by Amadi Ajamu
The life and legacy of Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, a Namibian revolutionary and a national and international diplomat, was celebrated on Friday, July 20, 2018, at the National Black Theatre in Harlem NYC. Dr. Gurirab and SWAPO (South West African Peoples Organization) have a long history on the streets of Harlem with political activists, human and civil rights leaders, and grassroots everyday people. Many were introduced to him by the late renowned historian and Pan-African leader Elombe Brath at his weekly forums held at the Harriet Tubman School in Harlem.
Dr. Gurirab was a founder, the first Minister of Foreign Affairs, and second Prime Minister of the Republic of Namibia. He served fourteen years as SWAPO’s Chief Representative to the United Nations and four years as its Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
The memorial celebration was organized by the December 12th Movement International Secretariat, the Elombe Brath Foundation, and the Patrice Lumumba Coalition in conjunction with the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Namibia to the United Nations. International, national, and local dignitaries paid tribute to Dr. Gurirab and shared war stories from the battlefield for Namibia’s independence in 1990 to the United Nations where he served as the President of the General Assembly from 1999 – 2000.
The Master of Ceremonies, Brother Omowale Clay opened the tribute stating, “Tonight we honor the greatest contribution a people can give to the world, a revolutionary.”
Ambassador Fatima Kyari Mohammad, the new Permanent Representative of the African Union to the United Nations stated “As President of the UN General Assembly, Dr. Gurirab’s legacy of surmounting the bitterest relics of division was felt throughout the leadership of the UN. We all, my brothers and sisters in humanity, without exception, must pull from the lessons he left for us. And we must carry the baton forward collectively, together for us and for those who are yet to come. As we remember and mourn we must also celebrate. As we pay our respects, we should also emulate. Our forefathers have left us with their legacies in this transitory world in order for us to leave a better world for our children and those that will come in the future.”
NYS Senator from Harlem, Brian Benjamin and NYS Assemblyman from Brooklyn, Charles Barron and NYC Council Member Inez Barron, presented the Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Namibia to the UN, H.E. Neville Gertze with official Citations honoring Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab.
Cinque Brath, President of the Elombe Brath Foundation, welcomed everyone and spoke of the last time he saw Dr. Gurirab. “It was during the inauguration of Namibian President Geingob, we were in the lobby of our hotel in Windhoek. It was very crowded and there was a lot of commotion in the room. Dr. Gurirab called out to us and said he ‘could recognize those Harlem walkers anywhere.’ We sat with him and his wife Joan and chatted for a while. He was a statesman who lived a quite remarkable life.”
Viola Plummer, the chairperson of the December 12th Movement International Secretariat, reminisced, “We’re celebrating a revolutionary! We’re celebrating a brother who walked with us, talked with us, and he taught us the ways of diplomacy and armed struggle. Those of us who knew him, we were so touched and informed and prepared to continue the struggle for liberation and independence of Africa and Africans. I had the absolute honor of meeting Theo many years ago. When we were in Durban South Africa at the formation of the Organization of African Unity’s transition to the African Union, I was sitting on one side of the aisle and the dignitaries were sitting on the other. He was sitting on the end and he nodded to me while they were going over the regions. I went over to him and he said ‘There must be a sixth region and you must write why. At the podium was the Foreign Minister of Senegal who was doing the order of what was to happen in terms of regions and representation, etc. I quickly wrote who we were and who we are, Africans. And the fact that we were not on the continent did not minimize the fact that we are Africans. And that we had to be represented in the new construct of the African Union. We owe that to my brother Theo who was always inclusive, knowledgable, able to see what needed to be done.”
Statements were made by United Nations Ambassador H.E. Jerry Matthews Majila of South Africa, Deputy Ambassador H.E. Humberto Rivera Rosario of Cuba, and H.E. Riyad H. Mansour of the Palestine Liberation Organization; Minister Akbar Muhammad of the Nation of Islam; Robert Van Lierop, Esq., renowned diplomat and political activist; Nana Camille Yarborough, Milton Allimadi, Journalist and Professor at John Jay College; and many others.
The closing remarks were given by Ambassador of Namibia, H.E. Neville Gertze. “This evening has been a truly extraordinary fellowship with our dear family who have stood with us through thick and thin. And who have provided a home away from home to this great man.” He thanked the people and organizations in New York and throughout the United States for their concrete support of Namibia and the implementation of sanctions against the former colonialist apartheid government of South West Africa.
“As we remember this distinguished gentleman, we pay tribute to your role; the streets that he’s walked with you, the trials and tribulations you’ve shared. It was through you that we overcame our struggles. He linked Namibia’s struggle against the racism and apartheid Southern Africa, with the struggle against racism and oppression of here. And it was here in New York where Dr. Gurirab found his voice in the United Nations in his fight for the freedom of the Namibian people.” Ambassador Gertze also thanked Cuban Deputy Ambassador Rosario and the people of Cuba for the tremendous sacrifices they made in Namibia’s fight for national liberation. The ambassador concluded with “We are home to you whenever you are ready to come. We thank you for this evening, We thank you for giving us this space to pay tribute to my mentor, my former boss, my friend, Comrade Theo-Ben Gurirab. Until we meet again, may your soul now rest in perfect peace.”