Wyatt & Dammers - Sounds - November 2, 1985
WYATT & DAMMERS
working to free namibia
Do politics and music mix? Or is it impossible to separate them?
JACK BARRON discovers ROBERT WYATT and JERRY DAMMERS ensconced in deepest England with Zimbabwean RICHARD MUZIRA, working on behalf of a repressed African nation.
EYE AND EYE spies…
TAKE TWO women...
One is a Namibian, 40-year-old. She was arrested in her own country by the security forces of the illegally occupying regime of South Africa. That was in 1980.
The reason? She spoke in support of the South West African People's Organisation, SWAPO - the national liberation movement recognised by the United Nations as being the authentic representative of the Namibians.
Tried and sentenced not in her own country but Prime Minister Botha's SA-dist apartheid state, the woman was pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy in jail. The child stayed with her a year and subsequently died. The woman was not allowed to attend her infant's funeral. She is still incarcerated.
The woman's name is Ida Jimmy.
Now remember a supposed world leader swanning around the luxurious environment of the Bahamas. A 60-year-old blue rinse bitch, for every year she has been alive, Namibia has been under the yoke of South Africa. She has, by virtue of her office, an historical responsibility for this abomination.
You see, the kingdom of SA-dists was a British colony when, post-World War One, the South Africans decided to administer what was later to become Namibia. Indeed, this warped state of ours wanted the territory to become a legally recognised part of SA-distonia. Even The League Of Nations weren't fool enough to fall for that.
So there she is clucking evil in the Bahamas. From her perch in the gallery of political despots she mouths empty slogans against Botha’s fascist regime - here's the disgusting punchline - all the while plotting to stop other countries from taking practical measures against the SA-dists.
This other woman is, of course, Margaret Thatcher at last week’s obscene conference of Commonwealth ministers at the millionaire’s resort of Lyford Quay.
She made me ashamed to be British.
Thatcher and Ida Jimmy have never met except in this Feature.
What has brought them indirectly togeteher in print is the release of a records, ‘The Wind Of Change', by Robert Wyatt, The SWAPO Singers, and an all-star cast, which was produced and arranged by Jerry Dammers.
If pop music has a political role to play, I guess it’s by alring publicy pressing issues, supplying information upon which the listeners can act if they choose. That's all.
‘The Wind Of Change' nails a specific concern to its stake, its melodic breeze blowing on beautifully about the plight of people like Ida Jimmy: Namibian political prisoners held illegally by South Africa.
AN ATROCITY EXHIBITION…
TAKE THREE men…
Richard Muzira, black, bearded and baggy-trousered. Apart from being the catalyst behind and singing on. ‘The Wind Of Change’ project, he is the co-ordinator of the Namibia Support Committee’s Repression And Political Prisoners Campaign.
He, Jerry and Robert now Sit drinking tea in Wyatt’s house…
"The situation regarding the Namibian prisoners in South Africa has changed just recently," explains Richard, a Zimbabwean formerly involved in the liberation struggle for his country's independence. "There were 21 political prisoners at the last count being detained in South Africa. Now though, 17 of them have been moved back to Windhoek (Namibia’s capital).
"It shows the South African Government are sensitive about the issue," continue Dammers. Since the days of ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ the Special-ist has sprouted an abundance of facial hair. "It’s an attempt by them to clean-up their image a bit I should imagine."
"Yeah," agrees Richard, "they’re trying to give credibility to the puppet-show of the MPC. But that doesn't get around the fact that the Namibians were tried illegally in South Africa, imprisoned there, and may still have life sentences hanging over their heads.”
The MPC, I should add, is the Multi-Party Conference, Namibia’s so-called ‘Transitional Government’. It was unelected and established through proclamation by the head ape of apartheid, Botha, in June this year.
While the inauguration ceremony was taking place in Windhoek, down the road in the neighbouring black township of Katutura the South African terror ‘police’, Koevoet, were brutally dispersing a demonstration of protesters. Many were seriously injured.
“Another obviously related issue the record is meant to highlight is Koevoet,” says Richard.
“This is a fascist assassination squad formed by the South Africans in 1979. It has a reputation for atrocities, torture and indiscriminate killing.
“Koevoet is a counter-insurgency unit of the sort the Americans used in Vietnam. The same strategy has been used by the South Africans in Mozambique and Angola. So, as part of the campaign we are demanding that Koevoet be disbanded.
“The reason why this is important, apart from saving innocent lives, is because of Resolution 435 by the Security Council of the United Nations. This resolution sets out a plan to bring independence to Namibia, but the plan itself takes account of the internal forces in the country who will help administer the elections should they ever take place.
“Obviously South Africa’s idea is that Koevoet will part of the internal forces which will monitor the elections. Really though, like I’ve said they are an assassination squad under instructions from South Africa. You can see the problem. Koevoet is called a police unit by the MPC, but it has always been a military wing suppressing and torturing the Namibian people.
“OK, that’s two interrelated issues brought into focus partly by the record. Additionally the Campaign is demanding that the SWAPO freedom fighters be given the status of political prisoners. I call them political prisoners but the South African regime accords them the status of criminals.
“We’re especially worried about one particular prisoner. Elizar Tuhandeleni. He’s a SWAPO senior member who has been in jail since 1968. He’s in his 70s and is very ill. We want him and the rest of the prisoners freed,” concludes Richard steelily.
OF 7O YEARS OF DEATH...
FOR SEVEN decades Namibia has been a political football, with South Africa doing most of the vicious kicking since they invaded the then German colony of South West Africa in 1915.
Despite repeated protests, and having their occupation declared illegal by the United Nations, the SA-dists have held on to the country ever since. Meanwhile they’ve introduced the population to all the demons of apartheid: the pass system, bantustans and so on.
