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South West African People's Organization (SWAPO)

The South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) was created in 1960, but its origins go back to the Ovambo Peoples' Congress founded in Cape Town founded in Cape Town among Ovambo workers (and some few Hereros) in 1957. Among those most prominent in its creation were Herman Toivo and Andreas Shipanga. In 1959 Toivo changed the name of the organization to the Ovambo Peoples Organization and was joined at that time by Sam Nujoma.

By 1962 party leaders decided to begin a campaign of guerrilla warfare and sabotage in Namibia. Training facilities for SWAPO guerrillas were made available by the Soviet Union, China, Algeria, and Tanzania. Soviet support for SWAPO acquired strong ideological tones among the members. Between 1962 and 1965, SWAPO recruited malcontents within Namibia and sent them either to Communist countries such as the Soviet Union and North Korea or to radical African countries such as Algeria for training in terrorist warfare.

The South Africans believed a Marxist Angola would serve as a potent launching pad for SWAPO incursions into Southwest Africa. SWAPO could then undermine Namibia and communist insurgents would be poised on the border of South Africa itself. The South African government saw its neighbors as mere stepping stones for insurgency that would threaten its own existence.

SWAPO launched its military wing, the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), in 1962. Between 1962 and 1974, PLAN insurgents made a series of generally unsuccessful infiltrations over the border from Angola into Namibia to foment revolution among the Ovambo tribe, which comprised nearly half the country's population. These incursions were largely defeated by the Southwest Africa (SWA) police force through an aggressive border patrol regimen.

In ameeting in Lusaka, October 4, 1967, Sam Nujoma, President of the South West Peoples Organization, appealed to US Ambassador to Zambia Robert C. Good for the support of the United States in the upcoming United Nations consideration of the South West African problem. The American replied that in view of the serious and burdensome commitments elsewhere at the present time, the American people would be unlikely to support an active United States engagement in the South West African issue in the near future.

Asked about the prospects of a successful armed struggle, Nujoma said that it would take a very long time, and that in the near future SWAPO would have to rely upon guerrilla tactics, in which small bands of men would attack South African installations, and generally hope to keep the South Africans on edge.

Since the mid-1970s, the USSR was the main supplier of arms for SWAPO. Soviet deliveries have included small arms and ammunition, mortars, rocket launchers, SA-7 surface-to-air missiles, and some trucks and armored personnel vehicles. The equipment was passed to SWAPO through Angola. In addition, the Soviets have provided advanced military training to SWAPO cadres in the USSR, and some Soviet as well as Cuban and East German advisers apparently are assigned to SWAPO forces in Angola.

SWAPO had two wings: an external one which conducted the guerilla activities and an internal, less radical one devoted to peaceful political activities. Both groups had internal factions, and rifts in the external wing erupted into open conflict in 1979.

In August 1976 the South Africans announced their intention to form an interim government around the Turnhalle group that would oversee a transition to independence. During a subsequent visit to Moscow, the Soviets apparently promised SWAPO President Nujoma additional military aid in hopes of stiffening his resistance to any negotiations. Despite SWAPO's growing dependence upon Soviet military support, Moscow's admonitions had little effect. In the spring of 1977, Nujoma evidently rejected Soviet advice to concentrate on a military solution of the Namibia problem and entered into a yearlong round of discussions with the Western Five which resulted in UN Security Council Resolution 435 of July 1978.

By 1978 there were growing signs of divergence between the leadership of the South-West Africa People's Organization inside Namibia and Sam Nujoma, the group's exiled leader. Nujoma had said SWAPO will seize power by armed force, but SWAPO leaders in Namibia appeared to be planning to contest the pre-independence election. South African Prime Minister Vorster apparently hoped to focus international attention on SWAPO's militants and thus move the Western contact group toward acceptance of a stronger South African residual force than the present settlement package allows.

South African leaders cited February 1978 Nujoma's interview with South African television in New York as proof that the nationalist movement was not interested in a peaceful solution for Namibia. Nujoma said, "We are not fighting for majority rule. We are fighting to seize power in Namibia for the benefit of the Namibian people." South African television has repeatedly shown Nujoma's interview, and Vorster publicly challenged the Western contact group to denounce Nujomas statement. Foreign Minister Botha also cited Nujoma's statement and asserted that SWAPO agents instigated the recent rioting in Windhoek. He said this might require South Africa to reinforce rather than partially withdraw - its troops and police in Namibia.

SWAPO leaders were poorly schooled and uneducated, but their revised 1979 constitution reflected Marxist principles. The Soviet doctrine of national democratic revolution was well known and was taught to SWAPO members. Moreover, leaders repeatedly acknowledged the importance of Soviet support, and Soviet theoreticians commented on the significance of the African liberation movements to the worldwide communist movement.

In January 1980 the President of SWAPO, Sam Nujoma, stated that an armed struggle was the only realistic course for the present in Namibia. He promised to wage battle in every region of that country against the racist South African occupation forces, including the administrative center of Windhoek.

