By Kennedy Hamutenya
THE last time I saw Tatekulu Honourable Andimba Toivo ya Toivo was at Eros Airport, with his loving wife, on the way to the North for the wedding of the daughter of Honourable Helmut Angula.
I put my arm around him, walked him from the car and helped him get seated, whilst Mrs Ya Toivo was checking them in for their flight to Ondangwa. It was first time I noticed he looked a bit frail and it got me a bit worried.
But despite his apparent frailty, he was in a jovial mood and his spirits was high, as always.
As usual, he enquired about the wellbeing of my family.
This time he was specifically asking about my late uncle’s widow and her family.
“How are they? How are they coping?” he asked.
That is the man that I have come to know over the past 20 years. He was caring, amongst many other positive attributes.
Tatekulu Ya Toivo was the first Minister of Mines and Energy (MME). There was no such ministry before independence. In those days – in the previous dispensation – the mines were under the auspices of the Department of Economic Affairs. At the time I joined MME, as a mining inspector in 1995, the ministry was headquartered in the Trust Centre building – opposite the Kudu sculpture on Independence Avenue in Windhoek.
This is where majority of the MME employees were based. At the same time there was another fraction of MME employees that worked at the Geological Survey of Namibia (GSN) Building next to Eros Airport.
At the time, the GSN and its employees sought and wanted to be recognised as a separate and ring-fenced entity from MME.
The problem was that the majority of GSN employees were disproportionally white – from the previous dispensation – and on the other side, the CBD-based MME employees were predominantly non-white and mostly new entrants into the Namibian mining sector. At the Trust Centre building there were tensions between some of the few white employees and some of us hotheads – especially those of us returnees who were educated and trained by Swapo in exile, and who were trying to find our place in the new dispensation. Honourable Ya Toivo could not tolerate these racial divisions and the tensions that came with it.
He sought to unite the entire ministry under one umbrella and to instil racial and tribal harmony at MME.
It was on that basis that he pushed for the construction of the new MME building, next to the GSN building in the proximity of Eros Airport.
He wanted a seamless, harmonious and non-racial ministry under one umbrella.
Today, as we speak, the GSN now represents the demographics of Namibia. It is predominantly female and led by three strong black women – amongst others.
This was part of the vision of Honourable Ya Toivo. Most importantly, he spearheaded the establishment of the ministry, the promulgation of various legislations and policies on mining and energy, and the creation of various institutions that are today the driving force of our economy.
I was privileged, as an Inspector of Mines and later as Director of Mines, to work and travel with the late Honourable across the width and length of the country, the region and the world.
There is one particular trip we took in the country that I’ll never forget. It gave me a lot of insight into his character and personality.
We set out to visit a number of mines across the country.
At the time, almost every mine that we travelled, the workers complained about mistreatment, poor pay, bad living conditions, unsafe working conditions, racism and tribalism.
Honourable Ya Toivo did not hesitate to verbally rough-up many a mine manager.
To their dismay, he’d do it right in front of the workers. By the time he left the mine he had extracted many concessions from management.
Equally, he’d also lambast workers for absenteeism, for laziness and poor productivity.
That’s how fair he was. This one time we were at this mine in the Kunene and the Himba workers there refused to work, because they did not want a Herero supervisor.
They called him a “white man” from “the city”.
They also c omp l a i n e d that they could not be supervised by a “young boy”, who had not had his “teeth cut”.
This was to us a complex problem, but the Honourable gently spoke to the workers and explained to them that in the new Namibia we are all equal before the law, and there was no need for tribalism.
By the time we left that mine, there was peace and harmony. He was a man who used his painful experiences and lessons in life to promote harmony and peaceful co-existence amongst a rainbow nation.
One poignant memory I have of him is that he truly valued his friendships throughout the country and beyond. On that particular trip around the country I remember that he made a point to visit old friends in every town that we drove through.
He’d stop in Tsumeb to visit his Portuguese friends at a corner shop. And we’d be there for two three hours, whilst they reminisced about the good old times.
He’d do the same thing in Ondangwa and in Oshakati, and by the time we got to Walvis Bay, he’d instruct me – as usual – to come with him (he never liked to be alone) to the home of the late Nathaniel Maxuilili, where they’d sunrise whilst downing their whisky and trolling each other mercilessly.
In the same vein, when we were in Cape Town, attending the Cape Town Mining Indaba, he’d invite me to go on a long 30- 45 minute walk up Table Mountain (he declined a taxi, as walking is good exercise) to visit his long-time friend and comrade the late Honourable Helen Suzman.
There they’d chat endlessly for hours about their troublemaking days; plotting resistance and getting in and out of prison pre-Robben Island.
That was Honourable Toivo ya Toivo. He was great man, who treasured his friendships and relationships. He was man who was kind, fair, honest, brave, caring and gentle – a bona fide Namibian hero.
My sincere condolences to his loving wife, Meme Vicky, to his beautiful twin daughters, and to his entire family and loved ones. May his soul rest in eternal peace!
*Kennedy Hamutenya is the interim Chief Executive Officer of Namib Desert Diamonds (Namdia)
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015