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.