Book Review: The Long Road to Liberation (Hans Beukes)

bookA WELCOME departure from the boring back-and-forth, in public discourse concerning Namibia’s road to independence, between triumphalist nationalism and begrudging paternalism/racism (“we heroically defeated apartheid/imperialism” vs. “we had to stop communist terrorism/defend civilisation”).

Hans Beukes has little patience with either camp. He grew up in the fascinating Rehoboth Baster community, and has not only genetic links but family ties with “white”, Nama (Khoi) and “black” (Bantu-speaking) Namibia. He was an early opponent of apartheid, was already in exile in Norway when SWAPO was launched, and opposed its eventual decision to adopt armed struggle. Although at times he took part in its lobbying activities on the world stage, he consistently challenged its lack of internal democracy and considers its present government riddled with tribalism. His conclusion is that there is still some way to go before liberation can be claimed.

Both Namibians and those South Africans interested in the former South-West Africa Mandate territory can find much of interest in Beukes’s detailed memoir. His grandfathers took part in skirmishes against the German army, ahead of the soon-victorious South African invasion force early in WW1. However, the Basters soon came into conflict with the new rulers who continued the Germans’ project of colonisation, and Grandfather Beukes narrowly escaped summary execution along with many others, when a telegram arrived from the League of Nations in Switzerland. Earlier, one of Beukes’s companions had shrewdly invested the grand sum of seven pounds (borrowed from a German married to a Baster) in a reply-paid telegraphic petition to Geneva; the Union Defence Force officers were restrained by the glare of world attention.

Inspired in part by this family legend, young Hans, while studying law at UCT, made a difficult decision. His passport having been confiscated to prevent him from taking up a bursary to study in Norway, he decided to leave S.A. illegally, knowing that he could never return under apartheid rule, but intent on challenging its S.W.A. mandate at the United Nations. He remained in exile (both in Africa and overseas) until independence, marrying a Norwegian.

As already mentioned, Beukes opposed the adoption of armed struggle in S.W.A.; he had considerable contact with Albert Luthuli, who did likewise in S.A. (and when awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was president of the ANC), The matter of who decided on armed resistance, when, why and how in each case, was to be of great consequence to the two countries – and still is.

To deviate briefly from Beukes’s story, it should be noted that there will never be clarity on this decision in South Africa’s case, which of course was bound closely to Namibia’s. Joe Slovo and Nelson Mandela are dead, and have left us mutually contradictory accounts of the decision. At least one of them lied or was mistaken. Mandela says (in his memoir) ANC president Luthuli agreed after some resistance, and then later changed his mind or forgot that he had agreed, being aged. Slovo, in his memoir, says that after the Sharpeville massacre the ANC involuntarily found itself on a war footing and had no chance to consult president Luthuli in the rural home to which he was confined by a banning order.

Beukes ascribes dire responsibility for what he sees as SWAPO’s descent into despotism, to the United Nations and in particular its Commissioner for Namibia, Sean McBride – the son of John McBride, who fought with the Boers against Britain and went on to be executed for his part in the 1916 uprising in Ireland. As Beukes sees it, the anointing of a particular faction (the most militaristic one, led by Sam Nujoma) of SWAPO with the status of “sole legitimate representative of the people of Namibia” on the world stage, doomed the other factions (both “dissidents” in exile and grassroots members within the country) at best to marginalisation, at worst to detention, torture and execution. Not to mention adherents of all other Namibian political parties.

Other accessories to the Nujoma cabal’s crimes, Beukes asserts, were frontline state presidents Kaunda and Nyerere who obligingly detained “dissident” SWAPO members (many of whom had done nothing more than support a call for a party congress to establish accountability of leadership). Zambian troops, in keeping a large group captive, killed a few violently and others by malnutrition.

Even the apartheid authorities assisted the rise of Nujoma – in that they simply sent him back to Zambia when for reasons known to himself, he flew into Windhoek in 1967. Beukes presents evidence that this decision was based on military intelligence’s opinion that he was of more use to the apartheid cause while commanding SWAPO than he would have been as a captive.

In summary, Beukes’s analysis is that both sides of the Cold War confrontation promoted escalation of the proxy war in Namibia and Angola – with total disregard for the welfare of Namibians, Angolans and South Africans. Concerning actual combat operations, Beukes seems content to use SADF-aligned sources of information, such as Magnus Malan’s autobiography. He seems unaware of the school of thought which holds that due to the international arms embargo against apartheid S.A., and Angola’s eventual acquisition of MiG23 fighters and advanced radar-guided anti-aircraft missiles (both among the few types of arms Pretoria could neither make at home nor buy on the global black market), the balance of military power shifted in the late 1980s such that apartheid politicians were obliged to settle. Instead, he takes the view that internal resistance in S.A. in the late 80s made foreign adventures unsustainable. Of course these explanations are not mutually exclusive.

