An organization called Breaking the Wall of Silence; its mandate, membership and activities (1990-September 2002) [NAM39956.E]

Breaking the Wall of Silence (BWS) is a group which was formed to advocate on behalf of those who were detained by the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO, Namibia's ruling party) prior to Namibia's independence (Country Reports 2001 Mar. 2002, Sec. 4). The Mail and Guardian refers to BWS as an "organisation of former detainees" (26 May 2000) and i'Afrika News Network reported that the primary objective of BWS is to "force the [Namibian] government into instituting an inquiry in the past, similar to that of South Africa" (25 Mar. 1998).

According to a 25 March 1998 i'Afrika News Network article, BWS was named after a book entitled Namibia: The Wall of Silence, released in March 1996. The book, written by a German Lutheran pastor, Siegfried Groth, provided "eye-witness accounts of the torture of some of the detainees in SWAPO camps during the liberation struggle against South Africa" (i'Afrika News Network 25 Mar. 1998). According to this article, senior SWAPO members "abused and tortured" fellow members of SWAPO on "mere suspicion that they were spying for the enemy South Africa" (ibid.).

An article in The Lutheran, the magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, alleges that several thousand of SWAPO's "younger members" were imprisoned by SWAPO "in dungeons for being spies" (July 1996). Following the independence of Namibia in 1989, the prisoners were released; however,

... many returned home to find their reputations ruined. ... Many detainees are unable to get work. Some refuse to remove their shirts in front of their children for fear of showing the scars from their beatings. In Katatura, a strongly SWAPO area of Windhoek, former detainees are denounced in the streets (The Lutheran July 1996).

The Namibian also refers to the "enemy agent tags" ex-detainees have carried since independence and reported that SWAPO has never cleared those falsely accused of spying allegations (6 July 1999).

BWS has encouraged the government to institute an inquiry into the past (i'Afrika News Network 25 Mar. 1998), resolved to erect a memorial stone (The Namibian 6 July 1999), decided to "write and publicise personal accounts of their experiences in the dungeons of Lubango," seek compensation for ex-detainees (ibid.), and, in 2000, distributed a list of "about 700 people as evidence that many Namibians disappeared while in the hands of SWAPO during the liberation war" (The Mail and Guardian 26 May 2000). The organization also holds annual general meetings (The Namibian 6 July 1999). A 27 June 2001 The Namibian article refers to Pauline Dempers, an ex-detainee herself, as the Chair of BWS.

According to the U.S. Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001, the government, while verbally attacking BWS and other human rights organizations, has allowed these organizations to freely criticize government policy (Mar. 2002, Sec. 4).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001. March 2002. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 12 Sept. 2002]

i'Afrika News Network [Copenhagen]. 25 March 1998. "Namibia: Too Bumpy a Road to Reconciliation." (Africa News/NEXIS)

The Lutheran [Chicago]. July 1996. David. L. Miller. "Tortured by the Past: Can Namibian Lutherans Free Themselves from their Liberators?" [Accessed 12 Sept. 2002]

The Mail and Guardian [Johannesburg]. 26 May 2000. Tangeni Amupadhi. "South Africa: Who Killed SWAPO's 700 Missing Detainees?" (Africa News/NEXIS)

The Namibian [Windhoek]. 27 June 2001. "Council of Churches, UN Step in to Help Torture Victims." (Africa News/NEXIS)

_____. 6 July 1999. Tangeni Amupadhi. "Namibia: BWS Plans New Tactics to Solve the 'Lubango Riddle'." (Africa News/NEXIS)

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases

World News Connection (WNC)

Internet sites including:

All Africa News

Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch

Katu Database for Conflict Prevention

The Namibian