By Marianne Nghidengwa and Maria Kandjungu
“WE salute you comrade, we remember you comrade forever”, sang Founding President, Sam Nujoma as he led mourners, including former President Hifikepunye Pohamba, in revolutionary songs in remembrance of the late Theo-Ben Gurirab at his Klein Windhoek home on Monday.
While speaking fondly of Gurirab’s immense contribution to a pre and post independent Namibia, Nujoma also praised Gurirab’s widow, Joan Guriras for her support to Swapo members and assured her that Namibia was fully behind her.
“When we did not have money when we went to New York (United States), we slept in her house. She bought food and cooked for us. She made sure we had something to eat and somewhere to sleep. I want to assure you, you are in your own country that you supported. When the apartheid regime called us terrorists, you called us brothers.We are here to stay with you,” Nujoma said.
Renowned as a giant of the Namibian liberation struggle and a leader of the Namibian Government and society since independence, Gurirab served as a Member of the Constituent Assembly from 1989-90. Thereafter he served as Foreign Minister, Prime Minister and Speaker of the National Assembly till he retired in 2015. He also served as President of the UN General Assembly from 1999 to 2000, when the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted. He was also President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) from 2008-2011.
Gurirab died last week Saturday at a Windhoek hospital at the age of 80.
Consoling the late Gurirab’s family, former President Hifikepunye Pohamba said that a huge tree has fallen. He said that Gurirab led a life of purpose and meaning.
“A stalwart of the Namibian revolution has gone to be with our forbearers and ancestors. His untimely departure caused great sadness to us all. Although we mourn, we should at the same time celebrate the wonderful life comrade Gurirab led. Many of us, his comrades in arms learnt immense lessons. We will forever be indebted to his input and clarity of thought. I first met him in New York in 1971. He was serving Swapo and studying at the same time. Quite frankly, I am unable to tell all I know about him, if I attempt to, we will be here for another 24 hours,” said Pohamba.
He added that Gurirab succeeded at putting Namibia on the world map, a feat all Namibians should be proud of.
“Just imagine small Namibia produced somebody who was chairing the whole world at the UN including Russia, USA, Britain and France. It is an honour that Namibia produced him. He was a world citizen, which is our great pride as Namibians and Africans. I am proud to call him my brother, a friend and comrade in arms and fellow revolutionist.”
Pohamba further added that Gurirab was a world leader of note, whom even Pik Botha – former apartheid South African Minister of Foreign Affairs – recognised.
“Of all people Pik Botha recognised, Theo-Ben Gurirab was amongst them. He spoke positively about Gurirab and how he worked and challenged him. We paved the way for the destruction of apartheid. This small nation put up a fight against a powerful apartheid in South Africa”
Also speaking at the event, former cabinet minister, Helmut Angula remarked that to honour the late Gurirab, it was important the country commits itself to helping the masses.
“Although a hero has fallen, it calls for a rededication to the original ideas in order to honour Gurirab. His legacy has to continue. Sovereignty and good living standards of our people must continue so we do not betray his legacy. We are celebrating a life of a fighter.”
Just a few days ago, President Hage Geingob noted that without the country’s first foreign minister, and one of the leading architects of Namibia’s diplomacy, a rich chapter is closing. He also said that the exceptional work of Gurirab in service of the liberation movement, Swapo and the Namibian people shall be forever cherished.
Geingob also announced that Gurirab will be conferred the honour of National Hero as well as a State funeral. A period of national mourning during which the Namibian flag will be flown at half-mast is to be observed with effect from yesterday (Wednesday) until Saturday, 21 July, the date of the State funeral.
Meanwhile, National Assembly Speaker, Peter Katjavivi said that Gurirab will be remembered as a thinker, dedicated democrat, a freedom fighter and diplomat-par-excellence.
“We will also remember him as a fair and impartial presiding officer and a national hero who led efforts to position the Namibian case on the international map during the difficult yeas of our liberation struggle. Dr Gurirab contributed immensely to the drafting of Namibian Constitution and the crafting of new laws for independent Namibia.
“During his time in the House, he was very resourceful on topics of international relations and passionate about the debates on education and training, women and children’s rights, human rights, peace, democracy and national reconciliation. He was an icon of democracy and diplomacy, skilled in negotiating with supporters and opponents, well-known and highly respected across the world and in the United Nations family.”
Gurirab felt loved on his 80th birthday
Speaking at another meet and greet session on Tuesday, newly appointed United Nation’s Special Advisor for Africa, Bience Gawanas said the late Gurirab was overwhelmed by the love he received on his 80th birthday on January 23.
