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A fighting family

Simon Nehale’s family began fighting for the freedom of Namibia long before he was born.

The family comes from Ondangwa in the north of Namibia. Simon’s grandfather was King Nehale — the leader who led his people into battle against the German rulers at a place called Namutoni in 1904.

Simon was born forty years later with the same fighting spirit. He remembers pulling down signs on the roads that the South Africans built near his village when he was five years old.

When he was sixteen he signed his first contract. Like the other young men from the North he was taken South to work on a farm.


“Before I left my mother made me an ‘oshikwila’— a loaf of bread baked in an oven under the ground,” says Simon. “They took us on the back of a truck to Grootfontein, 300 kilometers away.”

On the long journey Simon shared the bread with the other men in the truck. Even then he knew that it is important for workers to stand together.

In Grootfontein the young men were put into a huge compound. A chain was put around each of their necks. Each chain was stamped A, B or C.

“C was for farm workers, B was for “kitchen boys”, and A was for strong men to work on the railways,” says Simon. “White men came to the compound and said ‘I want ten B’s and five C’s. I was a B and so a German farmer took me to a large cattle farm where I worked as a cook in the kitchen.”

Simon got seven shillings a month. For twenty months he was not allowed to go home. He was not even able to write to his mother.


Simon worked on many contracts And all the time his fighting spirit began to grow. In 1961 he heard about the South West African Peoples Organisation (Swapo). He took out a membership card.

In 1966 Simon was back in Ondangwa waiting to go on his next contract. While he was waiting something happened that he will never forget:

“I was riding on my bicycle along a dirt track. My radio was strapped to the “horns” of my bicycle. The voice on the radio spoke about a fight between the police and “terrorists”. This was the beginning of SWAPO’S armed struggle in Namibia.”

SWAPO did not only use guns. Simon remembers the great strike of 1971:

“From compound to compound the workers carried the message ‘We must stop work on December 13,’ they said. The strike began in Windhoek. Soon it spread from Grootfontein in the north to Luderitz in the south.

“We had no union then. But it was easy to organise the strike. The workers knew what to do because of the heavy load they carried in Namibia. The heaviness teaches you to fight.”

Today Simon Nehale is the organising Secretary of SWAPO’S branch in Windhoek. He is also an active member of the Namibian Food and Allied Workers’ Union. He has taken up where his grandfather left off. For him the struggle continues.


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