Early Life and Professional Career as a School Teacher
Reverend Theophilus Hingashikuka Hamutumbangela was born in 1917, at Onghala in the Ohangwena region, where he spent his childhood. In 1934 (at the age of 17) he went to boarding school at St. Mary’s mission at Odibo. He was closely associated with St. Mary’s mission for many years, first as a learner and later as teacher in the mission school.
After Bishop Tobias visited St. Mary’s mission in August 1943, he wrote the following statement about Theophilus Hamutumbangela, being a young teacher at Odibo. This statement was part of a report about the five prospective ordinands from Odibo and their progress. He reported:
There is Teofilusa, our senior teacher, aged 26 and married. He is at St. Mary’s and is of quite outstanding intellectual ability, and is anxious to pass Standard X (=grade 12). It will not be easy to spare him, but we hope it will be possible to send him for a year or 18 months to St. Bede’s, Umtata, to prepare for the diaconate.(Robson 1999b:120)
In 1944, Hamutumbangela started his training at St. Bedes, Umtata and completed his program in 1946, when he was ordained as a deacon (August 6, 1946) at St. Mary’s. Fr. Dymond supported him both financially and spiritually. During his years of study, he had many experiences which shaped his Christian leadership. Some occurred during the long distances which he had to travel by train, between Odibo on the northern border of Namibia, to St. Bedes in Umtata, on the southeastern coast of South Africa. One of these experiences during his return from Umtata was recorded and reveals much about his character:
It was customary for black persons returning from the “South” to have their luggage searched at Namutoni, the last police post on the way north. Certain articles, such as perfumed soap, perfume and “luxury” items were considered “not fitting for black persons” to possess and were duly confiscated at this point. It is said that Hamutumbangela was at the end of the queue being searched by the police. He had a notebook in which he was recording all that was being said and done to the people in front of him. Hamutumbangela was a man of large stature and an imposing character. On this occasion he was well dressed and wore spectacles with a large frame and appeared to be a person of importance. It is said he was asked to open up his trunk and reveal the contents. He gave the keys to the constable to open it himself. Much to the surprise of the constable he found a trunk full of books, theological books! Ovambo men were not supposed to be educated! He was then questioned in Afrikaans where upon he replied that he only spoke English or Oshikwanjama. People in the queue were apprehensive to interpret for him, because they had seen him taking notes and he did not fit the local picture at all. He was thought to be a foreign African. He passed through inspection being treated with a dignity that others had not received.(Robson 1999a: 9; Robson 1999b: 95, 129, 155-156)
In a similar way as during the above-mentioned event recorded at the Namutoni police check point, Hamutumbangela collected evidence from thousands of workers of incidents in which the South African police confiscated goods from returning contract workers. Reports of this were sent in a number of petitions to the League of Nations, and later the United Nations Organization (UNO).(The Namibian Weekender, 7 December 2001:3)
In 1946 Theophilus Hamutumbangela was ordained as a deacon and served at Onekuaya. In 1947, he was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church, and was the first resident priest at Etale, which started off that year as an outstation of Onekwaya. The first church was built with mud-bricks and thatch in 1947, under supervision of Fr. Hamutumbangela. In the early fifties, he became the resident priest of the Anglican Church in the St. Barnabas location in Windhoek. By 1958, he was recalled to Odibo. Later he was the resident priest of the Mary Magdalene Church at Omboloka.(Robson 1999a:21, 29; 1999b:156) He died in 1990 at the age of eighty-three.
Hamutumbangela’s Prophetic Voice: Political Appeals to the UNO
Father Hamutumbangela was a nephew of King Mandume Ndemufayo, the respected king of the Owambo people. This king, who lead an Owambo uprising against the colonial forces of the Portuguese and of South Africa, was killed by South African bombings of his village in 1917, on the day of his birth. Being a member of the same royal family “might have influenced Rev. Hamutumbangela’s daring to rise to heroism” in political matters, appealing to the UNO for independence from South Africa.
This political voice was however shaped during his studies. While studying in South Africa, Hamutumbangela met with people who would later be founding members of the African National Congress. Their way of thinking had a marked influence on him and on his future prophetical role in Namibia. Fr. Hamutumbangela first became politically involved in 1946.