“It is sad that we are meeting here under such sad circumstances but not long ago we celebrated his life at his 80th birthday. It was beautiful to watch as he sat and listened to what others thought of him. He said he felt overwhelmed.”
Gurirab, a family man
Gurirab’s nephew, Tsudao (Gurirab) described his uncle as a family man who made time out of his busy schedule to be with family.
Tsudao said that although he first met his uncle in 1978 in Lusaka, Zambia aged 17, Gurirab asked a lot about family back home in Namibia.
“They were born six, he was the second last born and only son. Three of his sisters are deceased. His youngest sister is my mother. By the time I was born, he had left Namibia. So I knew nothing about him except meeting him for the first time in Lusaka in 1978. I was 17 years old at the time. I had just arrived from Namibia, enrolled at the United Nations Institute or Namibia (UNIN).”
He recalled that although he heard about his uncle from his mother, he was not sure his uncle knew about him when they met.
“I knew about him but I didn’t know if he knew me. There he was, as President of the Institute. I don’t know how to describe the experience. In blood he is my uncle. I didn’t know how to work it through my system. He had a big name in the world. Suddenly here I was meeting him for the first time in life. It was an experience to meet him.
“We got to talk after I went to his hotel. He asked about his sisters. I learnt then that he had a daughter whom he named after his late mother. He gave her a Damara name Madabas. He left the country the year his mother died and his first child happened to be a girl, so he gave her the name which loosely means that he has been given another woman in place of the one that left.
“I had to give him an update on family, what happened at home and who was still alive because he didn’t even know whether his sisters were alive or dead. I had to give him a brief of where family members were.”
Tsudao said that they were again on the same flight back from Lusaka to Namibia to prepare for Swapo’s campaign for the 1990 elections.
“A team was appointed led by the current President (Hage Geingob) to campaign for independence. Geingob was leader of the team and Theo was one of the members, alongside the late Hidipo Hamutenya, Nahas Angula, Hifikepunye Pohamba and my group was to offer technical and intellectual support to the team.”
He added that by virtue of his assignments in Swapo, his uncle was a busy person but supported his family wholeheartedly.
“If he had spare time, he would spent it with family. He was a true family man and tried to be present for activities of his immediate family but also for the broader family. He would attend family events, he attended my wedding and many other functions. He was always present if he could work that in his busy schedule. He would make financial contributions to the education of the broader family. I know my younger sister who went to Unam and lived with him, he contributed towards her studies. He made up for the time he was absent.”
Gurirab’s death, a missed opportunity for the youth
Windhoek Mayor, Muesee Kazapua noted the youth have unfortunately missed an opportunity to tap from his intelligence as other people have.
Calling him a great, passionate leader who was always ready to share, Kazapua said that the death of Gurirab is a loss to the whole city and Namibia but especially to the youth who missed a great opportunity to learn from him.
“His death is mostly sad and unfortunate for the youth development sector as there was so much the youth could have learned from his life experience and skills,” he said.
Kazapua added that Gurirab was a passionate man who continued to be interested in the city’s development and in the past two years presented him with projects and ideas that could help in the development of the city. He noted that youth skills development, education, affordable housing provision, land delivery and renewable energy have been some of the projects that Gurirab was passionate about and wanted to contribute to.
“I have proposed projects from him on my table. In the past few months we held different meetings, so it is just unfortunate that he passed on before we could materialize some of these projects.
“The man had vast skills and experience especially in international relations, an attribute that is missing in most of the young people. I don’t think there are many people in Namibia left who have the same caliber and that is why I wish he had stayed just a little bit longer.”
In the same vein, former Prime Minister and first Education Minister Nahas Angula also stated that it is sad Gurirab never got to write a biography which could have been a learning instrument for most young people.
He added that he still hopes that young people can research and write a biography on him even in his absence. “He was a cool and patient man and many of his decisions were taken in this manner. I think these are strong qualities that one can take from him.”
Gurirab’s death, a loss to Africa at large
Minister Counselor Fernando Miguel of Angola said that his country has not only lost a comrade but also a friend and a brother who was always friendly to the Angolan people.
“He worked well with his generation in Angola and did so much for our people during and after independence. He did not just selflessly work to liberate Namibia, but also worked for the liberation of the entire African continent. He was a good negotiator who worked for us all.”
He added that Gurirab is an African hero who will forever be remembered for especially his work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Miguel added that the diplomatic corps has also lost an elder who was their advisor and was always available to talk to them.
A State Memorial service will be held on Friday, 20 July at 14h00 at Parliament Gardens. The remains of Gurirab will be interred on Saturday, 21 July at Heroes Acre in Windhoek.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015