Tribute to a Namibian Heroine – from Prisonto Liberation

Ida Jimmy !Ha-Eros

As we mourn a veteran of the Namibian liberation struggle, Ida Jimmy !Ha-Eros, who died on 3 April this year, I reflect on our days at Gobabis in 1979.

I met this imposing figure at the female section of the Gobabis prison in May 1979.

Ida was compelled by circumstance to bring her nine-month-old baby, Natangwe Jimmy, along to prison.

Gobabis prison did not have baby food or formula milk for infants. Thus, Natangwe ate the same food we ate: brown bread and coffee in the mornings and evenings.

For lunch we had samp.

This diet did not change for the full five months we were detained at Gobabis.

Ida and myself were each held in a tiny cell with a small window facing a long corridor on the inside of the western side and a concrete wall on the outside, which also served as a wall fence of this huge prison.

At the time, 136 Swapo leaders, activists and unionists were detained at this penitentiary and Ida and I were the only women and separated from the rest at the female section.

The countrywide detentions were intended to crack down on Swapo, which was growing in popularity due to talks of a United Nations-supervised election under Resolution 435 of the Security Council.

Earlier on, South Africa had attempted to wriggle itself out of fulfilling this resolution by attacking Cassinga.

The detentions were carried out under a draconian law called AG 26.

AG stood for ‘administrator general’, a senior representative of the South African colonial regime in Namibia.

It provided for detention without trial or legal representation.

It further provided for solitary confinement and incommunicado, which meant we were not allowed to receive visitors, to speak to anyone, or to read newspapers.

Officially, comrade Ida and I were allowed out of our tiny cells into the aforementioned immediate corridor for 30 minutes in the evening.

We were also let out twice a day, in the morning and afternoon to get some sunlight.

During this short interval we were exchanging newspapers, which were smuggled into prison by black prison warders who were hiding them in a plastic bag placed at the bottom of our samp.

So, our plates always looked full of ‘stampmielies’, but were actually filled with newspapers.

These newspapers kept us informed of current affairs in Namibia and elsewhere.

Whenever we asked the prison wardens what we had done to be detained they would say “go and ask the administrator general, we don’t know”.

The truth is that the ruthless apartheid repression of Swapo supporters and sympathisers was meant to intimidate and thwart popular rebellion and we were being oppressed because we revolted against foreign occupation, inferior bantu education, racial discrimination and the appropriation of arable land for white settler farmers.

Most importantly we were against the exploitation of the country’s mineral and other resources.

Swapo morale during these days was boosted by the prospects of United Nations-supervised elections and the majority of the Namibian people were yearning for freedom and to be treated equally and fairly.

What Ida taught me was not to fear anything in any circumstance.

She would tell me about her older sister who pre-deceased her and her fight against racism at Lüderitz.

This fearlessness was demonstrated in Ida’s call on Namibians to offer assistance to People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (Plan) freedom fighters – specifically water and food – which came from her heart.

For this reason, the fascist regime sentenced her to imprisonment under AG 9, another authoritarian law which provided for arrest and imprisonment unsupported by any criminal act or omission.

A mere utterance of public support for the armed liberation struggle was sufficient to warrant prosecution and jail.

To the South Africans your guilt was already cast in stone the moment you entered the dock.

Like Ida, I had also been detained under the Terrorism Act of 1967.
I was suspected of furthering the aims of a ‘terrorist’ organisation.

A security police officer by the name of ‘Botha’ came to my parents’ house in December 1978, quoting Section 3 of the Terrorism Act.
He said: “I think you know it better than others.”

It was not because at that time I was Swapo’s secretary for legal affairs in the country, but because the Plan fighters had just detonated bombs at the Odean Cinema Hall and at the Nictus Building in Windhoek that Saturday.

On that fateful day, Swapo members and supporters had staged a peaceful demonstration in front of the main post office on Independence Avenue, then Kaiser Street.

Comrade Ida was also detained and incarcerated under the Terrorism Act.

It is worth noting that this is the same draconian law under which comrade Andeas Nduuvu-Nangolo was executed, and attempts were made to send comrades Aaron Mushimba and Hendrick Shikongo to the gallows in 1976.

In conclusion, Ida did all these acts of heroism not just for her freedom, but also for country.

Her commitment to the liberation struggle of her motherland was undaunted.

The consequence was untold suffering and torture at the hands of the racist regime, which thousands of other Namibians endured under the vanguard of the Swapo liberation movement.

A true heroine in deed and in spirit.

May her soul rest in eternal peace.

Adios, amigo.

Viva, Swapo.

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