Shortly after his return from South Africa, the tribal chiefs and the community were summoned to a meeting led by a representative of the South West African Administration (an assistant to the Native Affairs Commissioner). The League of Nations wanted to know whether the people still wanted to be governed by South Africa. The assistant led the people to understand that they would lose their tribal authority and their land should the League of Nations take over. Under the pressure of such information the tribal chiefs were against the League (soon to become the UNO) taking over. At this point, Hamutumbangela produced a copy of a particular letter, probably obtained while in the South. He indicated to the meeting that the letter said nothing about the people losing their chiefs or land and that the assistant was misrepresenting the facts.
Hamutumbangela’s speech caused confusion and no conclusion was reached at this meeting. He had no local support, as the chiefs were under the control of the Native Affairs Commissioner and would not speak up against the establishment. However, as a spiritual leader, Fr. Hamutumbangela spoke for the truth, and could not accept the misrepresentation of the facts.
While in ministry in the north, Hamutumbangela “became more and more vociferous in his attacks on racism and injustices (of the apartheid regime) and in his petitions to the United Nations.” Fr. Hamutumbangela wrote many letters to the United Nations Organization (UNO) about the liberation of Namibia. The Anglican missionary, Fr. Gurney, confirmed that Hamutumbangela had a close association with the Anglican priest, Rev. Michael Scott, who was considered persona non grata by the South African Administration. It was probably through Fr. Scott that Hamutumbangela was able to contact the League of Nations (later replaced by the UNO). As such, Hamutumbangela became a thorn in the flesh of the Native Affairs Department of the South African Administration in Windhoek. The apartheid regime took measures to silence him. In 1954, he taken into custody in the north, and was beaten by the police under authority of the traditional tribal leaders, who backed South Africa’s position. Subsequently, he was transferred to Windhoek, to remove him from his local followers in the north (Program 2001).
During his ministry in Windhoek, he started to create enthusiasm among the youth about political liberation. The youth became very interested and often visited him at night. At this time, no African was allowed on the streets after 21h00, without a valid permit from his employer. Because of his nightly information sessions, he was soon seen as a “political agitator” by the authorities, which resulted in him being put under house arrest. As a result, he was recalled to Odibo in 1958.
Based on his ideals for liberation, he was later a founding member of the Ovambo People’s Organization (OPO) in 1959, which was organized to fight the exploitative contract labour system. In 1960, the OPO became the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), because the original name limited the organisation to only the Owambo peoples of Namibia. Fr. Hamutumbangela became a leading figure in SWAPO. The colonial police continued to harass him for his political activities. Following the uprising in the Windhoek Old Location in December 1959, he was arrested and imprisoned. After being released, he was confined to house arrest in Katutura (Program 2001).
Following the first armed clash between SWAPO guerrillas and South African forces at Ongulumbashe on August 26, 1966, he was arrested again and imprisoned in Windhoek. While in prison he was poisoned. The poison paralyzed his nervous system. As a result, he became physically and mentally handicapped until his death on November 28, 1990, a true martyr of the liberation struggle.
However, even under frail health, Fr. Hamutumbangela’s anti-colonial spirit remained strong, and he was privileged to see the year of independence of Namibia, before his death. For this reason, Rev. Theophilus Hamutumbangela was honoured by the Namibian nation as one of the leaders of the liberation movement and a founding member of SWAPO (Program 2001; Robson 1999b: 155) when on December 10, 2001, a statue of him was unveiled in the gardens of parliament, together with the statues of two other heroes, Chief Hosea Kutako, and Chief Hendrik Samuel Witbooi. These were the three heroes, who had petitioned and appealed to the UNO since 1946, but especially after December 1959 and the shootings in the Old Location in Windhoek. (The Namibian Weekender, 07.12.01:3; Lau 1995: 57-58).
Gerhard Buys and Shekutaamba Nambala
- This story is taken from Buys & Nambala 2003, p. 201-203.
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Interviews & questionnaires
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Witbooi, H. 2002. Interview of Buys with the honourable Dr. Hendrik Witbooi, in Windhoek, on the history of Evangelists Petrus Jod and Marcus Witbooi. Dr. Witbooi is the son of Pastor Marcus Witbooi, who was a founder member of the AMEC in Namibia. At the time of the interview, Dr. Witbooi was Deputy Prime Minister in the Namibian government and leader of the AMEC (African Methodist Episcopal Church) in Namibia.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from History of the Church in Namibia, an Introduction - 1805-1990, Gamsberg Macmillan, Windhoek, Namibia, copyright © November 2003 by Dr. Gerhard Buys and Dr. Shekutaamba Nambala. All rights reserved.