South-West Africa People's Organisation

The South-West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) was founded, along with a number of other groups, as a liberation organisation: following the first world war, South-West Africa -- formerly a German colony -- was turned over to South Africa to rule as a mandate for the British. The South African government turned this mandate arrangement into a military occupation, and extended apartheid to SWA.

SWAPO has its base among the Ovambo people of northern Namibia. By the 1960s, SWAPO emerged as the sole liberation organisation for the Namibian people, coopting other groups such as the SWA National Union (SWANU). SWAPO was essentially a military organisation, using guerrilla tactics to fight the South African military. It was based in Zambia and then after 1975, in Angola, where SWAPO was allied with the Afro-Stalinist Movimento Populair de Liberacio de Angola (MPLA). Unlike South Africa's ANC, SWAPO was not built from different sectors of society and wasn't connected to the lives of future Namibians not in exile.

SWAPO, during the period of exile, was responsible for human rights abuses against its own cadres. The most serious of these was the detainee issue, which remains a divisive issue. The stories of the detainees begins with a series of successful South African raids that made the SWAPO leadership believe that there were spies in the movement. Hundreds of SWAPO cadres were imprisoned, tortured and interrogated.

When Namibia gained its independence in 1990, SWAPO became the dominant political party, with its head, Sam Nujoma, elected as Namibia's first (and thus far only) President. Nujoma has asked for, and gotten, an unconstitutional third term in office, and many fear that President Nujoma will start derailing Namibia's democracy in much the same way as Robert Mugabe has for Zimbabwe.


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