Namibian politician Samuel Daniel Shafiishuna Nujoma was born to the Ovambo ethnic group on 12 May 1929 in northern Namibia at Etunda village in Ongandjera, the Omusati region. He was at the helm of the SWAPO for 47 years – from its founding in 1960 throughout its long struggle against South African rule and into independence. He became the first President of Namibia from 1990 to 2005 when Namibia gained independence on 21 March 1990. He was re-elected in 1994 and 1999 and remained in office until March 2005.
From his humble beginnings as a railway worker, Nujoma co-founded the political party Ovamboland People’s Organisation in the late 1950s, which then became SWAPO in 1960. The role of SWAPO was to bring independence from South African apartheid rule to the Namibian people. As president of SWAPO, Nujoma unsuccessfully pleaded with the United Nations for years to ensure the release of South African control. He then took matters into his own hands and formed an armed resistance in 1966 which started the Namibian War of Independence, lasting 24 years. During this time, Nujoma became known as “Shafiishuna” which means lightning.
Nujoma went into exile for almost 30 years where he continued to organise the struggle until 1989 when he returned to assume presidency. The United Nations supervised the elections which unanimously heralded Nujoma as Namibia’s first president and he was sworn in by UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar on 21 March 1990.
During his presidency, the ever-energetic Nujoma skilfully tackled issues of education, housing, medical care, and international economic competitiveness. He ran a liberal-democracy and a largely free enterprise economy. He focused on a policy of ‘national reconciliation’ in an effort to create ethnic harmony within Namibia. As president, Nujoma held no animosity towards South Africa in his economic dealings with the country.
Hifekepunye Pohamba succeeded Nujoma as President of Namibia on 21 March 2005 and when Nujoma relinquished his role as head of SWAPO in 2007, he stated that he was “passing the torch and mantle of leadership to comrade Pohamba”. He was given the honorary titles of Leader of the Namibian Revolution as well as Founding Father of the Namibian Nation by the SWAPO Congress and the Namibian people. Nujoma’s son Utoni became Deputy Minister of Justice after having been elected to the Central Committee and Politburo of SWAPO in November 2007. Nujoma’s mother, Kuku Helvi-Mpingana Kondombombolo died in November 2008 at a reported age of more than 100 years old.
Even after retiring from his former political roles, Nujoma is still politically active and campaigns regularly for SWAPO across Namibia.
Together with his larger-than-life personality, Nujoma has numerous respectable accolades, including a Doctorate honoris causa in Public Management from Polytechnic of Namibia in 2005 and obtained his Master’s degree in Geology at the University of Namibia in 2009. In 2004 he received the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s Lifetime Conservation Award. Other notable awards include the Lenin Peace Prize in 1968, the November Medal Prize in 1978, the Frederick Joliot Curie Gold Medal in 1980, the Namibia Freedom Award from California State University in 1980, as well as an honorary doctorate from Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria.
Nujoma married Kovambo Theopoldine Katjimune in 1956 and has five children.