Anton Lubowski PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 11 December 2008 02:36

Anton Lubowski


Anton Theodor Eberhard August Lubowski

Born: February 3, 1952(1952-02-03), Lüderitz, Namibia

Died: 12 September 1989, Windhoek, Namibia

Age:  37

Cause of death: Gunshot wounds

Notable because: Lawyer and activist who as a young lawyer in Namibia witnessed  firsthand the atrocious treatment of the SWAPO prisoners of the Afrikaans regime and decided to act on his conscience.. He represented the Uppington 26 in a case that ranks amongst the worst examples of the Apartheid regimes excesses. He was subsequently killed by state sponsored assassins, South Africa’s Civil Cooperation Bureau


The Uppington Fourteen.

On Friday, 26 May 1989, 14 South Africans were sentenced to hang at the end of a trial which lasted three years, one of the largest groups of people sentenced to die. 

Anton Lubowski was a Namibian advocate and SWAPO member  assassinated by operatives of South Africa’s Civil Cooperation Bureau.

Lubowski attended Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch, South Africa. He then did a year of military training in the South African military in Pretoria, before attending Stellenbosch University for law and the University of Cape Town for a LLB.

Anton Lubowski was a controversial and celebrated figure because he was one of very few ‘white’ Namibians who openly supported SWAPO, the main liberation movement that fought for independence from the colonial domination. Anton was controversial because fellow white Namibians, most of whom regarded SWAPO with deep animosity, accused him of betraying their cause and of being a deluded idealist who was being used in sinister ways that he could not understand. He was a favourite target of the South African-controlled print and broadcast media, which both demonised and ridiculed him. However, white Namibians were a small minority. The large majority of Namibians admired Anton’s courage and forthright support for human rights and for liberation from apartheid and colonialism. To them, he was a symbol of how Namibians of all skin colours and backgrounds could unite in common cause, in spite deep economic, cultural, and historical divisions

When Anton Lubowski was assassinated on 12th September 1989, it literally stunned the country, not only because of who he was but because it came at a time of delicate transition between the apartheid/colonial dispensation and the not-yet-independent Namibia. In addition, it was only one week before Sam Nujoma, President of the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO) was due back in Namibia after almost thirty years in exile. Whoever was behind the assassination obviously wanted to do more than kill a SWAPO activist; they also hoped to derail the whole independence process.

Anton Lubowski was born in Luderitz, Namibia, on 3rd February 1952. He was the second child of a German-speaking father and an Afrikaans-speaking mother. In some senses, Anton was an Afrikaner, in that his ‘mother tongue’ was Afrikaans and he was baptised in the Dutch Reformed Church, a bastion of Afrikaner culture. However, he also spoke German fluently. When he married a German-speaking wife, Gaby, the couple raised their children with German as their ‘mother tongue’, but often spoke English at home. This high degree of cross-cultural experience probably contributed to the fact that Anton later broke across racial and cultural barriers by becoming one of the few white Namibians who literally laid his life on the line in support of what was largely a ‘black’ cause, namely freedom and independence. However, his later ‘radical’ political position was probably also influenced by his parents’ opposition to the apartheid government – albeit a more moderate position than the one that Anton adopted.

When Anton was eight years of age, his parents sold their business in Luderitz and moved to the family farm near Aus in southern Namibia. Because schooling opportunities were limited in such a rural area, when he was 13 years of age he was sent to attend high school at the Paul Roos Gymansium in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Later, he attended Stellenbosch University, where he studied law. Both of these institutions have been the alma maters of many Afrikaner leaders. During these years, he lived an ordinary student life, standing out as a leader. There was an ironical result of his leadership abilities when, in 1971, he was conscripted into the South African Defence Force, as happened to most young white men at that time. There he attained the rank of second lieutenant, which he held until 1984, when he was released from service obligations because he was a member of SWAPO, the enemy of the South African apartheid government.

