted especially to its
need for bases in southern Angola. It pledged to unite all Namibian peopie
‘particularly the working class, the peasantry and progressive intellectuals, into
a vanguard party ‘capable of safeguarding national independence and of
building a classless, non-exploitative society based on the ideals and principles
of scientific socialism’ (Katjavivi, pp 108-9). In the same tones might Mafia
Godfathers seek the solace of Mother Church. Having played one side in the
cold war system in Angola, Nujoma now reversed his alliances to play the
other. Stalinization of Swapo advanced apace, leading to the crimes of the
Only the grisly final act of the Vorster-Kaunda-Nujoma detente required
now to be completed. In a press statement on 5 August 1976, Nuj oma publicly
threatened all the ‘dissidents’ with death by firing squad, adding the graceless
lines quoted at the head of this article: ‘The agents of the South African regime
and imperialists have been rooted out of our movement, and the Central
Committee carried out a systematic purge of all the traitors’. (quoted in
Armstrong, p 133) By this time, in addition to the thousand Swapo fighters at
Mboroma camp at Kabwe, north of Lusaka, a further six hundred returning
from training in the Soviet Union had been immediately arrested and also
locked up there. On 5 August 1976, the same day that Nujoma made his brutish
remark about the firing squad, the starving unarmed guerrilla fighters tried to
break out of Mboroma to march in protest to Lusaka. The Zambian army
opened fire, killing four and seriously wounding another thirteen. It was a
replica of the killing of thirteen ZANU fighters at Mboroma by the Zambian
army the previous year. Shipanga reports:
In documents that they smuggled out of Mboroma, the fighters’ com
plaints were familiar. They demanded a Congress. They objected to
corruption in the leadership. They objected to the transfer of Swapo arms
to ‘Unita reactionaries’. They wanted the OAU to provide them with
trucks so that they could be transported from Zambia to Angola to begin
fighting again in Namibia.
Eventually many of them were transferred to Angola, but several went
before Swapo Iring squads as soon as they arrived. Many were also kept
back in Zambia, There has been very little news of them since, although
several are known to have died in detention over the years (pp 133-34).
Angola now became the killing ground for the Swapo leadership, in mockery
of the PLAN fighters’ illusions about the socialist character of the MPLA for
The Swapo ‘Spy-Drama’, Part II 55
which they had been ready to give their lives. The Swapo leaders, who directed
their troops to fight against the MPLA on the side of the South African army,
were now given a free hand by the MPLA to murder on Angolan soil the
Namibian fighters who had demanded to fight with the MPLA, against the
South Africans and in opposition to the Swapo leaders. Swapo in Angola
became a mincing machine for any member with critical opinions.
Shipanga, whose application for habeas corpus was an embarrassment to the
Zambian state, was secretly hustled across the border with his colleagues to
prison in Tanzania, where there was no habeas corpus. On 4 March 1978South
African troops slaughtered hundreds of Namibian civilians in a refugee camp
at Kassinga in southern Angola. Again, as in the Shatotua killings, Shipanga
was accused by Swapo in radio and press reports of having personally led the
South African troops into Kassinga. Despite the fact that Shipanga had been
a guest of the Zambian and Tanzanian prison systems for nearly two years at
the time of the massacre, and was only released on 25 May 1978, the slander
stuck. The Swapo leaders were diligent students of Goebbels’ doctrine of the
big lie. Shipanga reports that when he eventually returned to Namibia after
his release from prison -to commence a political career that actually did
involve collaboration with the South African authorities, which he had
denounced before -he met ‘terrible hostility’ from the black population
because of his alleged complicity in the massacre at Kassinga (p 142).
The psychopathology of Swapo in exile lies in its double life as a nationalist
movement: as rebel against the South African regime, and as accomplice of
that regime against its own members. Discussing his recent novel, Chicago
Loop, which deals with murder, the writer Paul Theroux has spoken of the
fascination of people leading a double life, since here the writer can ‘explore
the public and private life and the contradictions between them and also the
way in which they mesh together’ (WHSmith Bookcase, Easter 1990). Swapo
concentrates within itself the contradictions of the whole genus of nationalist
movements which came to power in Africa since 1957, and also of those
international agencies, organizations and individuals which support them. In
the relation between the apparent rationality ofits aims and its psychotic inner
life, its totalitarian internal regime and its proclaimed goal of liberation, the
needs it purported to address and the self-interest of its leaders, Swapo
provides a laboratory for study of the inadequacy of the existing politics in
Africa. It is a form of politics that requires to be submitted to criticism, as a
barrier to a genuine emancipation.
