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Three years in Namibia - looking back

by Stephen Hayes

From The last Pink Press, published in March 1972 by David de Beer and Stephen Hayes when they were deported from Namibia by the South West Africa Administration, together with the Anglican Bishop of Damaraland, Colin Winter, and Toni Halberstadt1.

Looking back on nearly three years in South West Africa, it is the good things which stand out. Perhaps, now that I have to leave, I forget that there was so much that happened that was depressing, and which made me time and again want to leave of my own accord. Looking ahead to the future of South West Africa there is still loneliness and despair and a feeling of non-achievement.

I came here because there was nowhere else to go, there was no alternative. I did not know why I had come, nor what I had come to do. It is only now, looking back at the past, that I can see a pattern and a purpose.

One event stands out, and seems to symbolize the whole three years. I was standing at the edge of a newly-dug grave. The veld around was dry and drought-stricken. The sun was hot and flies were buzzing around. At the bottom of the grave was a cheap wooden coffin, and rocks and earth were thudding down on to it, while the Herero congregation was singing a Russian Easter hymn

      Kristus ua penduka mondiro
      Mondiro je ua nata pehi ondiro
      Ajandja omuinjo ku imba mbe ri meende
      Kristus ua penduka mondiro Christ is risen from the dead
      trampling down death by death
      and upon those in the tombs bestowing life

Aletta Tooromba's house at Oruua, in the Ovitoto Reserve
And then I knew that God had brought me to South West Africa to bury Aletta Tooromba. She lived in the Ovitoto Reserve, at a place called Oruua. It is not marked on any map. It is about 90 miles form Windhoek, 40 miles from Okahandja, and the last 13 miles is along one of the worst roads in the country.

The funeral was on February 12, 1972. It started with a requiem Mass. Because of the large number of people present, it was held outside, with the altar at the door of the house. On one side of the doorway was the red flag of the Herero nation, and on the other an ikon of Christ Pantokrator. The Rev. Abraham Hangula, of the Anglican parish of Windhoek, was the deacon. The subdeacon was the Revd E.K. Mbaeva of the St Phillips Faith Healing Church. The New Testament less on was Revelation 2011-21:7.

Two months before I had come here, and Aletta Tooromba had received her communion. She had been a faithful Anglican all her life. In the time I knew her she was old and crippled. She could not walk and had to be carried out of the house. She lived in an isolated place, cut off from the sacraments of the church. The government tried to make it as difficult as possible for her to receive communion by not giving permits for priests to enter the reserve. Nevertheless she was faithful and loved her Lord. Now she had gone to be with him, and yet our Lord had promised that he would be truly present with us in every Eucharist. And so she was truly present with him and with us in this Eucharist. Not in the fragile decaying body lying in the coffin, but in the communion of saints of the Lord.

The bakkie taking Aletta Tooroma's body to the cemetery
After the Mass was over, we went to the cemetery, bumping along a narrow rocky track (the name of the place, Oruua, means 'rocks'). Ahead went a battered old Ford bakkie, with the coffin, and the red flag flying from the canopy. The others followed in three other cars, all fully loaded. As we went, we sang "Matu tja ndangi, Mukuru" (We thank you, Lord). At the graveside there were speeches by members of the family, and by ministers of various denominations -- St Phillip's Faith, the Apostolic Spiritual Healing Church, the Oruuano Church. All spoke about the resurrection of Christ, and none of the words was gloomy. It recalled one of the prayers sometimes said at Compline, "Lord Jesus Christ who at the sad our of Compline didst rest in the sepulchre, and didst thereby sanctify the grave to be a bed of hope for thy people..."

The cemetery at Oruua
God had brought me to South West Africa to bring Aletta Tooromba her communion before she died, and it was worth coming just for that. George Pierce, the last priest who had visited Ovitoto, three years before, said once that if it were not for faithful little old ladies, the church could not survive. Aletta Tooromba was one of those, who remained faithful in spite of difficulties. And now at last she is with her Lord, where neither death nor life, nor principalities nor powers, nor Magistrates nor policemen nor the Department of Bantu Affairs can separate her from communion with her Lord. To her belongs the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven, where God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying or pain any more, for the former things have passed away.