A big move forwards in Lubowski’s political development occurred when he left Stellenbosch University to continue his legal studies at the University of Cape Town, where his ‘liberal’ views no longer put him into a minority position and where he could meet and exchange opinions with fellow students from a variety of racial groups and with a variety of political backgrounds and experiences. While he was there, he married Gaby Schuster, a childhood friend from Luderitz who had also attended Stellenbosch University and was working as a teacher in the nearby town of Paarl. When he completed his studies, the couple, who were homesick for Namibia, relocated to Windhoek in 1978. There Lubowski joined the respected law firm of Lorenz and Bone.

The year 1978 was an important one for Namibia because in that year, after prolonged negotiations amongst the relevant parties, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 435, which provided the blueprint for independence for Namibia. It was also an important one for Lubowski because, as a lawyer, he came face to face with prisoners who had been tortured because of their pro-SWAPO positions. The brutality further confirmed Lubowski in his opposition to the status quo. One result was that he became involved with political movements that favoured an independent, democratic, and non-racial Namibia. However, he was not yet a member of SWAPO.

During the next few years, Lubowski worked on a number of cases that involved captured SWAPO prisoners and political detainees, at first-hand learning more about, and seeing the human face of, the movement that was demonised and vilified in Namibian media organs, all of which were either strongly South African-inclined or were officially controlled. Slowly but surely, he moved towards a decision to join SWAPO formally. His intentions became fact after he met Sam Nujoma, the President of SWAPO, in Paris and was able to talk with him for three days. Lubowski came away convinced that Nujoma and his colleagues were patriots who, having seen the failures in Africa at close hand, wanted to make a success of independent Namibia and, moreover, were committed to human rights and a democratic society. Soon after that, he was invited to be a member of an official SWAPO delegation to a peace conference in Lusaka, Zambia. When he returned to Windhoek, he publicly announced that he had joined SWAPO and called on other whites to do the same. Almost immediately, he began to receive a continuous stream of abuse and death threats, which was the price of being regarded as a ‘traitor’ and a member of a ‘terrorist organisation’ by his fellow whites. Of course, the attention of the agents of the police state focused on him as well; by the end of 1985, he had already been detained three times – and there were more detentions to come.

The sixth detention was the worst. In 1987, together with five senior SWAPO officials in Namibia, Lubowski was detained for three weeks at the notorious Oshire detention camp. There, wearing only underpants and sitting on dirt floors, they were kept in solitary confinement in corrugated iron shacks, which became unbearably hot during the day and freezing cold at night. As is often the case with police practice in oppressive societies, the aim was not to physically injure the detainees, but to break their spirits. After three weeks, Lubowski developed a dangerous kidney stone infection and was taken to hospital to be treated. During this time, a Supreme Court judge ordered that the prisoners should be released.

Apart from his legal work and his functions as a prominent SWAPO representative, from the mid-1980s onwards, Lubowski became strongly involved in mobilising in the trade union movement. This probably roused the ire of the authorities as much as anything else, because a mobilised black work force would pose a massive threat to the apartheid state. Lubowski’s involvement with the unions undoubtedly gave impetus to the authorities’ decision to detain him in such harrowing conditions.

A strong motif in Lubowski’s work for SWAPO was his concern that fellow white Namibians should come to understand that SWAPO was not composed of a band of demons and blood-thirsty terrorists, but rather was a nationalist movement that, amongst other concerns, propagated a genuine non-racial society in which whites would be welcome as citizens. To this end, he was instrumental in arranging a number of meetings between SWAPO leaders and various white individuals and groups. Because most of the SWAPO leaders were in exile, these meetings all took place on foreign soil.

When UN Security Council Resolution 435 was finally implemented and the independence process began on 1st April 1989, Lubowski was heavily involved in the election campaign. One of his most triumphant moments was when, at Windhoek airport, he was a member of the internal SWAPO delegation that welcomed the exiled SWAPO leaders when they returned to their country. Only one leader remained abroad; Sam Nujoma was due to return during the third week of November 1989, to lead the final phase of the election campaign that would result in the assembly that would write the country’s first constitution and, ultimately, led to independence. However, Lubowski did not live to see any of these events. During the early evening on 12th September, a gunmen sprayed bullets into him as he entered his front gate. Lubowski died on the spot. The gunman escaped in a car and, until this day, has never been identified, in spite of enquiries and inquests. All that is known is that the assassination was arranged by the Civil Co-operation Bureau, a state-terrorist organisation that operated clandestinely within the apartheid security apparatus.

