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39 min. English, Finnish, Swedish.

Uutisten aika is a found footage film, which discusses cultural differences, being an outsider, the Namibian independence struggle, and Finland’s long-term ties with the southern African country.
The work consists entirely of archival material from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. YLE (The Finnish Broadcasting Corporation) programs showing everyday life are set against a voice-over by Ellen Ndeshi Namhila reading from her autobiography “The Price of Freedom”. Namhila spent seven years in Tampere as a refugee on a scholarship, studying library science. She recounts her experiences, ranging from single parenthood to observations on missionaries in Namibia and the church in Finland. Everyday scenes manifest how Namhila possibly saw the fairly homogeneous Finnish society she lived in.
News clips on the Namibian independence struggle frame the narrative. They feature SWAPO (The South West Africa People’s Organization) students, visiting politicians, and representatives of the United Nations and NGOs. Since Namibia was under the apartheid regime until 1990, archival material about the history of SWAPO can be found in countries where members of the liberation movement were in exile.

Laura Horelli, born in 1976 in Helsinki, Finland, lives and works in Berlin. Her works, mainly digital films, explore the intersection of the private and public spheres. She has received grants and scholarships and her work has been shown at numerous international exhibitions and festivals.

Interview with Dr. Ellen Ndeshi Namhila, Pro Vice Chancellor of University of Namibia (UNAM)
23 May 2017 in Windhoek

Laura Horelli: Some years ago I found your autobiography “The Price of Freedom” first in Finnish and then I discovered it also in English. I suppose it was first published in Namibia? How did it come to be translated into Finnish?

Ellen Ndeshi Namhila: Actually I do not know how that thing happened, I know that there was someone at the Peace Institute, who was meant to work on that project, but it fell through. Maria Forsman and Eija Poteri then decided to translate it into Finnish. Eija was my classmate when I studied in Finland. Maria was my lecturer. There was an interest from the time the book was launched, probably because there is some passage about Finland. The Finns, they want to make use of every statement, whether a critique or a positive thing, they want to know.

LH: When did you come up with the idea of writing an autobiography?

ENN: I was on maternity leave with my daughter, who was born in 1994. Before that I was a consultant for the Department of Women’s Affairs at the state house, working on the Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing. I was the consultant for the Namibian report. When I finished the draft, I had to present it at the Women’s Conference in Namibia. The consultancy was sponsored by the Embassy of the Netherlands. We stayed quite late at the conference. In the morning, the water broke and I went directly to the hospital and gave birth. So people were waiting for me at the conference and they were told no, this lady is in the hospital and she had a baby girl.

You know, maternity leave here, you are on your own. I was paid full three months, because the Netherlands’ Embassy said that in the Netherlands women get full maternity leave. When the baby was sleeping, I had nothing to do. My husband went to work and we also had a nanny at that stage. People had been suggesting to me, why don’t you write a book about your experiences, you have had such a life, please write something. I started thinking, maybe I can write something.

LH: Were there many such biographies around?

ENN: No.

LH: So yours was one of the first ones?

ENN: It was actually stated at the book launch that I was the first black Namibian woman to write a book, let alone a biography.

LH: Did you write the book during the three-month period?

ENN: I wrote it in the three-month period, but I continued writing it after. First it was just a story, stories that I remembered. There were no chapters and things. Later on when I went back to work, it became my evening hobby. Every night before I went to bed I would sit down and write. I wrote slowly and then it was finished.

LH: It was reprinted recently.

ENN: Yes, I do not know how many times it has been reprinted. It seems to be a popular book. The publishers say it is a classic. Don’t touch this book, it is a classic!

LH: Let’s talk about the time when you were in exile. So you lived in a few other countries before you got the scholarship to Finland?

ENN: I left Namibia actually in 1976 and I was in Angola throughout until the Cassinga massacre (1978). I was in Cassinga when it was bombed, I am a survivor. SWAPO (South-West Africa People’s Organization) was trying to move as many kids as possible out of Angola, because it was not very clear what would happen next.

LH: The people who were chosen for university training, were they people who were especially trusted? It must have been a privilege, not everyone was sent to Europe, to the Soviet Union, or to Cuba? How did they screen the people, how did you get chosen?

ENN: I am not sure, because I was not a leader and I do not know what criteria they had, if they had any criteria. All I know was that I was a nurse. Then one day I was at the clinic and doctor Iyambo Indongo, who was the SWAPO Secretary of Health, came. He asked, what are you doing here? I said I am working and proudly so! He said no, you cannot work here, you are a kid. You are supposed to go to school. I am not going to leave you here, get your things and I will take you to school.

