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Biography: Herman Animba Toivo ja Toivo


Date of Birth: 22 August 1924

Herman Toivo ja Toivo, one of the co-founders of the South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO), is the father of the Namibian independence struggle. Toivo stayed in South West Africa to face imprisonment, and thus remain a figurehead for the independence struggle, rather than flee into exile. Convicted in South Africa for terrorism, he served 16 years – much of the time on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela.

Herman Toivo ja Toivo was born on 22 August 1924, in the Ovamboland region in the north of South West Africa (now Namibia), one of the few German colonies in Africa. Toivo's father worked for the local Finnish Lutheran Church, teaching the catechism to people preparing for their baptism. Toivo attended local mission schools and then studied for a teaching certificate. He worked as a teacher from 1942 to 1951, taking time out to fight with the South African Army in World War II.

In 1951 he relocated to Cape Town and became active in anti-apartheid and independence politics. During the 1950s, whilst working in South Africa's gold mines, Toivo became increasingly sickened by the Apartheid government's treatments of blacks both in South Africa and South West Africa. He also became concerned with the bitter struggle between the South African government and the United Nations over South West Africa's status as a mandated territory.

In 1957 Toivo was banished from South Africa to Ovamboland when it was discovered that he was smuggling out taped testimony to the United Nations about the savage conditions experienced by Black mine workers. The following year Toivo finally managed to petition the UN on behalf of the Ovambo people, and continued his campaign for independence by forming the countries first nationalist party, the Ovambo People's Organisation, OPO.

In 1959 the OPO sponsored demonstrations against the continued introduction of Apartheid government. Toivo was now a marked man, but he decided to remain in South West Africa rather than go into exile. In 1960 Toivo and fellow nationalist Sam Nujoma formed the South West African People's Organisation, SWAPO. Whilst both were, on occasion, jailed, Nujoma escaped the country -- travelling via Tanzania and Ghana to reach the United Nations where he presented their case to the Security Council.

The Apartheid government's persecution of Toivo continued and in 1966 he was one of 35 independence activists arrested and transported to Pretoria. He was held for a year under fairly brutal conditions and subjected to repeated cross-examination before he was finally taken for trial. The case lasted six months and in February 1968 Toivo was sentenced to 20 years under South Africa's new anti-terrorism legislation (Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967).

With Toivo in prison, Sam Nujoma (who had been involved with the creation of headquarters and guerrilla training bases in Tanzania) took over the presidency of SWAPO and continued to act as its spokesman on an international level. SWAPO was acknowledged as the legitimate political voice of South West Africa by the Organisation of African Unity (in 1968) and by the UN (in 1973).

By the late 1970s South Africa was working hard to avoid the implementation of a new UN Security Council resolution (no. 435) outlining a transition to independence. Under South African support an 'opposition' group to SWAPO, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), was formed -- a supposedly multiracial group lead (in fact) by Dirk Mudge's Republican Party. Mudge was selected to lead the resultant coalition government.

In 1984, after petition by Dirk Mudge to the South African government, Herman Toivo ja Toivo was released. He had served 16 years of the 20 year sentence, some of the time on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela. (Initially Toivo was reluctant to agree to the release, believing he would be more of a symbol for the independence struggle by remaining behind bars.) On release Toivo joined the rest of the SWAPO leadership in exile.

Toivo returned to South West Africa in 1989 to help pave the way for independence and to take part in the country's first truly democratic general election. SWAPO obtained 57% of the vote and Sam Nujoma, still president of the organisation, was elected president -- Toivo accepted the post of Minister of Mines and Energy. The following year Toivo was replaced as secretary-general of SWAPO, a post he had been elected to on release from prison in South Africa in '84. In 1999 a cabinet shuffle moved Toivo to the post of Minister of Labour and in 2003 he was moved once again, this time to the post of Minister of Prisons and Correctional Services.

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