Nyango – Long journey to a resting place of Namibian heroes

Nyango: The area of Nyango located in the Kaoma district some 400 kilometres west of Lusaka is rich in history and is likely to get a new lease of life in the near future from the Namibian government, due to the sentimental value the area holds as Nyango hosted countless Namibian refugees that fled their country in fear of persecution during the struggle for independence.

Even though the then South African apartheid regime relentlessly pursued Swapo fighters who had crossed over into Zambia, most Namibian refugees considered Nyango a safe haven. That the place is of significant historical import became evident during Zambezi Regional Governor Lawrence Sampofu’s recent visit to Zambia.

Just getting to Nyango is in itself cumbersome. During a long drive from Lusaka – traversing Zambia from east to west – we veered off in a northwesterly direction off the main road to embark on yet another adventurous drive, only this time it became more challenging and time-consuming.

It took a further 35 kilometres through thick dust that refused to settle quickly in the rough gravel road that leads to Nyango. Many of the sedan vehicles forming part of the entourage failed to pass the test and had to return to the main road due to the impassable conditions of the gravel and dirt road.

We drove over six culvert structures in the Barotseland area that appear to be prone to flooding. When we finally arrived at Nyango, the sun had already set. Due to the poor conditions of the road it felt as if we had driven the mere 35 kilometres to Nyango thrice.

Arriving at the site was a sombre affair though, particularly at the gravesite where many Namibians are buried. Some structures still stand in the highly secluded area and – even though dilapidated – still serve as a reminder of the once peaceful sanctuary it offered to Namibian refugees.

The locals seemed unfazed by the official visit. Some recalled those times with bittersweet memories and greeted everyone with a grin in Oshiwambo, a language that once dominated in the refugee camp.

The visit to Nyango coincided with the commemoration of Heroes Day in Namibia and commenced with a moment of silence at the gravesite in remembrance of the fallen. Sampofu noted that it was befitting for him and his delegation to visit Nyango on Heroes Day, adding that the contribution made by these people resulted in the freedom the country enjoys today.

“Today is 26 August. We have come here to Nyango today to come and see where our people used to live. We have also visited their graves. Their blood waters our freedom. We are free today because of them. Nyango is a good remembrance for us,’ Sampofu said.

He further noted that Namibians buried at Nyango deserve dignified burials and that the government would continue exhuming their remains to be reburied in Namibia. “We would want those buried here to receive dignified burials back home. Their remains will be reburied in Namibia in the presence of their families,” Sampofu promised.

During a courtesy call t by Sampofu the following day the minister of the western province, Poniso Njewulu, stated that many Namibians can rightfully regard the western province as a second home, due to the integral political history the region shares with Namibia.

“Namibia and Zambia share a rich history, as Zambia hosted many Namibian freedom fighters. The western province in particular was like a second home”, Njewulu said. Many Namibian freedom fighters, including Sampofu, operated from the western province adjacent to the Angolan border.

The vice-president of Zambia, Inonge Wina, had also bemoaned the dilapidated state of the Nyango camp during an earlier interaction with Sampofu, suggesting that a joint effort was needed between the two governments to put up a school there. Sampofu also noted at the time that in memory of the fallen freedom fighters, the Namibian government was considering building a shrine in the area.