If a country gave a scholarship to SWAPO, all the eligible kids wrote the exam. The exams were set by those countries, who gave the scholarships. SWAPO had nothing to do with it. Sometimes people from the countries that gave the scholarships would come to the camps to hold the exam. The names of those who passed were printed on a wall. You went and checked, if your name was printed, you knew that you were going. We were transported on big trucks to Luanda and from there we went to West Africa, to Gambia, where I went to high school. After five years I finished high school and I came back to Angola. When you returned, they registered your field of interest. When a scholarship from that field appeared, they informed you.

LH: Was library science your choice from the beginning?

ENN: Mine was not library science from the beginning, I wanted to study medicine and I was supposed to go to Canada, but that scholarship did not materialize. There was something in Tanzania, but that one also did not work out. Then I heard my name being called out: There was a scholarship in Finland, but it was in library science and if I was interested, I could go.

LH: So you came to study library science by accident?

ENN: Yes.

LH: As far as I know it was Nickey Iyambo, who started the SWAPO exchange program with Finland? He was the first one in Finland, already in the 1960s?

ENN: Probably, yes.

LH: Other people that I have come across are Maria and Elia Kaakunga.

ENN: Yes, Maria lives here. She probably knows better. Age-wise she is closer to these people. I was just a kid. I did not know any of the leaders. I was just a girl from Ondobe.

LH: Did not have much contact with other Namibians in Finland?

ENN: When we came to Finland, we were a team. When the other Namibians heard that some new Namibians had arrived, they would visit you. Even if we were not from the same age group, the ones that we found in Finland gave us support. Our scholarship allowed us to get together as a group twice a year. We stayed in one place for a week and then everybody went back to study again. So we were like a family.

LH: Where did you meet, was it in a cabin?

ENN: Sometimes they took us to Kiljava, to Helsinki, or sometimes to some other places, some ‘opistos’ (colleges, institutes, editor’s note), when people were on holidays, we could use their centers. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs would hold big receptions twice a year in Helsinki. That scholarship program was a very well thought through program. It maintained our unity and it also kept us connected to home. For that reason, many Namibians who were in Finland went back to either Angola or Zambia when they were finished. Otherwise, if we were scattered and on our own, I do not know what would have happened.

LH: Did you identify with SWAPO, were you a SWAPO member for the whole time?

ENN: Yes, yes.

LH: Were you checked by SWAPO in any way? Were they interested in controlling you in any way?

ENN: It is difficult to say, because if someone wants to control, I do not think they will come and tell you, “I want to control you”. How do you control someone who is in Viittakivi? I lived in Tampere for seven years and no SWAPO person ever put his foot in my place. I registered myself as a SWAPO member, because SWAPO was a voluntary organization, where I pledged my life to the party to liberate Namibia and to work towards the realization of our independence. I had the responsibility in everything I did to advance the cause of the liberation struggle. If I was mixing with Finnish people, I encouraged them to support our struggle and to send clothes to the refugees we left in Angola and Zambia and to help them with food or money or anything.

LH: Was there a lot of awareness about the situation in the Angolan and Zambian camps?

ENN: Yes, there was a lot of awareness for that.

LH: Who was raising awareness about this?

ENN: I think there were even some Finnish politicians. I had a child, so I did not participate in many of the activities, because where would I leave my child? I know that some of my colleagues from Tampere, they even went to Sweden, to Stockholm, during the holidays to pack clothes for the refugees to send to Angola and Zambia.

LH: There was a day care center project in Kwanza Sul, I think that was a co-operation between the Finnish government and East Germany.

ENN: Yes. If you talk to doctor Merja Saarinen ... there were three Finnish doctors, also Birgitta Lång and Liisa Taskinen. They were with us in the camps. They arrived immediately after Cassinga and lived there for many years.

LH: When was the last time you were in Finland?

ENN: Last year, in September. There was actually a very nice article! (Veli-Pekka Leppänen, “Tohtori Ellen Ndeshi Namhila pakeni sissileirille, pääsi stipendiaatiksi Tampereelle – ja nousi yliopiston vararehtoriksi Namibiassa”, Helsingin Sanomat, 8.9.2016)

LH: I saw it! Are you planning to visit Finland soon again?

ENN: Now we have this issue, we have to manage the finances, because we are not doing very well financially as a country. So if there is an opportunity, we give that opportunity to other people, especially the young people. We, who are here, should try to manage and lead through example.

LH: Did the reviewing of your past make you want to work on your other books? Did the experience of writing an autobiography make you want to open up other things?

