Peter Ekandjo – the Jungle Fighter the Battle of Okalunga

In May 1980, our detachment was instructed by the regional headquarters to capture a newly introduced rifle (R-4) used by the South African soldiers in the operational areas of northern Namibia. This assignment was given to the reinforced Platoon No. 2, which was operating inside Namibia on a permanent basis. The platoon, under the command of Cde Uukulo and Ruben Neshiko Matondo ga Niilonga and other commanders, including myself, comprised of about 70 fighters. We were equipped with one 82-millimetre mortar, three 60-millimetre mortars, seven RPG-7, four PK-machine guns and numerous heavy sub-machine guns. We moved from Okandemona that day to Onamatadiva village. When we arrived there before midday, the locals informed us that enemy forces had just left the village for either Okalunga or Epalela.

Since we were moving around looking for the enemy, the Commander instructed me to take four reconnaissance cadres to track the enemy soldiers’ footprints wherever they went while the main unit was behind us. We set off immediately following enemy footprints westwards up to Okalunga village. Okalunga is about 15 kilometres west of Onamatadiva village.

As the enemy troops approached the village, they split into two groups -one group going to Okalunga north and the other going to Okalunga south where there were wells. The village had scattered homesteads separated by an open space. The majority of the homesteads were located on the southern part of the village while only three were on the northern part of the village. We decided to pursue the group that went to the north where it was easy for us to enter the homesteads, as they were closer to the bush.

Cde Namuxwika and I went into the nearest homestead to get the latest information about enemy activities in the area. As we walked towards the homestead under the cover of omahangu stalks, suddenly we saw a man rushing towards us waving his hand as if telling us to go back. Since we were aware of the presence of the enemy in the village, but had no idea where they were at that time, we ducked out of sight for the man to come closer.

The villager informed us that enemy troops had left his homestead a few minutes earlier heading towards the wells in Okalunga south. The old man was so scared that he urged us to leave the village immediately to avoid being attacked by the enemy forces. He left us and ran back into his homestead, as he feared that the enemy might have been watching the surroundings from a tree. The villager also pleaded with us not come closer to his homestead as the enemy might burn down his homestead.

What the villager told us did not bother us, as we were there spoiling for a fight. We thus simply went back to the main unit to inform the Commander what we had been told by the local man.

The Commander again ordered us to locate enemy positions, assess their strength and the type of weapons they had and also devise strategies to lure them into an ambush, which would be set up at the edge of the bushes between the Okalunga north and south facing an open space.

Before I left with my reconnaissance team, we had agreed with the Commander that the ambush should be laid stretching across north to south directly facing the open space. I also told the Commander that we would walk through an open space a distance from the wells where enemy forces were drawing water so that they would notice our presence and follow our footprints into the ambush.

We started off moving from the west crossing between Okalunga north and south at an area with sparse bushes. As we were about to cross the route which connects the two sides of Okalunga village, we met a boy who told us that a dozen enemy soldiers were drawing water from the wells and bathing. The boy also told us that the entire enemy unit had taken up positions east of Okalunga south in the bush at the edge of the village. Later we moved into thick bushes where we could observe the wells without being noticed by the enemy forces. From on top of a tree I counted the number of enemy soldiers at the wells at around 20 men.

I had also noticed that they were drawing water from the wells together with villagers who had brought their cattle to drink.

We moved slowly and carefully towards enemy positions on the eastern side. Although we were not able to determine the exact number of the enemy forces and the weapons they carried, our rough estimate put the number between 50 and 60 soldiers. The eastern part of Okalunga was characterised by thick bushes hence it was neither a good area to attack the enemy nor determine their strength as well as the types of weapons they were using.

Taking into account the nature of the terrain, which was not conducive for successful attacks, we decided to lure the enemy into our ambush. When we left the enemy positions, Cde Namuxwika and I walked across the open space so that the enemy could see us.

Immediately after we left the cleared area, we could see enemy soldiers darting from the wells towards the east of the village, where the big unit was stationed. At that moment we realised that yes the enemy had noticed our presence in the area. We sped across the open space to give the enemy the impression that we were afraid of them. We ran through the middle of the open space straight into the ambush. The enemy did not waste time at all.

A few minutes after we joined the ambush and briefed the Commander, one reconnaissance cadre came running and informed us that three enemy soldiers were seen approaching the east of the open space facing our ambush. At that moment the Commander and I started moving along the ambush line telling the fighters not to open fire until ordered to do so.

Our fighters had dug trenches and covered them with branches and grass. Meantime, the Commander positioned two PK machine guns at the area where the reconnaissance cadres entered the ambush.

The machine gun operators were ordered not to open fire until the enemy had reached a certain tree, which was used as a reference mark. A sharpshooter was positioned between the two machine guns and was given the responsibility to open fire first. Our strategy was that since our ambush was laid at the edge of the open space where we expected the enemy to come, we would not open fire until the majority of enemy soldiers had entered the open space. Our intention was to have the first round of fire inflict heavy losses on enemy soldiers and if possible we had to capture some of the soldiers alive. It took almost 20 minutes before enemy forces closed the open space into the ambush.

The enemy soldiers, as if they sensed our presence, were moving back and forth for about 20 minutes or so. The majority of them only entered the open space after two soldiers, presumably commanders, took the lead and moved forward until they were almost at the edge of the bush where we lay in ambush. The moment the two soldiers reached the edge of the bush, they suddenly ran back to their colleagues. Later we saw the enemy commander address about 15 soldiers who surrounded him. The entire group then moved forward in parallel formation, while the rest followed slowly behind. This time, the soldiers came straight into our firing line and those who were given the responsibility to shoot first did so. The first shot hit the soldier who was a few metres from our trenches. The entire group came straight into the mouth of our ambush.

The first round of fire was completely suppressive. The enemy did not get a chance to contest our firepower. Nevertheless, those who were brave enough to respond to our fire did so in a limited way.

Source : New Era