Sam Nujoma

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Sam Nujoma
Sam Nujoma.jpg
1st President of Namibia
In office
21 March 1990 – 21 March 2005
Prime Minister Hage Geingob (1990–2002)
Theo-Ben Gurirab (2002–2005)
Preceded by office established
Succeeded by Hifikepunye Pohamba
President of SWAPO
In office
19 April 1960 – 29 November 2007
Preceded by Himself as president of OPO
Succeeded by Hifikepunye Pohamba
President of OPO
In office
19 April 1959 – 19 April 1960
Preceded by office established
Succeeded by Himself as president of SWAPO
Personal details
Born (1929-05-12) 12 May 1929 (age 86)
Ongandjera, Ovamboland, Southwest Africa
(now Okahao, Namibia)
Political party SWAPO
Spouse(s) Kovambo Theopoldine Nujoma
(m. 1956)
Children Utoni
John Ndeshipanda
Sakaria Nefungo
Alma mater University of Namibia
Religion Lutheran

Samuel Daniel "Shafiishuna" Nujoma (/nˈjmə/; born 12 May 1929) is a Namibian revolutionary, anti-apartheid activist and politician who served as the first President of Namibia from 1990 to 2005. Nujoma was a founding member and the first president of the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) in 1960. He played an important role as leader of the national liberation movement in campaigning for Namibia’s independence from South African rule. He established the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) in 1962 and launched a guerrilla war against the apartheid government of South Africa in 1966. Nujoma led SWAPO during the Namibian War of Independence, which lasted from 1966 to 1989.

After World War I the League of Nations gave Southwest Africa, formerly a German colony, to the United Kingdom as a mandate under the title of South Africa. When the National Party won the 1948 election in South Africa and subsequently introduced apartheid legislation, these laws also extended into Southwest Africa which was the de facto fifth province of South Africa.

Nujoma was a well known controversial activist and was already involved in anti-colonial politics during the 1950s. In 1959, he traveled to Cape Town, South Africa where he became one of the founders of the Ovamboland People's Organization (OPO), a nationalist organization that advocated an independent Namibia; he was named the organization's first president. On December 10, 1958 he was one of the organizers of the Old Location resistance which resulted in the massacre of 12 unarmed persons by the apartheid forces. He was arrested and deported to Ovamboland. The next year he escaped and went into exile.

In Namibia's first democratic elections, SWAPO won a majority and Nujoma became the country's first President on March 21, 1990. He was re-elected for two more terms in 1994 and 1999. He stepped down as president on March 21, 2005, and as SWAPO president on November 30, 2007 after serving as leader for 47 years. He published his autobiography, Where Others Wavered, in 2005.

Nujoma has received multiple honors and awards for his outstanding leadership qualities including, the Lenin Peace Prize, Indira Gandhi Peace Prize and the Ho Chi Minh Peace Prize. In recognition of his dedication to his selfless sacrifice to the national liberation struggle and nation building, the Parliament of Namibia has bestowed him the title "Founding President of the Republic of Namibia" and "Father of the Namibian Nation". He was also named "Leader of the Namibian Revolution" by the SWAPO Party in 2007. Nujoma is the central figure in the liberation struggle that brought independence to Namibia and he is equally central to the policies and practices that have shaped Namibia since then.

Early life[edit]

Samuel Daniel Nujoma was born at Etunda, a village in Ongandjera, near the town of Okahao, Ovamboland, Southwest Africa on 12 May 1929. Nujoma was born to Helvi Mpingana Kondombolo (1898–2008) and Daniel Uutoni Nujoma (1896-1968). He is the eldest of his parents' eleven children. He spent much of his early childhood looking after his siblings and tending to the family's cattle and traditional farming activities. His educational opportunities were limited. He started attending a Finnish missionary school at Okahao when he was ten and completed Standard Six, which was as high as was possible for blacks during the time. In 1946, at age 17, he moved to Walvis Bay live with his aunt, where he began his first employment at a general store for a monthly salary of 10 Shillings. He would later also work at a whaling station. While there he was exposed to world politics by meeting soldiers from Argentina, Norway and other parts of Europe who had come during World War II. In 1949, Nujoma moved to Windhoek where he started work as a cleaner for the South African Railways (SAR), while attending adult night school at St Barnabas Anglican Church School in the Windhoek Old Location, mainly with the aim of improving his English. He further studied for his Junior Certificate through correspondence at the Trans‐Africa Correspondence College in South Africa.[1]

Political career[edit]

In the late 1960s Nujoma continued his diplomatic rounds as SWAPO set up offices across Africa, Europe and the Americas. He represented SWAPO at the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement on 1 September 1961 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia as well as at the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 25 May 1963. In 1965, the OAU recognised SWAPO as the only lawful representative of the Namibian people.[2]

President of SWAPO[edit]

External images Sam Nujoma (right) with Bishop Colin Winter and Shapua Kaukungua, 1960s. Original source: Namibia State Archive.