ENN: No, this book has nothing to do with the rest of the books. The other book about Kaxumba kaNdola came out because it had to come out. Kaxumba is for me like a myth. I was shocked to discover that Kaxumba, the name I had heard of, a man who was a hero and a supernatural being and could change into objects to evade the South African police, actually existed. After independence, on March 21, 1990, I saw him being shown at the independence stadium. He was standing up when the president was speaking, because he was making reference to him. I could not believe it! It was a human being! I got interested in that story and I interviewed him. Unfortunately he died, but I followed up with his family and friends and then I wrote the book.

The women in “Tears of Courage” I discovered by accident. I grew up in exile, I went into exile when I was twelve. So I do not know so much about life in Namibia. When I came back after independence, I was of the impression that we had achieved independence. We who were in exile, we fought the liberation struggle. When I interviewed Kaxumba’s wife Priskila Ndahambelela Tuhadeleni she referred me to another woman, Drothea Nikodemus. Drothea told me that she was arrested in feeding the PLAN guerrillas (People’s Liberation Army of Namibia) who went to attack the South African Defence Force. The South African police followed their footprints and the footprints came from Drothea’s house. So they arrested her. She and other people were taken to Pretoria and tried in court. She told me that Justina Amwaalwa, another woman who was arrested, was pregnant and she had to give birth to a child in prison.

When I went to Aili Andreas Iitula’s house for the first time, she would not talk to me, she was crying, because these people, they suffered. Before independence they were poor, they were nobody, they were being accused of this and that. Then independence came, which they were fighting for and they did not get any recognition. They were still as poor as they were during the colonial time. They also saw how the people who collaborated with the enemy sometimes were still made leaders. Aili was just crying and saying why did you not come at independence, why do you come now, only now? She thought I was from the government. The government did not send me to interview her. I just could not interview her at that stage. I went back home asking myself if it was ethical to go back, or was it ethical to just leave her like that? Then one day I decided that I will just go back.

LH: How much time was there in between?

Maybe six months. After that she spoke to me and she did not have to cry. I also explained to her properly why I was doing this. At that stage I was not sure that I was writing a book. I was just following a link, which I wanted to conclude. The men these women were helping were the first SWAPO guerrillas who came to Namibia to launch the independence struggle in 1965.

Ellen Ndeshi Namhila, The Price of Freedom, 1997, New Namibia Books (“Vapauden hinta”, Rauhankasvatusinstituutti ry, 2001)
Ellen Ndeshi Namhila, Kaxumba kaNdola, Man and Myth, the Biography of a Barefoot Soldier, 2005, Basler Afrika Bibliographien
Ellen Ndeshi Namhila, The Tears of Courage, 2009, Archives of Anti-Colonial Resistance and the Liberation Struggle, Windhoek
Ellen Ndeshi Namhila, Mukwahepo: Woman Soldier Mother, 2013, University of Namibia Press

Production Laura Horelli. Production company Laura Horelli (Berlin, Germany). Director Laura Horelli. Editing Janina Herhoffer. Sound design Jochen Jezussek. Sound Sonja Majewski. Narrator Ellen Ndeshi Namhila. With Nickey Iyambo, Raimo Kankondi, Mikko Ihamäki, Elia Kaakunga, Hina MuAshekele, Leake Hangala, Sam Nujoma, Herman Adimba Toivo ya Toivo, Martti Ahtisaari.


1999: Mobile Phone Use / Advertising (video installation, 3 min.). 2003: Helsinki Shipyard / Port San Juan (video installation, 17 min.), You Go Where You’re Sent (19 min.). 2004: Wolfen-Nord, Teil 1 und 2 (with Kathrin Wildner, video installation, 13 min.). 2005: 712 Interviews? (video installation, 19 min.), Incomplete Picture – „Discover Japan“ (video installation, 18 min.). 2007: I Have Been Considering Making a Video about a Ski Resort in Northern Finland and Showing it in a Gallery in Berlin (video installation, 16 min.). 2009: Shedding Details (with Gerhard Friedl, 24 min.), Haukka-pala (A-Bit-to-Bite) (video installation, 28 min.). 2010: Trading Places (with Ann Kaneko, installation, 27 min.). 2011: The Terrace (24 min.). 2013: A Letter to Mother (27 min.). 2016: Jokinen (45 min., Forum Expanded 2017). 2018: Namibia Today (video installation, 21 min., Forum Expanded 2018). 2019: Uutisten aika / Newstime.

Photo: © YLE

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
  • Logo des Programms NeuStart Kultur