Willy Nelumbu Hamukonda – the Cadre Who Repelled the South African Air Force During the Cassinga Attack (1951 – 2009)

Despite the loss of many innocent lives of the Namibian people as result of the surprise and heavy bombardment of the Cassinga refugee camp on May 04, 1978 by South African occupational forces, there was fierce resistance from People Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) combatants.

In fact, one cannot help but think the attack may have cost many more innocent lives had it not been for the dedication and commitment by PLAN combatants and internationalist friends of Namibia who repelled the enemy forces.

Among the PLAN combatants was none other than the fairly unknown Willy Hamukonda who was among the brave fighters who repelled the South African Air Force and infantry battalion at Cassinga.

Hamukonda was born on the 4th of February 1951 at Onamutayi village in the present day Oshana Region.

Details regarding his childhood upbringing and education are rather sketchy in the existing biographical collections on his life. However, he is noted to have been a member of SWAPO since 1968. Despite joining SWAPO in the late 1960s, he remained inside the country conducting mobilization activities until in 1975 when he decided to go into exile and join his fellow cadres in the fight against the colonial apartheid regime.

Perhaps not all his political and military activities are documented yet. However, particular reference has been made regarding his military training and battles with the colonial enemy.

For instance, his biographical note prepared in 2002 by the Office of the President of the Republic of Namibia for the conferment of national honours on the 26th of August states Humukonda received specialized military training whilst in exile and that he was once involved in a battle with the colonial forces at Edundja. “He underwent specialized military training at Kasapa and Efitu in Angola and later in Cuba. One of his military encounters with the enemy was in 1978 when they crossed fire with the enemy at Edundja in the Ohangwena Region. In 1978, they repelled the South African Air Force and infantry battalion at Cassinga,” stated the citation.

His involvement in the battle of Cassinga demonstrated his sacred commitment to the liberation of his motherland. This did not come without a cost.

He was struck by a bullet in the left side of his chest, however he managed to survive. This is perhaps well captured in his biographical note by the Office of the President, which noted that even though “many civilians died at Cassinga he was one of those who survived and managed to escape when the enemy bullet lodged in the left side of his chest. Fortunately, he survived death because his heart was on the right side.”

Other roles he played whilst in exile included serving at the military headquarters in Lubango as well as at the SWAPO provisional headquarters in Lubango.

After Namibia attained independence, Hamukonda returned home and in 1990 joined the newly found Namibia Defence Force serving in the 21st regiment under the Close Protection Unit. He died on the 11th of November 2009.

Source : New Era