Anton was the first white person to be buried in the graveyard in Katutura, the black, working class township of Windhoek. Even in death, apartheid kept human beings separate.

 the Uppington Fourteen. On Friday, 26 May 1989, 14 South Africans were sentenced [112] to hang at the end of a trial which lasted three years, one of the largest groups of people sentenced to death at any one time. I am happy now that the South African Government have stopped hanging people, but at the same time they are still imprisoned. On the day after that there were taken to Pretoria Central Prison and they are there on death row. They joined over 60 other political activists already under sentence of death.

Since the nationwide state of emergency was declared in 1986 the apartheid régime has executed 23 political activists for their illegal involvement in offences relating to opposition to apartheid. The 14 sentenced to hang represent a strong section of the community of a township in Uppington, reportedly the most deprived African township in South Africa. It is situated in the remote north-west of the country. Among the 14 is a domestic servant in her late fifties, Evelena Debrun, mother of ten children, the youngest of whom is 12 years. Evelena is illiterate and, according to her lawyer, she is busy dying on death row. She has lost several stone and cannot take exercise because she is crippled with arthritis. Because of this her lawyer applied for bail pending the appeal court hearing this year in an attempt to get her out of jail and save her life. The judge refused on the basis that she may flee the country. This despite her cripping arthritis, her illiteracy, her age and the fact that she has ten children. Therefore, I would appeal to the Minister to take her case up.

The other members of the Uppington Fourteen include a boxer, a schoolteacher, a male nurse working in a Namibian hospital, a labourer and a former treasurer of the town council convicted of killing a policeman on the notorious basis of common purpose. The fourteen from the north-western town of Uppington were among a total of 26 who stood trial. Of the 26, 25 were found guilty of murder, with the 26th being found guilty of attempted murder. Those not receiving the death penalty were given sentences ranging from six to eight years imprisonment on community service orders. The trial arose from the death of  a policeman in 1985 at the height of the political unrest that swept South Africa. The events occurred at the Uppington township of Pavello after security forces had broken up a meeting with tear gas. The mass meeting had been held to discuss community grievances including rent increases. Tear gas had never been fired in Pavello before. The meeting panicked and scattered, believing that live ammunition was being fired. Part of the crowd then gathered outside the home of a black municipal policeman. Only days before a pregnant woman had been shot by a municipal policeman in the township. The policeman fired on the crowd, severely wounding a child. He then ran from the house with his gun. Enraged, the crowd then killed him.

Almost all of those sentenced to death were convicted on the basis of common purpose. The judge deemed that by throwing stones at the house of a municipal policeman and chanting outside his house they would be considered to share in the common purpose with those directly responsible for the death. This legal ruling was applied to the trial of the Sharpeville Six and other subsequent cases. It has been discredited by the international league of communities as one of the many abuses of the legal system operating in South Africa, a system where the courts are used as part of the machinery for imposing apartheid rule.

At the beginning of July 1989 application for leave to appeal for the 26 against a conviction and by the 14 against their death sentence was turned down by the trial court judge. The trial was then petitioned on the chief justice for leave to appeal. On 8 September 1989 the chief justice granted leave to appeal against conviction for 23 of the 25 trial-less and for all to appeal against sentencing. Although granted leave to appeal, the 14 remain on death row in Pretoria Central Prison. Although the South African Government have put a stop to the death sentence, I believe that the trials of Evelena Debrun and the other people involved in this case deserve to be brought up by the Minister with the South African authorities. I hope that all those  who have been convicted under common purpose will be released.

I bring these cases up to highlight the whole situation of people who are imprisoned in South Africa. I am happy with our stand on sanctions and I believe it is an honourable one. I ask the Minister to emphasise to the South African authorities these cases. When he is there I hope he will show to the South African authorities and the South African people that it is only when we get rid of apartheid that we can really bring them back into the international community.

Last Updated on Monday, 30 March 2009 11:36

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