Partisan detachments of the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) successfully conducted two operations against South African military bases that were part of that nation's occupation of Namibia. Two fortified camps were located in Enyama and Chagvena. According to the SWAPO military communique, more than 100 South African officers and soldiers were put out of action and four helicopters were destroyed. South Africa, meanwhile, with an army of 60,000 deployed in Namibia, intended to intensify its activities against the partisans.

Since at least the mid-1970s, the Soviets had seen Namibian independence as an integral part of the liberation struggle that they hope will eventually lead to the establishment of black majority rule and governments favorably disposed toward the USSR throughout southern Africa. The Soviets have supported SWAPO since the early 1960s and intensified their efforts since the collapse of the Portuguese Empire in 1974. The First Extraordinary Plenum of the Central Committee of the South-West African People's Organization (SWAPO) was held in the Angolan city of Dalatando, in the province of North Cuanza from the 17th through the 19th of June 1980. And according to documents of this meeting, the areas subject to military operations in Namibia by SWAPO units have been expanded. The plenum also declared that the Namibian people were completely resolute in achieving victory in their armed struggle against the racists of South Africa. The resolutions of the plenum expressed gratitude to the Organization of African Unity and the "Frontline States" for the aid they have extended irt behalf of the Namibian peoples' struggle. The SWAPO Central Committee emphasized its sincere appreciation for the material, political, and moral support rendered by the Socialist countries. Finally, the plenum expressed its solidarity with the people within the Republic of South Africa who are struggling for freedom from racism.

Sam Nujoma, President of SWAPO, stated at a Moscow press conference on 5 August 1980 that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet people have always supported the oppressed peoples of Africa in their struggle for freedom and independence and against racism and colonialism. He emphasized that his organization's struggle depended on the support of the Soviet Union, other Socialist countries, and other progressive world societies. The SWAPO president also commented on the inestimable value the Soviet Union has been as an example to all independence movements.

The Soviet Committee for Solidarity with the Nations of Asia and Africa, playing a leading role in coordinating the international solidarity campaign with the people of Namibia, sent goods, purchased with money from the Soviet Fund for Peace, to the South West African People's Organization. Aeroflot aircraft made special flights in October 1980 to Luanda, Angola carrying medical and bandaging supplies, as well as food and manufactured goods. Some of SWAPO's military infrastructure was rebuilt in 1982. Operation Askari, in 1983-84, was designed to neutralize the growing threat and disrupt the logistic support necessary for the annual infiltration of insurgents into Namibia. Four SADF battalion- size mechanized task forces combed southern Angola over a five week span. On 3 January 1984, the SADF fought 11 Brigade (FAPLA) and for the first time, two Cuban battalions, in a hard fought engagement. The South Africans killed 324 enemy.

By October 1984 October SWAPO was using Soviet-made tanks to defend its bases in Angola, according to a report issued by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, detailing for the first time the strength of guerrilla movements in Southern Africa. The report listed SWAPO's manpower at 8,000 and said its equipment includes Russian T34 and T54 tanks, armored personnel carriers, surfaceto-air missiles, and antitank guided weapons.

After more than two decades of inconclusive fighting between South African colonial forces and Soviet-backed guerrillas of the South West Africa Peoples Organization (SWAPO), Namibia, which was Africas last colony, achieved independence in 1990.

The Governing Party

The South West African Peoples Organisation led by President Sam Nujoma remained the dominant party, although there exist political tensions between SWAPO and the main opposition party, Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA). The overwhelming victory of the ruling party in the 2004 presidential and parliamentary elections, amidst calls by opposition parties for a recount of votes cast, marked the end of Sam Nujomas 14 years Presidency since independence. Mr. Hifikepunye Pohamba, the former Minster of Land Affairs and Resettlement, succeeded President Sam Nujoma following his inauguration on March 21, 2005.

While no one knows the extent of SWAPO's private financing, it far outstripped even their sizable public funding. First, most private businesses in Namibia clearly favor SWAPO given its status as ruling party. Secondly, SWAPO reaps benefits from its private sector holding companies, Zebra Holdings and Kalahari Holdings. Kalahari, for example, has interests in printing, transport, and other firms, including half of local satellite broadcaster DSTV.

As for foreign funding, the system currently in place is unenforceable and SWAPO in particular gains from foreign donations. Only one sizable donation -- $N240,000 to SWAPO in 2003 from the Chinese Communist Party -- has ever been publicly acknowledged (see Reftel for more information on Chinese support for SWAPO), while the Chinese Communist Party, Angola's ruling MPLA, and even South Africa's ruling ANC are widely rumored to have financed SWAPO in recent years. China in particular is rapidly expanding its business linkages in Namibia, so large contributions to SWAPO would make sense from a business standpoint. SWAPO is not the only recipient of funds, however. Leaders of smaller opposition parties have told Hopwood of donations from political parties in Scandanavia and from the British Labor Party, for instance.

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