In 1959 Nujoma co-founded the Ovamboland People's Organization (OPO) and became its first President. The next year in 1960 he became the first President of the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO). At the time South Africa administered the land under a policy of apartheid, in which the best resources were reserved for those classified white, while other Namibians were treated as inferior. After years of asking the United Nations to ensure the occupying power South Africa released control of South West Africa, he authorised armed resistance in 1966. This began the Namibian War of Independence, which lasted 24 years. During the struggle, Nujoma took the combat name "Shafiishuna", meaning "lightning", as the name was in his family on his father's side.[3] During the liberation struggle Nujoma was also the Commander in Chief of the People's Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN).

After serving 47 years as leader of SWAPO, he was succeeded by Hifikepunye Pohamba in 2007. There was speculation that he would be re-elected as SWAPO leader in 2007 and that he was planning to run for president again in 2009.[4] In early October 2007, however, Nujoma said that he had no intention of seeking re-election as SWAPO President and would stand aside in favour of Pohamba.[5][6] Pohamba was accordingly elected unopposed as SWAPO President on 29 November 2007 at a party congress. Nujoma said that he was "passing the torch and mantle of leadership to comrade Pohamba".[7] The congress also decided to give Nujoma the title of Leader of the Namibian Revolution, in addition to his existing title, Founding Father of the Namibian Nation.[8] Choosing to leave active politics, Nujoma was not re-elected to the SWAPO Central Committee or the Politburo,[9] but the congress granted him permission to attend meetings of the Central Committee and Politburo "at his discretion". He may also receive the title of National Chairman of SWAPO.[8]

President of Namibia[edit]

Nujoma pictured on an HIV billboard in 2004

As head of SWAPO, Nujoma was unanimously declared president upon the victory of SWAPO in a United Nations-supervised election in 1989, and was sworn in by UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar on 21 March 1990.

At independence, Namibia was gravely divided as a result of a century of colonialism, dispossession, and racial discrimination, compounded by armed struggle and propaganda. For instance, SWAPO had been so demonised by the colonial media and by official pronouncements that most white people, as well as many members of other groups, regarded the movement with the deepest fear, loathing, and suspicion. One of Nujoma's earliest achievements was to proclaim the policy of "national reconciliation", which aimed to improve and harmonise relations amongst Namibia's various racial and ethnic groups. Under his presidency, Namibia made steady if unspectacular economic progress, maintained a democratic system with respect for human rights, observed the rule of law, and worked steadily to eradicate the heritage of apartheid in the interests of developing a non-racial society. Nujoma successfully united all Namibians into a peaceful, tolerant and democratic society governed by the rule of law.

In 1992 Norway decided to stop drought relief to Namibia in response to the purchase of an expensive new presidential jet and two new VIP helicopters. The planes were bought a few weeks after Sam Nujoma had appealed to the international community for drought aid.[10]

In 1990 Nujoma initiated a plan for land reform, in which land would be redistributed from whites to blacks. Some 12% of the total commercial farmland in the country was taken away from white farmers and given to black citizens by 2007.[11] However, according to a 1998 statement made by the Cabinet of Namibia "the agricultural base is too weak to offer a sustainable basis for prosperity" and 38% of Namibia's rural population continue to live beneath the poverty line as of 2010.[12]

Nujoma was re-elected as President of Namibia in December 1994 with 76.3% of the vote.[13] The constitution of Namibia was changed to allow Nujoma to run for a third five-year term in 1999; this was justified on the grounds that he had not been directly elected for his first term, and the change applied only to Nujoma. He won the 1999 election with 76.8% of the vote.[13] The constitution did not allow Nujoma to run in November 2004 for a fourth term, and there was not much enthusiasm even within SWAPO to change it again. Hifikepunye Pohamba, described as Nujoma's "hand-picked successor", was elected as the candidate for the presidential election during the SWAPO congress held on 30 May 2004, defeating two other candidates, Nahas Angula and Hidipo Hamutenya. The latter had been dismissed from his post of Foreign Affairs minister by Nujoma barely two days before the congress. Pohamba was elected with a large majority and was sworn in as second President of Namibia on 21 March 2005.

