About Us

Breaking the Wall of Silence - "We are Standing on Truth"

The vision of Breaking the Wall of Silence is to be a consistent voice for the dignity of Namibian ex-detainees of the liberation movement and the development of a more open and tolerant society in Namibia. 

      Detainee women on the day they were released from prison in Southern Angola. 
      Photo by John Liebenberg.
During Namibia's struggle for independence from South Africa, which was ongoing from the 1960s through the 1980s until independence was finally achieved in 1990, many Namibians left the country in order to train and fight in the struggle.  The South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) was the leading voice of the liberation movement, and it was training soldiers and leaders in camps in Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.  Starting in the 60s, tension developed between the older leadership of SWAPO and young people coming from Namibia.  In the 80s, the SWAPO leadership became convinced that there were spies for the South African government among the new arrivals.  They began jailing and torturing suspects in underground prisons.  No one knows how many people were imprisoned overall, but the number is somewhere between 1000 and 2000.  Many did not return.  In 1989, as part of the UN agreement that ended hostilities between South Africa and Namibia and granted independence to the new nation, surviving prisoners of war were repatriated to their respective countries.  Just 169 men, women and children were repatriated to Namibia from dungeons in Lubango, Angola.  The whereabouts of the rest of the detainees remains unknown.  Breaking the Wall of Silence (BWS) was formed in 1996 by the survivors of the spy crisis to advocate for the human rights of the ex-detainees and their families. 

Interview with Pauline Dempers, BWS National Coordinator

The mission of BWS is to work with members and their families towards personal healing and genuine interpersonal reconciliation, democracy and tolerance in Namibia.  In order to fulfill this mandate, BWS is committed to:
  • Working toward finding a lasting solution to the SWAPO ex-detainee issue, until the people who suffered have been exonerated and SWAPO has admitted wrong-doing and issued an apology.
  • Finding strategic partners who can provide psychological support to members.
  • Sharing the stories of heroism and survival under the most harrowing circumstances.
  • Sharing with Namibians the dangers of political intolerance and working with partners on approaches for peace-building.
As part of its mission, BWS also works with the NANGOF Trust, an umbrella organization of Namibian NGOs, to promote and protect human rights and strengthen democracy in Namibia.  In addition, as a result of its members' understanding that the torture and abuse carried out in the prisons could never have happened without the power of the gun, BWS has become involved in the national and international movement against gun violence.  BWS has represented the NANGOF Trust on the National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons since 2004.  The National Focal Point is a review body hosted by the Namibian police force that incorporates participation by government agencies and civil society organizations.  In 2005, BWS formed a partnership with the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).  Each year BWS members participate in the Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence that IANSA sponsors.

"The truth has not been said yet in this country"

The video above is a brief interview with Pauline Dempers, a founding member of BWS and its National Coordinator.  In it, she discusses the founding of the organization, its mission and focus, challenges facing BWS, and the future she wants to see for it.  In the video to the right, founding member and first chairperson of the managing board Samson Ndeikwila discusses the importance of the organization to Namibian national reconciliation.   

Mailing Address
PO Box 40587

+264 61 256227

Subpages (1): Staff and Managing Board