There were many other things too, during those three years, that stand out in memory. There was Thomas Ruhozu, a Himba man from the remote Kaokoveld, who came to Windhoek at the time of the last diocesan synod, and went back as a catechist to preach the gospel of the freedom of the sons of God to his people. There were the headmen from the same place who came to see their chief, Clemens Kapuuo, men of amazing patience. They say they are eager to have the gospel preached in their land. When asked what problems they faced, an old man, Kapuku Munjomohoro, dressed in the leather apron of the Himbas, replied, "Ondatumisiro! Ondatumisiro! Ondatumisiro!" (Oppression! Oppression! Oppression!)

There were other funerals too, of the old Herero chief, Hosea Kutako, of the aunt of Abraham Hangula, of the father of Clemens Kapuuo, and all were triumphant occasions.

There is a change of attitude that I have seen since I first arrived. When I came, blacks were fearful, not daring to say what they really thought. Some were cringing and subservient. Others were aloof and reserved. Others still were bewildered. In the last nine months, these attitudes have virtually disappeared. The advisory opinion of the World Court, the open letter to the South African Prime Minister from the black Lutheran Churches, the Ovambo workers' strike, all in the second half of 1971, brought about a drastic change. Blacks are becoming conscious of their humanity, and they are walking tall in the streets. They greet me with a smile, and the word 'baas' has disappeared from their vocabulary.

Saying goodbye to friends in Namibia: Elias, Steve, Laureen, Toni, Steve, Marge, Ed
Also not to be forgotten are the faithful white Christians. Those who have many doubts about the teaching of the Church on race, on political and social injustice. They have to face ridicule from their friends and those they work with, often for things they do not fully understand or support. Yet they remain faithful. One of the most amazing things of all was to be stopped in Kaiserstrasse by one of the indigenous white inhabitants of Windhoek, at the height of the Nationalist press campaign against the Anglican Church. He shook my hand and said, "You people are doing a great job. Don't be discouraged, a lot of us are for you. Keep it up."

Yes, on looking back, it is the good things that stand out. The bad things - the smear letter sent to parishioners by a brother priest, the packing of a vestry meeting with nominal Anglicans who hardly ever came to church, the loneliness, the betrayals - these are fading memories.

The death and resurrection are seen in the church too  at the final farewell service, where four church workers were leaving, the bishop ordained four new priests, to continue to preach the good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, liberation to the oppressed, release to the captives. They are Peter Beard, Abraham Hangula, Edmund Dawson and Polycarp Haihambo. Pray for them as they take up the task God has given them.

I will leave with happy memories of the people of South West Africa, Kalanami, Namibia, call it what you will. And the sorrows and sufferings and hopes and aspirations are symbolized by Aletta Tooromba. She suffered with her people; suffered poverty and contempt and oppression. She suffered from bodily weakness and disease. She suffered loneliness and isolation.

But she was faithful unto death, to her belongs a crown of life.


The Last Pink Presswas published and distributed nearly 30 years ago. A lot has changed since then. Namibia has become independent. But it is sometimes good also to remember the way things were. The four people who were deported then were not the first nor the last church workers to be deported from Namibia when it was ruled by South Africa. Bishop Robert Mize, who preceded
Colin Winter as Anglican bishop of Damaraland, was deported in 1968. Bishop Richard Wood was deported afterwards, as was Ed Morrow, who went to Namibia to administer the diocese as Vicar-General, in the absence of the deported bishops.

Others were banned or imprisoned.

Now South Africa and Namibia have constitutions that guarantee freedom of religion.

1 For background information on this event, see Steve's biography.

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Created: 13 June 2001
Updated: 18 June 2013