Namibia: interview with SWAPO

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism no. 7 November/December 1980

 jon ya otto

The interview below was given to Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! by John Ya Otto — SWAPO Secretary for Labour — whilst on a visit to Britain to mobilise British working class support for the Namibian people's fight against South African occupation and oppression. As Comrade Otto points out this occupation and oppression of Namibia and her people is only possible because of British imperialism's direct military and economic support of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The results of this foreign imperialist occupation of Namibia are poverty and starvation for the oppressed workers and peasants. Black worker's wages are 1/25th of those of the whites, 50% of all children die before the age of five, workers live and work in the most appalling conditions and diseases such as tuberculosis are rife. Every attempt to organise and fight against these conditions is met with brutal repression, 80% of Namibian people live under martial law, Rio Tinto Zinc (a British firm) has an agreement with the South African racist army to crush any labour or political organisation in the Rossing Mine. With British supplied weaponry and technology South African troops hunt down, imprison, torture and murder the freedom fighters of SWAPO.

This is the regime that British imperialism is actively engaged in supporting. Communists and the working class movement in Britain have a duty and interest to smash any British involvement in Namibia and Southern Africa as a whole.

In fighting in support of SWAPO and the Namibian people, communists and the working class movement should beware of the Labour Party and Labour Lefts, especially of that hypocrite imperialist Tony Benn. Benn has been prancing round the stages of Britain's speaking halls uttering his support for democracy and self-determination. But the working class movement should note that he himself when Minister signed the contract with Rio Tinto Zinc to supply British capitalists with uranium, in defiance of UN Decrees and of international law. In building support for SWAPO and the Namibian people, communists will not allow Benn and his ilk to cover up their racist imperialist role in Namibia.

FRFI: Could you explain briefly what the South West African People's Organisation is, and what its aims are.

JYO: SWAPO is a national liberation movement which organises and leads the broad mass of the Namibian working people in the struggle for national and social liberation. The people of Namibia under the leadership of SWAPO will do their level best to end the illegal South African occupation of Namibia.

FRFI: Do you see your struggle as being against British imperialism as well, because of course British imperialism is one of the main bastions of the South African regime.

JYO: SWAPO fights not only South Africa but also international imperialism; British imperialism particularly in the form of the economic interests that she has in Namibia. Now British imperialism, by having heavy economic interests in Namibia gives all-out support, militarily, diplomatically, technically, to the apartheid regime in South Africa. So in actual fact the forces of SWAPO, and particularly the People's Liberation Army of Namibia, are fighting not only South Africans but also those who supply armoury and helicopters to South Africa: the British, French, Canadians, Americans etc.

FRFI: Can you say a little more about the People's Liberation Army and the significance of the armed struggle in Namibia?

JYO: The People's Liberation Army of Namibia is the armed wing of the South West Africa People's Organisation. I must say here that six years were devoted to a peaceful way of liberating Namibia. Until 1966 we felt that perhaps this was the only way in which we would gain independence for our country, but it has proved a failure, and it was only then, in 1966, that we made a decision to take up arms against South Africa. We are today also celebrating the 14th anniversary of the armed struggle by the People's Liberation Army of Namibia.

FRFI: Could you say something about the impact that the victory in Zimbabwe has had on the struggle in Namibia?

JYO: We have taken up arms against South Africa as the only effective means, of bringing South Africa down to its knees. As of late, three or four months ago, the liberation forces in Zimbabwe made it, through the Patriotic Front and gallantly and heroically gained their independence. This has been a source of inspiration to us and it has had a very big impact on our fighters. Surely victory in Zimbabwe is not only victory for the Zimbabwean people but also victory for the people of Namibia and South Africa. We have drawn much encouragement from their victories. We feel that our independence, the complete military defeat by the People's Liberation Army of Namibia of the South African forces that are deployed in the country (about 70,000 South African troops) will definitely come.

