South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO): An Organisational Timeline
On the initiative of Andimba Toivo ya Toivo a small group of Namibians in South Africa establish the Ovambo People’s Congress (OPC).
Toivo attempts to smuggle the OPC’s petition to New York for presentation at the United Nations, but is intercepted by South African authorities and deported from South Africa to Namibia.
The OPC expands and develops other branches – among them, Sam Nujoma establishes the Ovambo People’s Organisation (OPO) in Windhoek, Namibia. Toivo ya Toivo petitions the United Nations, informing the organisation of the oppressive conditions blacks are subjected to under South Africa’s Apartheid regime.
10 December 1959
Residents of Windhoek’s Old Location protest their forced removal to a township outside of Windhoek. The protest turns violent and South African police massacre a number of protesters. This event signals a turn of the tide in the discourse of Namibia’s struggle for independence, as passive resistance is traded in for an armed struggle.
The OPO becomes the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), and elects Sam Nujoma as President in absentia.
SWAPO’s decision to launch an armed struggle against South Africa’s Apartheid regime leads to growing international support for the movement.
South Africa refuses to relinquish control and withdraw from South West Africa (SWA). SWAPO establishes and launches its armed wing; the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN).
26 August 1966
The first armed clash takes place between the South African Defence Force (SADF) and SWAPO-PLAN combatants in the Battle of Ongulumbashe. This leads to the revocation of South Africa’s sovereignty over Namibia.
In the aftermath of Ongulumbashe, liberation leaders are tried under the auspices of the 1967 Terrorism Act for and sentenced to varying terms on Robben Island. Internal leadership fragments and for a period of time SWAPO is at a loss with no clear mandate as to how to proceed.
26 December 1969 – 2 January 1970
An external conference is held in Tanzania to determine SWAPO’s organisation and general directives. The Tanga Conference marks a new era in SWAPO leadership and a strengthened desire for militant resistance.
Angola attains independence, enabling PLAN to establish training and refugee camps in exile.
South Africa has not yet upheld its promise to withdraw from Namibia. The United Nations Security Council establishes Resolution 435 aimed at mediating consultations between South Africa and the frontline states to establish elections in Namibia. This is linked to the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola in a compromise to encourage South Africa to grant Namibia independence, and to prevent a proxy Cuban-South African war on Angolan soil.
SWAPO, together with the frontline states (consisting of Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe) and the Western Contact Group (France, the United Kingdom and the United States) establishes Constitutional Principles, creating the framework for Namibia's democratic transition.
South Africa finally accepts Resolution 435.
1 April 1989
Resolution 435 is officially implemented.
Armed PLAN forces move across the Angolan border into northern Namibia despite Nujoma’s assurance that PLAN would be disarmed. In reaction, the UN mobilises a small battalion of SADF soldiers, and a conflict ensues. Nujoma orders PLAN forces to withdraw into Angola.
7-11 November 1989
Namibia holds its first free and fair elections under UN supervision. SWAPO wins 57% of the vote.
Namibia and Angola undertake a joint venture for the purpose of border security
South Africa transitions to democracy and transfers territory (Walvis Bay enclave and 12 islands of the Namibian coast) back to Namibia.
SWAPO amends the Constitution to allow Nujoma to stand for a third five-year term in office, and again wins elections.
15 November 2004
SWAPO again wins parliamentary elections and Hifikepunye Pohamba becomes President of Namibia.
2009 – Present
SWAPO continues to dominate the electoral landscape.
• Bukurura, S.A. (2003). ‘Between Liberation Struggle and Constitutionalism: Namibia and Zimbabwe,’ in Melber, H. (ed). Re-Examining Liberation in Namibia: Political Culture since Independence. Nordic Africa Institute.
• Dobell, L. (1998). ‘SWAPO’s Struggle for Namibia, 1960-1991: War by Other Means’. Basel:P. Schlettwein Publishing.
• History of the SWAPO Party [Online]. Available: http://www.swapoparty.org/history.html. [Accessed 25 January 2015].
• LeBeau, D. & Dima, E. (2005). Multiparty Democracy and Elections in Namibia [Online]. Available: http://www.content.eisa.org.za/pdf/rr13.pdf. [Accessed 25 January 2015].
• Leys, C. & Saul, J.S. (1994). ‘Liberation without Democracy: The SWAPO Crisis of 1976’. Journal of Southern African Studies. Vol 20, No.1. pp. 123-147.
• Kössler, R. (2003). ‘Public Memory, Reconciliation and the Aftermath of War: A Preliminary Framework with Special Reference to Namibia’, in Melber, H. (ed). Re-Examining Liberation in Namibia: Political Culture since Independence. Nordic Africa Institute.
• Okoth, A. (2006). ‘A History of Africa: African Nationalism and the Decolonisation Process’. East African Publishers.