As an organization living a lie, Swapo could only be hyper-sensitive to the
opinion of any honest person, or even the gentlest of critics. From this stems
its guilty paranoia, its morbid suspiciousness, the stuff of which in governments
historic crimes are made. With its para-statal authority – first in Zambia, then
in Angola – Swapo was camouflaged not only by terror and secrecy but by the
whole spectrum of late 20th century official society, including states (both
bourgeois and stalinist), churches, the United Nations secretariat, the liberal
media, Labour and stalinist parties, well-meaning individuals of all kinds and
the majority of the ‘trotskyist’ left. Its true history tells us as much about these
agencies as about itself.
56 Searchlight South Africa, Vol 2, No 2, January 1991
Common purpose between the South African regime and Swapo, as much
as their antagonism, acted to produce a common methodology of rule by
terror. Its sources are international as well as local. In this way, through th.,
civilizing agencies of the great powers – the US and the USSR- as well as
their medium and lesser acolytes, a process of barbarism was cultivated, iaI
southern Africa, now reigning in Windhoek with all the panoply of state. The
investigation of Namibia’s modem history has barely begun. It has the textur
of one of the bloodier of Shakespeare’s dramas. That is sufficient for the liberal
and socialist luminaries of the universe to find in Namibia the pretext for the
suppressed religious zeal.
8. Soggot acquired first-hand knowledge for this superbly written factuai
history as senior counsel in trials of Swapo members in Namibia. People
whom he helped save from prison and even from the gallows, such as Victor
Nkandi, later died in Swapo’s prisons in Angola. Among those he defended
in court against the South African regime was the most prominent leader of
the contract workers’ strike, Johannes Nangutuuala, whose brother Frans was
murdered in Angola after resigning from Swapo – allegedly by a prominent
member of the present government in Namibia (personal communication
from Windhoek, February 1990).
9. Interviewwith Hewat Beukes, London, 8 April 1990. Editor of the pamphlet
on the 1976Ani-ComTpfion Rebellion, Beukes is a son of Hermanus Beukes.
His older brother Hans, who had been a member of Swapo’s national
committee in the early 1960s, fled from Lusaka after the 1976 arrests, and his
sister Martha Ford- a member of Swapo’s politburo, and secretary of its
Women’s Council – was later forced out ofSwapo. Hewat Beukes and his wife
Erica were active in the Swapo Youth League inside Namibia in the 1970s and
are now leading members of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party of Namibia,
10. My thanks to F S for these comments.
11. Oleg Ignatyev, Pravda correspondent in Angola, asserts that South African
troops crossed the border into Angola to take command of the Calueque dam
on the Cunene river on 8 August: in his view ‘the beginning of direct South
African aggression against Angola’ (p 137). Stockwell says the advance into
Angola began in the second week of September (pp 163-4). Johnson gives the
date of the initial South African military advance into Angola as 14 July, part
of a series of events that ‘bear all the hallmarks of Pretoria-Washington
coordination’ (pp 144,147). Marcum indicates that South African troops first
crossed into Angola in June. About this time, when military collaboration was
being prepared with the South African regime, Savimbi made statements
distancing himself from Swapo (Marcum, p 268). Marcum cites a report in
Die Transvaler (Johannesburg) in May 1975 on the break-up of the Unita
Swapo alliance (note 233, p 441). Reality was more complex.
12. Daniel Chipenda, the former MPLA leader and military commander,
subsequently fought alongside Unita and the South African army. Mivungu is
possibly Mavinga, a south-easterly town near the Zambian border.
13. Eight years later, between January and May 1984, the ‘overwhelming
majority’ of ANC military cadres in Angola mutinied against oppressive
conditions in Umkhonto we Sizwe after fighting against Unita alongside the
MPLA in western Angola (see Bandile Ketelo et al, ‘A Miscarriage of
Democracy’, Searchlight South Afica, No 5). The outbreak of mutiny in the
ANC military wing, following the mutiny in PLAN in 1976, can only have
played a part in setting loose the Swapo spy-drama of the 1980s.
14. Similarly, there is nothing concerning Swapo’s participation alongside the
South Africans in the Angolan war, or of charges of corruption against the
main leaders, in the ‘official’ history by Katjavivi (1988), formerly Swapo
representative in Western Europe and nowa deputyin the national assembly.
This contrasts with a factual presentation of the allegations of the Swapo
militants by R W Johnson in 1977, only a year after the mutiny. As he notes,
since late 1975:
even the external (guerrilla) wing of Swapo had been racked by a major
split. A large section of the leadership had launched a bitter attack against
Nujoma for refusingto call a party congress..Among the allegations they
wished to ventilate at such a congress were their claims that the leader
ship had connived in Zambian support of Unita ; that arms meant for
Swapo had been diverted by Kaunda to Unita; that Swapo forces had
actually been ordered to fight alongside Unita and the invading South
African columns in Angola…(p 254).
