I sat down with Pauline Dempers, National Coordinator and co-founder of Breaking the Wall of Silence (BWS), and asked her about the history and mission of the organization, how BWS became involved in combating gun violence, the challenges BWS is currently facing, and her vision for the future of the organization.
A little historical background will be helpful in understanding BWS’s roots and Pauline’s experience. During Namibia’s struggle for independence from South Africa, which was ongoing from the 1960s through the 1980s until independence was finally achieved in 1990, many Namibians left the country in order to train and fight in the struggle. The South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) was the leading voice of the liberation movement, and it was training soldiers and leaders in camps in Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. Starting in the 60s, tension developed between the older leadership of SWAPO and young people coming from Namibia. In the 80s, the SWAPO leadership became convinced that there were spies for the South African government among the new arrivals. They began jailing and torturing suspects in underground prisons. No one knows how many people were imprisoned overall, but the number is somewhere between 1000 and 2000. Many did not return.
In 1989, as part of the UN agreement that ended hostilities between South Africa and Namibia and granted independence to the new nation, surviving prisoners of war were repatriated to their respective countries. Just 169 men, women and children were repatriated to Namibia from dungeons in Lubango, Angola. The whereabouts of the rest of the detainees remains unknown. Breaking the Wall of Silence was formed in 1996 by the survivors of the spy crisis to advocate for the human rights of the ex-detainees and their families. SWAPO was elected as the ruling party after independence and remains the ruling party after 19 years.
The rest is best said in Pauline’s own words:
For more information on the mission and programs of BWS, please go to the new website at: http://sites.google.com/site/breakingthewallofsilence/Home
Posted By Johanna Wilkie
Posted Jul 28th, 2009