Let’s ignore the oft-bleated strategic red herring of Namibia being seen as a frontline against Communism, and the fact South African governments appear to be filled with socio-paths.
“If you want to know how I view South Africa I think of it as Nazism in practice,” comments Dammers.
No. Namibia’s big problem is its fatal attraction to outsiders because of its wealth of natural ressources: diamonds, gold and uranium among them. Those are the sort of glittering prizes countries will fight for; those are the kind of economic gems that make nations like Britain turn a blind eye to obscenities carried out in the name of apartheid.
“Of course the real string-pullers in Namibia are basically the London bankers, and British and American corporations,” shrugs Robert Wyatt. “This hasn’t come up before, but what happened to another German colony, Tanganyka, is relevant here.
“Tanganyka, as you know, became Tanzania. And when he was asked why Tanzania had go its independence relatively easily, Nyerere (Tanzania’s then President) said, ‘Luckily we a such a poor country, we didn’t have anything anybody else wanted’.
“Namibia isn’t so lucky. It’s got things the West craves for like uranium; the South Africans are obviously interested in uranium a well. We still, as a nation, make a lot of money out of Namibia. That’s worth pointing out since there’s a lot of self-congratulation, rightly so, about charity for Africa at the moment. The last figures I saw though showed that Western developed countries take six times as much out of Africa as we give in aid”.
As Richard points out, there are still some 70 or so British companies operating in Namibia – including Thorn EMI! The UN has long called for countries to desist from trading with Namibia, and equally Britain has always voted against or abstained in these resolutions. If it’ll make us a rand or two we’ll economically prop up the crumbling gold-mine of apartheid.
In view of this historical track record, Margaret Thatcher’s subversion of the Commonwealth minister’s calls for mandatory sanctions against SA (and hence by implication Namibia) at last week’s Bahamas conference is simply par for the course. What was vile was the way she gloated about her shallow ‘victory’.
A victory for whom?
Certainly not the blacks in South Africa, or the one and a half million people in Namibia.
And quite why that many Namibians need 125,000 SA-dist troops and police to look after them is another matter. I guess.
The relative smallness of the population of Namibia came as something of a shock to me. The reason for its numerical size is simple: prior to World War One the Germans committed genocide on the indigenous blacks, and since the introduction of male registration recently by SA – with the idea of conscription in mind – many Namibians have fled to SWAPO enclaves in Angola and Mozambique.
Mind you, being in a bordering country doesn’t guarantee safety. In May 1978, for example, South Africa armed forces slaughtered 600 SWAPO members in an Angolan refugee camp.
The Namibians involved in ‘The Wind Of Change’ project, The Torch Singers of the cultural wing of SWAPO, have come to England from just such a refugee camp.
They include Bience Gawanas who performs the tone poem on the flip, ‘When I Think About My Country’, which was written by Vaino Shivute.
“They’re all students in England at the moment,” divulges Robert Wyatt, who himself has a fine album due for imminent release called ‘Old Rotten Hat’.
“Being a responsible government in exile, SWAPO sends its youths around the world to get educated,” he continues. “The reason I want to tell you this is the SWAPO singers like to talk about issues but are shy about themselves, unlike us narcissistic pop stars.”
“When it came around to making the record, Richard gave me two SWAPO albums (‘Namibia One Nation’ and ‘Onyenka’) to listen to, “fills in Jerry Dammers. “I selected two traditional-type songs as a basis for what we would record. We built on the tunes from there. Neither is an attempt at genuine African music though, I’m not a purist in any way when it comes to music.”
Who put up the money for the record? I ask as Jerry leaves to make a phone call.
“We all gave our services for free,” chuckles Robert, “but I think a lot of the money was Jerry’s own, and Rough Trade put up some I believe. I’d better tell you that because Jerry won’t.”
Having decided on the musical content, there was no shortage of artists willing to donate their skills: Lynvall Golding, Ben Mandelson from Jazira, Ernest Mogosti Mothle – of whom Wyatt comments “I don’t know a better bass player in the world,” – Dick Cuthell, Annie Whitehead and others can be heard playing.
The last time Dammers was involved in producing and arranging a co-operative record with an issue in its heart was the UB40, Specials, Madness et al single, ‘Starvation’, in aid of famine relief. I wondered if he wasn’t disappointed that ‘Starvation’ didn’t better in commercial terms?
“Yeah, I was a little disappointed,” admits Jerry. “But ‘Starvation’ did raise £52,000 and that’s not to be sneered at. At the time there was a lot of feeling along the lines of ‘Oh no not another charity record’.
It had to contend with that, but it was definitely worthwhile.”
Do you think there might be a similar reaction to “The Wind Of Change”, like Oh dear another charity record?
“Well, it’s not really a charity record anyway,” corrects Jerry. “It’s SWAPO making a record and getting royalties the same as Duran Duran or whoever. We’re not making a big deal about that. SWAPO isn’t charity, it’s a political organization publicizing its cause. And that campaign to free the political prisoners began before and will go on after our record.”
“’The Wind Of Change’ is just using pop music to spread information, that’s all,” grins Robert Wyatt.
AND WHAT YOU CAN DO…
You’ve read the story, now it’s your decision. After buying ‘The Wind Of Change’ you can either be apathetic or help turn it into a gale by:
- Raising the issue of Namibian political prisoners
with your own political party, organisation or trade union. I you don’t belong to any of these you can…
- Write to your MP demanding that the British Government stop helping South African racists in their repression of Namibian people.
- Money for medical kits for the refugees in Angola and elsewhere is badly needed. To find out how to donate, get in touch with Namibia Suppport Committee, P.O. Box 16, London NWS 2LW. Tel 01-267 1941/2.