Retracing the Footsteps of a Liberation Struggle Icon – “Where Others Wavered, the Autobiography of Sam Nujoma.” [column]

DURING the struggle for liberation many murderous incidents were perpetrated against innocent Namibian civilians by Koevoet elements, though not related in this book, nevertheless took place. The story of Oshikuku is representative of those.

On 10 March 1982, a few hours after midnight, a Koevoet hit squad forcibly entered the homestead of Gisela Uupindi, in Oshipanda village in the Uukuambi district. Five, armed Koevoet [soldiers] ejected the eleven residents of the homestead, and grilled them for information about Ms Uupindi’s son, Mateus Akumbe, who was an employee of the Consolidated Diamond Mines at Oranjemund, and who was not present in the homestead. The residents repeatedly denied knowledge of the whereabouts of Akumbe. The Koevoet at gunpoint then held them, while the homestead was ransacked for money, clothing and other valuables. Finally, the victims, including two young children, were lined up and shot. The Koevoet killers left eleven people for dead, and then continued to fire rounds into the air and at a parked vehicle as they departed the area. Miraculously, one of the eleven, Yoliindje Nuuyoma, survived unwounded, and was able later to give his eyewitness account of the massacre. Another one of the eleven, Penehafo Angula, sustained severe bullet wounds and fractured legs, but also lived. Those two were the only survivors. Eight victims who were killed on the spot were Gisela Uupindi, aged 58, Bernadete Tobias, aged 30, Benedicts Tobias, aged 20, Abiatar Augustinus, aged 19, Johannes Silas aged 10, Gisela Nepolo aged 8, Celine Erasmus and Frans Herbert (ages not recorded). A ninth victim, 8 year-old Erastus Nepolo, who had been shot in the stomach, was fatally wounded and died a few days later at St. Martin Roman Catholic Hospital, Oshikuku. Ruth Emvula, a nurse who tended the dying child, related that he had been barely able to speak, but uttered the few words, “Oh! Omakakunya,” an Owambo derogatory term for the notorious Koevoet, SADF and SWATF colonial forces.

On the day, Mr. Nuuyoma and Mr. Akumbe reported the slaughter to police at the Oshakati Police Station. The police response was that no vehicles were available, and so no police were sent to investigate. Before sunset, the eight corpses were removed and transported by the community to the Oshikuku hospital mortuary. They were buried in a mass grave in a cemetery close to the hospital. When the little boy Erastus Nepolo died a few days later, he was buried in another grave close to the mass grave of his relatives. The residents of Oshipanda and neighbouring villages gathered to mourn the dead. Among them was Father Gerard Heimerikx, known as “Pata Kayishala ka Nangombe” of the Roman Catholic Church. Father Heimerikx, who originally came from Holland, condemned the brutal murder of the innocent civilians in the gest possible terms. This eventually landed him in trouble with the racist South African authorities. Because of his condemnation of the atrocity, father Heimerikx himself was placed on the Koevoet’s death list. He was forced to flee the country, but while in exile he worked in Swapo health and education centres on many occasions, where he rendered spiritual services to the exiled Namibians.

As in so many other cases, it was clear that Ms. Uupindi’s household members were targeted and victimized, because of their support of members of PLAN. In spite of such tragedies, the people steadfastly continued in their determination to support the PLAN freedom fighters, even as the dangers increased, particularly in areas near the Angola-Namibia border during this intense phase of the struggle.

Katutura rise against Transitional Government

The Americans continued to work for a settlement in South Africa’s favour by trying to manoeuvre Swapo into line with the puppets and by arming UNITA, an aid that had been forbidden by the Clark Amendment, passed during the Carter Administration. It was repealed in July 1985. All they got for their trouble was the Cabinda scandal, and the setting up of the so-called Interim Government in Windhoek on 16 July 1985. This ‘Transitional Government of National Unity’ was condemned by 4 000 Namibians at a rally in the Katutura Stadium followed by a peaceful march through the streets, with 1 500 people chanting “Resolution 435 Now!” Koevoet men attacked the crowd, in full view of observers. This incident showed the rotten nature of South African rule through puppets backed by killer squads who were trained to brutalise our people.

The Koevoet attack on peaceful civilians coincided with the final day of the UN Security Council meeting, which passed Resolution 566, with the US and Britain abstaining. I spoke very critically of these powers, whose “abstention meant a polite ‘no’.” They had, I said, “sent a clear message to our people that human liberty and justice are meaningless when it comes to protecting the economic, strategic and ideological interests of those recalcitrant states.” The US had, in fact, already recalled its ambassador from South Africa in protest at the Cabinda incident and the repressive behavior of the South African police in response to the protests and civil uprisings in the South African black townships that were going on at the time. Our view of the war at this stage is well illustrated by the statement we circulated during the meeting of the Security Council in June 1985. The South African General George Meiring had boasted that “Swapo are losing and we are winning… We must put all our efforts into the last stretch.” However, Swapo’s statement read: “After 19 years of futile efforts to stem the tide of the armed liberation struggle in Namibia, the South African army of occupation in Namibia has, contrary to Meiring’s claim, lost hope of ever being able to win that war.” I referred to the drain of young white South Africans who were refusing to “serve in Namibia in a war which every sane person knows South Africa cannot win.” I continued: “Furthermore George Meiring’s admission that some 40 000 South African soldiers are deployed in the northern sector of the war zone in Namibia is but an interesting sign that the South African army is being deployed on an over-stretched military line, when one takes into account the fact that a good proportion of that army is being deployed to deal with popular uprisings within the South African apartheid republic. The ‘success’ perception of the South African Army is different from ours. When, for instance, Meiring talks of the possibility of the apartheid state to end the war in Namibia within the next two years, he is indulging in fantasy and thus perceiving victory from some kind of conventional warfare perspective, something which is certainly not available to the South African Army in Namibia. We are prepared, as Meiring and others are bound to realize, for a long-drawn-out struggle. For Swapo the struggle will go on as long as apartheid South Africa refuses to accept the demand of the Namibian people to determine their own future destiny through free, fair and democratic elections under the supervision and control of the United Nations. The Namibian people want genuine independence and are prepared to fight and, if necessary, die for it. Swapo is not only here to stay, but will continue also to organize, mobilize and indeed lead the Namibian people in their just and heroic struggle in order to ensure that sooner or later the price in blood and treasure for South Africa’s occupation of our country will exceed not only the benefit of Pretoria, but also Pretoria’s willingness and ability to continue to pay. This is for us the main strategic objective and we will do everything in our power to realize it. The struggle continues! Victory is certain!”

PLAN activities on several fronts reached a new height from June to August 1985. Bridges were blown, telegraph pylons and power lines were brought down, the Eenhana military base badly damaged in a mortar attack and the Ongwediva Training College, much used as a propaganda showpiece by the South Africans, was bombed. Our sabotage activities were widespread and mines were laid to cause maximum damage to South African patrols. The South African military leaders began to panic when their intelligence brought them reports that we were in a position to strike with force in Tsumeb and Windhoek. Perhaps in response to these reports, on 14 September 1985, on the pretext of following up a PLAN unit, South African 101 Battalion crossed the border into Angola. This brought the war to the start of its final phase, which was to be fought out in Angola, involving the forces of MPLA, Swapo and Cuban internationalist forces on one hand, South Africa and UNITA on the other, in the final showdown which brought the Namibian people the victory Swapo had fought and died for through the past 23 years of the heroic armed liberation struggle.

Source : New Era