Relying apparently on some of the same documents published in Namibia in
1987 by the ‘Independent Group,’ Johnson’s merit as a historian-writing
shortly after the events he was recording- was that he took these documents
seriously. He was in no doubt of Nujoma’s venality as a political leader,
reporting Nujoma’s threat to punish the dissidents by firing squad. How is one
to characterize the subsequent historians who neglect this episode, and
Johnson’s book? (The author became aware of this passage in Johnson’s book
only after publication of the first half of this article).
15. Rudolf Kisting, a member of the SYL in Namibia in the 1970s, enjoyed a
meal with Nujoma in Harare in the 1980s after returning from study (and
marriage) in the Soviet Union. Nujoma urged Kisting to give his services to
Swapo in Angola. This was Kisting’s intention in any case. He then flew to
Luanda in the company of one of Nujoma’s bodyguards, who hadbeen present
at the meal, and was arrested by Swapo security very shortly afterwards. After
torture and years in the pits in southern Angola, he was released last year along
with other recipients of President Nujoma’s hospitality (communication from
Kisting’s sister, Dr Sophie Kisting, who was present at the meal).
The same fate befell Kavee Hambira, then working for the Swapo radio
programme in Luanda. ‘In May 19841 was told by Mr Hidipo Hamutenya that
I was to fulfil an assignment for approximately one week in Lubango. I flew
from Luanda to Lubango. When I arrived at the airport the chief of security
of Swapo, Solomon Hauala, met me and he immediately arrested me’.
(affidavit submitted to the supreme court in Windhoek, 15 September 1989,
published in Basson and Motinga, p 176) Hamutenya is a member of the
58 Searchlight South Africa, Vol 2 No 2, January 1991
Swapo politburo and is now minister for information and broadcasting i h
government. Hauala has been appointed head of the Namibian army.
torture on a daily basis for ten days and imprisonment in the pits for five ear
during which time he states Hauala and Hamnutenya personally for
detainees to make false confessions on video, Hambira was releasedin M y
16. Herbstein and Evenson transmit a crucial error of historical fact, whi4
serves to besmirch people such as Hatuikulipi. They write of’Swapo’s aly,&
MPLA’ at the time of the 1971-72 contract labourers’ strike in Namibia i(
21). This is incorrect. Swapo at that time was allied not with the MPLA, whi*,
then had minimal influence in southern Angola, but with Unita: an alli n
which Swapo retained until 1976 when Unita, with its CIA and South :cM
backers, lost the war (in its first phase).
This error obscures the nature of Swapo’s relation to Unita andto the South
African army, during the war in Angola in 1975-6. This prevents an under.
tanding of the evolution of the spy-drama and allows the authors to write of
‘the network’ in relation to Swapo’s prison victims, as if Hatuikulipi and others
were in fact spies (p 168). There is no word in this book on SWAPO’s de facto
convergence with the South African military in Angola in 1975-76.
Though they deal of necessity with the war in Angola, Herbstein and Evensoni
do not refer to Marcum’s basic two-volume study, T7e Angolan Revolution
(1969,1978). There they would have read that ‘As late as 26 September 1975,
the MPLA reported that it confronted hostile Swapo soldiers in southern
Angola’ (Marcum, 1978, note 277, p 444).
17. Communication from Othniel Kaakunga, Windhoek, 23 February 1990.qo
[See also Part I for other references]
Abrahams, Kenneth (1989) interview in November, published by AKOMBerlin (typescript).
Amnesty International (1990) ‘Namibia. The Human Rights Situationat Independence,’ August,
Ex-Swapo Detainees (1989) ‘A Report to the Namibian People. Historical account of the Swapo
Helbig, Helga and Ludwig Helbig (1990) ‘Swapo’s Violations of HumanRights. An Argument,’
Akafrikl Munster, May.
Herbstein, Denis, and John Evenson (1989) The Devils are Among Us:: The War for Namibia,
Independent Group, The (1987) ‘SWAPO. The 1976 Anti-Corruption Rebellion: A FulI
Documented History, Windhoek
Johnson, R W (1978) How Long Will South Africa Survive?,Macmillan.
Martin, David, and Phyllis Johnson (1981) The Struggle for Zimbabwe: The Chimurenga War,
Faber and Faber.
– — (1985) The Chitepo Assassination, Zimbabwe Publishing House, Harare.
Mercer, Dennis (1989) Breaking Contract. The Story of Vinnia Ndadi, IDAF.
Share this post