FRFI: Could you say something about Britain's economic interests in Namibia in order that our readers may see why British imperialism is prepared to give its support to South Africa.

 JYO: Namibia is one of the richest countries in the world where you find all the strategic resources. Now Britain plays a very important role by exploiting these, and is heavily engaged through its company there. RTZ — Rio Tinto Zinc, which exploits the uranium. Now over the years there has been this wrangle to stop the contract of RTZ in Namibia by Britain. The Labour Party, when it was campaigning for elections, promised that these contracts would immediately be stopped once the Labour Party came into power. But even though the Labour Party came into power these contracts continued. Now that we have a Tory government in power in Britain this mineral is still being drawn out very quickly. So this heavy engagement of Britain is perhaps one that makes Britain the leading partner in the illegal occupation of Namibia. Britain and other imperialist forces are the ones who are occupying Namibia illegally. We know that if Britain were to withdraw all its economic interests in and economic support for South Africa, then South Africa would have to withdraw immediately and end its illegal occupation of our country. This is why we feel that the only effective way is to take up arms against South Africa, and those who support South Africa, to end the colonialisation of our country immediately.

FRFI: What do the Namibian people, led by SWAPO, want anti-imperialists and the working class movement in Britain to do in support of their struggle?

JYO: Well, we would very much like the working class movement in Britain to closely understand the sufferings of the Namibian people. There are quite enormous things that the working class in Britain can do to help in the acceleration of the independence of Namibia. We are asking them to impose sanctions against South Africa; we are also asking the working class to recognise and adopt Decree No. 1 of the United Nations that calls for an end to the exploitation of the minerals in Namibia, and for the workers particularly to refuse to unload the ships from Namibia carrying these mineral resources; ships that are bound for South Africa and Namibia carrying those arms and ammunition which are being used to fight against the liberation forces under the leadership of SWAPO. By embarking on such actions it will give us tremendous encouragement and will give a tremendous boost to our cadres, those who are fighting in the jungles of Namibia, to drive out the forces of imperialism from our country.

FRFI: As you have explained, SWAPO is waging a war against South Africa and against world imperialism, and in particular British imperialism. For the past ten years the Provisional Republican movement in Ireland has also been waging war against British imperialism for the freedom and unity of Ireland. Could you say something about SWAPO's attitude towards the Provisional Republican Movement in Ireland?

JYO: Well, SWAPO's position has been that of standing together with all those forces who are fighting against imperialism, wherever this imperialism comes from. It is because of that that we have also extended our solidarity with people fighting against imperialism. colonialism, fascism, the world over. We share our solidarity with the people of Ireland, those who are fighting against British imperialism, and we also share our solidarity with people in Latin America, in Asia as well as in the Middle East. We give full support to the people fighting against Zionism. This has been the policy of SWAPO with people that are fighting against world imperialism and naturally SWAPO stands together with the people of Ireland who are fighting against British imperialism.


Zimbabwe: progress after liberation

Since the liberation of Zimbabwe from the Smith/Muzorewa regime and the formation of the Zanu-PF government, the imperialist press in Britain has done its utmost to portray the country as if on the verge of collapse and ruin, disintegrating under the impact of 'political violence' and economic crisis.

The truth, as testified by an FRFI supporter who recently visited Zimbabwe is different. She writes:

The country and Zanu-PF do indeed face tremendous difficulties, largely the result of imperialist oppression and more than a decade of war. Nevertheless, significant successes have been registered since liberation. During the war 75% of schools for black children were closed: Zanu-PF has reopened 95% of these and introduced free education up to secondary level. The government has rebuilt and reopened the health clinics and made health care free for all those who earn less that Z$155 per month, which means 99% of the black population. Next month black people will vote for the first time ever in local government elections and this is expected to open the way for more drastic reforms and improvements in local services. Up to now local government has remained in the hands of the whites, who have continued in some areas to harass local Zanu supporters. The government still faces the problem of 1 million refugees now flooding back into the country, but resettlement has begun. These appear to be small improvements, but for a country just freed from racist oppression they are significant steps forward.