After independence, Beukes returned to Namibia several times but remains based in Norway, citing tribalism and corruption as the remaining obstacles to liberation.

Porcupine Press

  • ISBN-10: 1505359023
  • ISBN-13: 978-1505359022

Available via Amazon

Reviewer: Michael Graaf

South Africa and WW1

THIS week marks the events which started World War 1, including South Africa’s taking of German South West Africa. The shift of colonial powers resulted in the occupation of a region which later presented problems for the post-War apartheid government. The period only ended after the tragic Border War and the handing over of SWA territory to Swapo in 1990. SWA then become the new nation of Namibia. img006


FROM: 40 maps that explain World War I

NUKES: Environmentalists call foul over Namibian Uranium Mine

CONCERNS continue to mount over the opening of the Langer Heinrich Uranium Mine in the Namib-Naukluft Park despite Government insisting that ‘all is well’.


The World Information Service on Energy (Wise), one of the world’s largest networks of groups working on nuclear energy issues, is the latest organisation to express opposition to the opening of the mine.

In a statement, Wise said uranium mining creates radioactive dust and emission of poisonous gas.

The emissions, it said, put residents at a greater risk of developing cancer.

“Wise, one of the largest networks of groups working on nuclear energy issues, strongly opposes the opening of the Langer Heinrich Uranium mine in Namibia.

Mining uranium and mineral sands creates radioactive dust and radon gas,”said Peer de Rijk, Executive Director of Wise.

“When breathed into the lungs, the dust and gas release their radiation at close range where it does the most damage to the lining of the lung and increases the risk of developing cancer.”

Further, noted the pressure group, the radiation exposure could affect men and women’s reproductive health.

Studies by the United States Department of Occupational Safety and Health revealed that low doses of radiation, spread over a number of years, could be just as dangerous as acute exposure.

In short, there are no safe levels of radiation exposure.

In Namibia, the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) has said that the mining operations would seriously affect the biodiversity of the Swakopmund environs.

The ecosystem, it said, was set to be contaminated.

But Government insists that the criticisms do not hold water.

According to Joseph Iita, Permanent Secretary of Mines and Energy, those with dissenting voices were not saying much tangible.

He said all procedures were followed properly and everything was in order.

Iita said an environmental impact assessment study was carried out before s licence was granted.

Concerns over the environment, he added, were adequately addressed.

“In line with constitutional mandates, all procedures pertaining to the environment were properly followed.

An environmental impact assessment study was carried out prior to issuing the licence.

Nothing is so peculiar to uranium mining in Namibia.

“It’s not the first time either.”

While Government expressed satisfaction with the progress so far, the NSHR said the granting of the licence was “as good as licensing death”.

Dorkas Phillemon, a public relations and administration officer at the NSHR, said research on uranium mining at a global level had shown that no single mine to date had done very well.

Phillemon said it was improper to sacrifice people’s health for the sake of investment and employment.

“Such kind of investment is not proper,” said the human rights activist.

Rijk added that the health risk of uranium mining was not confined to workers alone.

Waste leaks into surrounding areas, especially rivers and underground water supplies, could pollute water sources.

The Wise executive director said: “The radioactive wastes left over from mining are a major hazard because they are easily dispersed through wind, rain and human error.

“Waste leaks into surrounding areas, especially rivers and underground water supplies, affect people’s skin, clothing and vehicles can be contaminated by being near radioactive material.”

The German Oeko Institute and Earthlife Namibia have also raised concerns about the granting of the licence.

They raised technical issues related to the way in which the environmental study was undertaken, insisting that notable issues were left blowing in the wind.

The Oeko Research Institute said the assessment done by the Australian company Paladin Resources Limited was not carried out properly, as it did not clearly define the area where the doses were below the dose limits and where the limits were exceeded.

Earthlife Chairperson Bertchen Kohrs said one of the most serious shortcomings of Paladin’s assessment was that no realistic view of the hazardous effects on workers at the mining site was presented because no estimate had been made of the collective dose for the proposed operations.

The Oeko Institute said it had established that the Australian mining company had underestimated the concentrations for radium and radon by a factor of four.