In 1998 Nujoma came to the defence of the Democratic Republic of Congo President Laurent Kabila when his rule came under threat from rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda during the Second Congo War. Namibia became involved in the war on behalf of its commitment to the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Namibian, Angolan and Zimbabwean troops helped Kabila fend off the attacks – a move which Nujoma saw as defending the DRC's sovereignty against outside interference.[14][15][16]

Nujoma was the international patron and a strong supporter of the Cheetah Conservation Fund, based in Namibia.[17]


Nujoma meets with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Windhoek on 25 June 2009.

Despite stepping down from a formal role, Nujoma is still active in the political sphere, regularly campaigning for SWAPO at various rallies and functions across the country. In 2009, Sam Nujoma attained a master's degree in Geology from the University of Namibia.

The director of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) in Namibia stated that Nujoma had connections to the CIA.[18] The organisation has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Nujoma and what they say is his role in disappearances during his term. To date, these claims have not been substantiated.[19]

Marriage and personal life[edit]

Nujoma married Kovambo Katjimune on 6 May 1956. The couple had three sons and two daughters; Utoni Nujoma (1952), John Nujoma (1955), Sakaria "Zacky" Nujoma (1957), Nelago Nujoma (1959)—who died at 18 months while Nujoma was in exile—and Usuta Nujoma (1965). Two decades elapsed before his wife joined him abroad. Nujoma's first-born son, Utoni, is a high ranking politician and member of SWAPO who is both a member of Cabinet and National Assembly of Namibia. His youngest son, Zacky, is a geologist by profession who has interest in business and mining.

Nujoma's father, Daniel Uutoni Nujoma, whose sole "crime" was being Nujoma's father, was arrested at Okahao and sent to Pretoria prison in 1966. There he developed tuberculosis from which he later died in 1968.[20] Nujoma's mother, Kuku Helvi Mpingana Kondombolo, lived to an exceptionally old age, dying in November 2008; she was reportedly more than 100 years old.[21]

Honours and recognition[edit]

Date of award Honour/Award Title Reason for Award Awarding Body
2004 Lifetime Conservation Award Cheetah Conservation Fund (Nujoma is the international patron of this organisation since 1991)[22]
2005 Honorary Doctorate in Public Management Polytechnic of Namibia[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hilukilwa, Placido (8 December 2008). "Namibië begrawe sy volksmoeder" [Namibia buries her mother of the nation]. Die Republikein (in Afrikaans). 
  2. ^ History of Namibia
  3. ^ Baffour Ankomah, Nujoma – 'No Fourth Term For Me', Swans, 17 November 2003.
  4. ^ John Grobler, "Play it again, Sam", Mail & Guardian Online (South Africa), 4 February 2007.
  5. ^ "Former president Nujoma to quit active politics", African Press Agency, 2 October 2007.
  6. ^ "Namibia's ex-president retires", AFP (, 3 October 2007.
  7. ^ "Nujoma succeeded by Pohamba", AFP (IOL), 30 November 2007.
  8. ^ a b Brigitte Weidlich, "A title for Nujoma, brickbats for media", The Namibian, 3 December 2007.
  9. ^ Christof Maletsky, "Swapo big names dropped", The Namibian, 3 December 2007.
  10. ^ [1], 6 August 1992.
  11. ^ Land reform reproducing poverty IRIN News, 15 November 2007
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b Elections in Namibia, African Elections Database.
  14. ^ Scramble for the Congo Anatomy of an Ugly War
  15. ^ No Namibian troops to DRC
  16. ^ Namibia will withdraw troops once UN peacekeepers in place
  17. ^ CCF recognizes Nujoma
  18. ^ P. ya Nangoloh, An expose about Nujoma's CIA connections. Part 1, 7 February 2007.
  19. ^ "Namibian group seeks ICC investigation of ex-leader". Reuters, republished on (CNN). 31 July 2007. Retrieved 10 August 2007. 
  20. ^ Profile at Namibian Parliament website.
  21. ^ "'Grandmother of the nation' passes away", The Namibian, 27 November 2008.
  22. ^ "President Nujoma Given Conservation Award" (PDF). CCF News. Spring 2005. 
  23. ^ Philander, Frederick (Frederick Philander 11 April 2005). "Namibia: Do We Have What It Takes?". New Era.  Check date values in: |date= (help)


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Position created
President of Namibia
1990 – 2005
Succeeded by
Hifikepunye Pohamba
Preceded by
Position created
President of SWAPO
1960 – 2007
Succeeded by
Hifikepunye Pohamba