From the front lines: Southern revolutionaries struggles against British
Nadia Haddash (author), Ashraf Al-Muraqab (author), Ashraf Al-Muraqab (photographer)
Nearly half a century has passed since 1963’s October 14 revolution. From that uprising came the liberation of the South from British colonialism—an occupation that had been in place since 1839.
It all began in the Radfan Mountains from which the barrage of bullets commenced by combatant Rajeh Labooza and his comrades. The revolution erupted from the mountainous summit, and the struggle went on until victory was achieved. The south became free of the occupation’s grip.
Revolutionary combatants still remember the lead up to what moved Yemen from polarization and colonialism to struggles and freedom.
A new dawn
Mohammed Qasim Noman, a revolutionary combatant, remembered his fight against the British.
He was a secondary school student in Khawr Maksr School when the revolution began. The school, he said, was the only one in Aden during that time. It was the highest level of education accessible to Yemenis as they did not have access to universities. While at Khawr Maksr School, Noman was a member of the National Students Union of the South.
“We used to always organize demonstrations and sit-ins calling for the end of British occupation and the emancipation of the South. We supported the military struggle materially and spiritually. We gathered money and food for the revolutionaries.”
Noman said boosting education following the liberation was one of the major achievements of the revolution.
Education was feeble during the post-independence epoch, he said; however, people were willing to learn. During the resistance to colonialism, everyone took part in the struggle, be they men, women, children or elderly. Their objective was to rid themselves of occupation, Noman said.
During protests, the revolutionaries did not resort to vandalism or sabotage, but they stoned the British who used tear gas to disperse protestors, according to Noman.
Noman still displays his strong admiration for some revolutionaries, including Najwa Maqawi, Da’ara Saeed, Naji Saeed Al-Yousfi, Saleh Al-Shuaibi.
He said today’s revolutionaries are different from revolutionaries of the past.
“We as revolutionaries were not affiliated with any party or side,” he said. “Our objectives was liberation of the South, siding with the military revolution and obtaining freedom for our nation and people without searching for personal interests. However, the revolutionaries of today are lured by political parties and personal accounts. I wish they would follow the lead of their fathers and grandfathers if they want victory, justice and the truth for their people and country.”
He went on to say, “On this occasion, we call on the political leadership to care for the families of the October martyrs and the injured as a token of appreciation for their great efforts in the national revolution and ridding of the tyrant imamate and British colonialism. By virtue of those men, we enjoy free and dignified life today.”
The Southern women
Radhia Ihsan Allah is just one of the women who fought in the revolution in south Yemen. The occupation landed her in prison because of her revolutionary efforts.
“During all the political phases and setbacks the country witnessed, women’s leading roles in the national movement was conspicuous,” Allah said. “Women contributed to eliminating British colonialism and the imamate and defended the objectives and the principles of the Yemeni revolutions.”
Speaking from her memory, she said, “The year 1960 was critical in regard to women in Aden. They set off a demonstration called Al-Safour, which I led in addition to other revolutionary women ... The beginning of that protest was challenging. Following our return home, the occupiers broke into houses searching for us.”
Allah said they were taken to Kriter prison for investigation, and the colonizers kept a constant eye on their movements moving forward.
“A short time passed before the October 14, 1963 Revolution broke out,” she said. “We started working on printing brochures, staging demonstrations, holding sit-ins to condemn kidnappings of political figures of the movement. We used to provide houses for the combatants and transport weapons, as well as participating in clashes.”
“Women stood by man’s side during the liberation war, and this is known in the history.”
Aden’s Radio 1966
Jameel Mohammed Ahmed was a broadcaster at Aden’s Local Radio in 1966.
“I witnessed the Independence Day on October 14, 1963, and I can’t express my feelings at that time,” Ahmed said. “Everyone was happy at that time. So far all people remember is what we did those days, and this can never happen again unless there is strong determination by honest revolutionaries.”
He spoke about the Yemeni media at that time, saying, “We only counted on Reuters and London Radio at that time for news. We had only a few basic abilities.”
Ahmed said despite the difficulties of radio work before and after the revolution, Southerners were able to present information and news to the audience based on truthfulness and transparency. Today, he said, technology is available everywhere, but false news is prominent and supports some parties.
“We were proud to provide the people in the South with news about the revolutionaries and the victories they won against the British colony,” he said.