Peter Ekandjo – the Jungle Fighter Battle of Oshitayi: One of the Decisive Battles Inside Namibia

The years between 1978 and 1983 witnessed among the fiercest battles between PLAN and the colonial forces across Namibia. Some of the most important battles I participated in include those fought around the villages of Oshitayi, Onhumba South, Epalala, Okalunga, Oshamambo, Onhumba West, Omupembe, Eendobe, Oshushu, Omboloka and Onamatadiva.

Although engaging the enemy was the riskiest undertaking for any fighter, our maxim, “independence or death we shall win,” served as a symbol of a people ready to sacrifice for a noble cause – for the liberation of the motherland.

Between 1978 and 1981, we turned our operational area into a semi-liberated zone. Hence, for us the issue was not to infiltrate that area but to control it as a semi-liberated area. Like snowballs, our fighting activities swelled and stretched beyond our declared semi-liberated area southwards up to Oshivelo and Etosha pan.

The battle of Oshitayi was a retaliation to the enemy attack on the Far-East Detachment’s Reconnaissance Section. The section fell into enemy ambush at Ondobe yo Mulavi, as the fighters tried to cross the Angola-Namibia border. The Oshitayi battle was fought during the rainy season in January 1979. Oshitayi village lies about 70 kilometres west of Okongo in Ohangwena region.

The joint unit consisted of about 150 fighters from Detachment A and Far-East Detachment. Commander Rasarus Shihepo Hamutele of Detachment A led the battle deputised by Detachment Commander Philipus Shikuma Kamati of the Far East Detachment.

Enemy forces comprising foreign mercenaries and South African soldiers had earlier ambushed our reconnaissance cadres near the border inside Angola while they were escorting about 90 Volcanoes Special Force members in the Okavango region.

The special force was on its way to attack enemy forces and infrastructure in what was then known as “Oushimba”, the southern part of Namibia. Two reconnaissance cadres were wounded in the ambush: Cde Markus ‘Namuxwika’ was shot in the thigh and Cde Shivute Aluvete lost an eye.

In the second week of January 1979, fighters from Detachment A arrived at the Far East Detachment at Ohandabo base for joint combat preparations. We started off from Ohandabo base cruising through thick jungle for the border. At Ondobe ya Kafa near Otokote, the commanders decided that we spend the night inside Angola so that we could look for the enemy forces near the border early in the morning.

A section commander and I were selected to lead the reconnaissance team into Namibia to establish the presence of enemy forces in the border area villages. We crossed the border at around 17h30 and we came across fresh enemy footprints facing the western and eastern directions along the borderline.

We followed the footprints for almost five kilometres until we reached Oshitayi village. As we approached the village, we came across fresh columns of enemy footprints. Noise of enemy forces could also be heard all over the village. After confirming the presence of enemy forces, we sent back three cadres to inform the main group of our findings.

After the three comrades left, the rest of the group began to move around enemy positions in preparation for early morning attacks. During our reconnaissance, we had noticed that they had dug shallow trenches all over their positions. We had also been able to estimate the enemy’s numerical strength at between 50 and 70 soldiers.

At around 23h00, two reconnaissance cadres who were well known in the area visited one homestead west of the village. The two reconnaissance cadres had entered the homestead barefooted so that even if enemy soldiers visited the homestead in the morning, they would not detect our presence in the area.

The villagers put the enemy troops at 80 men, though they were unable to tell us the types of weapons they carried. Villagers also told us that the enemy forces comprised mainly soldiers who spoke Portuguese and Afrikaans. We ordered the villagers to vacate early in the morning to avoid being caught in the crossfire during the fight with the enemy forces.

Early in the morning of the following day, we sent two more reconnaissance cadres to our main fighting unit on the way to Oshitayi village to brief the commanders about the latest enemy activities in the area and aise them to approach the village from the north-western direction.

At around 08h30, the enemy forces detected our footprints east of their positions. As they started moving from their positions our main fighting unit was just nearby aancing into their positions. Since our unit was larger, our movements made noise resulting in the enemy noticing our presence. The enemy forces tried to attack us from behind, forcing us to form a semi-circle ready to engage them irrespective of the direction they came.

We started circling each other until the enemy took up new positions waiting for us to come closer before they could open fire.

While we were crawling or tactically aancing, the enemy heaped a dozen military bags to make us believe that they had run away while they were actually north of the bags waiting for us to get close to those bags. It was the enemy that opened fire first before we responded overwhelmingly. The first enemy shot hit our fighter, but what followed was devastating to the enemy forces. We systematically responded in a crushing style. Our firepower was uncontested, as it was direct and fiery to the extent that the enemy fire was suppressed in the first round of fighting.

The fighting continued for about 30 minutes before our commanders ordered the fighters to go forward. Equally the enemy was prepared to repulse our attacks. They put up fierce resistance though our firepower was heavier than theirs was. I was positioned south-east of our attacking position where Commander Amutele was coordinating the attacks, moving from south of our firing position to the middle to link up with Commander Kamati in the north-east of our position. We pushed forward until we reached enemy positions. The enemy forces responded with intermitent volley of fire forcing us to slow down our aance into their position. Nevertheless we were able to move forward systematicallty. The enemy forces were forced to retreat into the wilderness leaving us with more space to collect whatever they had left behind.

We captured military bags, boots, bullets and hundreds of tinned food. Since this was my first formal battle inside Namibia I found it quite frightening in the sense that this was purely an example of man fighting man. Villagers reported that over 10 enemy soldiers had died and dozens wounded. We only suffered one fatality and two were wounded, one seriously. Comrade Keengoya, who was operating a PK machine gun was fatally wounded. He was later buried across the border in Angola. Cde Oyiva Nujoma from the Far East Detachment was critically wounded while the other wounded comrade was from Detachment A. We managed to take them across the border into Angola safely where they received medical attention.

Source : New Era