Perhaps what is most impressive is the conviction of the people of Zimbabwe that the South African racist regime will have to be defeated before their freedom will be fully assured. The whole of Southern Africa is still dependent on South Africa economically and the imperialists are anxious that it should remain so. British imperialism in particular is attempting to sabotage any programme of land redistribution in Zimbabwe by denying the aid it promised at Lancaster House to buy out the white farmers who still own the best land. Likewise the other imperialist powers are now reneging on their promises to give aid to reconstruct the shattered economy. This is no surprise. Imperialism fought the liberation movement and tried to prevent the free elections which brought Zanu-PF to power. It is now attempting to destabilise Zimbabwe to ensure that the revolution does not spread to South Africa.


South Africa: workers demand isolation of apartheid regime

The following letter written by a black worker to the South African Sunday Post is a clear and vigorous expression of the black masses' support for a complete and immediate break of all imperialist relations — political, military, economic, diplomatic, cultural and sporting — with the apartheid regime. It is a call for the complete and utter isolation of the apartheid regime.

Weaver, the People of South Africa Don't Want You Here!

Sir, Why is this black American Mike Weaver coming to South Africa? He should know by now that we, the people of South Africa, don't want him here because he says he is only interested in the money, and doesn't concern himself with the sufferings and indignities imposed on us. He says he is a fighter and must get paid. But we are also fighting, against apartheid, and we get no money for that. He says that he must fight to earn that money because otherwise his family will starve. But what I want to tell Mike Weaver is that if he is being paid that money by South Africans, he is causing our families to starve. We won't be able to afford the price of the seats at his fight in Sun City — it will only be the rich white men and maybe free tickets for that 'great leader' Lucas Mangope. The money that the white men spend is the profit they make from our work. Mr Weaver, I just want to tell you that. So when your family is living fat on the millions of dollars you have won, think of our families who are living on barely R60 a month.

(Signed) Angry, Kwa Thema

Sunday Post 28.9.80

This revolutionary statement, should be noted not only by Mike Weaver, but also by those spineless and imperialist English liberals who in one way or another try to justify sporting or other links with the racist apartheid regime in South Africa.

It is a letter which should also be read carefully by British steelworkers who are today being thrown onto the dole queue and into poverty as a result of the international capitalist crisis.

ISCOR, the South African State owned steel corporation is directing a recruiting campaign at unemployed steelworkers in Britain. Through its London office and large advertisements in the Daily Telegraph, ISCOR is trying to recruit skilled workers to work in South African steel factories. Recruits are being promised 'positive long term prospects', ‘low income tax', 'a standard of living as high as ever' and an 'outstanding lifestyle'.

ISCOR, with backing from British capitalists is now trying to exploit the unemployment of British steelworkers to further intensify the oppression and poverty of black working class in South Africa. ISCOR will not recruit and train black workers for jobs being advertised in Britain. Black workers are denied access to skilled jobs, they are denied the right to organise free and democratic trade unions and are paid starvation wages. Workers from Britain who choose to go and work in South Africa will be used as agents of oppression against the vast mass of the black working class. They will form part of a small all-white privileged strata whose 'high standard of living' and 'outstanding lifestyle' is based on the starvation wages of the blacks and on the ruthless repression of any black resistance.

Breaking all links, political, military, economic or sporting with South Africa is the aim of communists and anti-imperialists in Britain. Today this also means putting an end to ISCOR's activities in Britain. British imperialism not only fully supports the apartheid regime in South Africa, but by allowing ISCOR to engage in its recruiting drive in Britain is actively attempting to bribe sections of the British working class into opposing the freedom struggle of the black working class in South Africa. By doing so it hopes to divide and weaken the international working class. We demand the immediate closure of the ISCOR offices in Britain.


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