Commemorating the Combatants
In October last year I visited the mass grave of 21 PLAN fighters at
Ondelshifiilwa. They were killed in April 1989 and were buried by members of the local community after their bodies were left by the South African forces unattended for four days.
A similar event took place at Eunda, although the exact number of deaths there was unclear as the bodies were only discovered a month after the fighting. What is impressive about the grave sites today is the way in which tombstones have been erected by the SWAPO Party in conjunction with the local community as a lasting memorial to these fallen heroes and heroines.
The experience of visiting these two poignant sites motivated me to try and identify other grave sites within the Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshana and Oshikoto Regions that contained the remains of fallen PLAN combatants. After two weeks of enquiries thirteen separate burial sites had been identified with the assistance of local community members, many of whom had personally and patriotically helped bury the soldiers. The community were able to provide detailed descriptions surrounding the death of each group of PLAN fighters and even more importantly provide the names and places of birth of many of the deceased combatants, who had often been operating in the local area for some time before their death. Such information will prove essential in order to inform family members about where their sons and daughters lie buried.
Maria Nangolo, who lives at Okapuku, in Oshikoto Region is one of the community members whose Omahangu field also contains the grave of a PLAN fighter. The site is located forty metres from the homestead. In an interview she explained that she had known the PLAN fighter for three months before his death:
"I have known him by the name Nangolo, I do not know whether that was his real name or it was his combat name, but I know his father very well.
. . The fighter was very young, nineteen years of age when he died. I think he was an inexperienced soldier and, probably, was on his first mission in the country. He came in a group of about fifteen others who had been operating in Okapuku for a long period of time. He had been wounded once and I had to care for his wounds until the wounds were healed. On 3 April, 1983 he was captured and his captors forced him to bring them to my house, where he and his comrades had been receiving food and other assistance.
Twelve Caspirs escorted Nangolo to my house. Ten Caspirs forced their way inside the homestead causing serious damage to Omahangu baskets and other properties. The young soldier was beaten severely and beyond recognition. I could hardly recognise him when he emerged from one of the Caspirs. By looking at him I began to shed tears. I though of my two sons in Angola and I said to myself 'O My God, could this also be happening to my sons?' They, violently, asked him to tell them where his gun and uniform were.The pain was too much to endure for the young boy. He told the enemy, in my presence, that his gun and uniform were with me. When they asked me for the gun, I developed courage to deny having any knowledge about the gun, although I and another PLAN fighter had hidden the gun at a place known to the two of us, when the owner [Nangolo] was wounded and brought to me by his comrade to heal his wounds."
The SWATF troops would not listen to Mrs Nangolo's plea that she had no guns and they beat her up and buried her alive in the ground with only her head showing. She can no longer remember how she managed to climb out of the pit. But she can remember seeing the SWATF taking the captured soldier into her bedroom. They closed the door without locking it and threw a smoke bomb inside the bedroom, through the window.
The combatant could not breath because of the smoke and forced his way out of the room. He was so weak that he fell to the ground not far from the entrance to the bedroom. Nangolo continued: "I could not believe my ears when a tall white man commanded in Afrikaans that the terrorist must be shot dead - skit die f***ing terrorist dood". In disbelief a black soldier took the command and rudely shot the exhausted combatant dead at point blank range. I saw his forehead broke open and his brain spilled on the floor". The body of the slain combatant was left unburied for four days. On the morning of the fifth day the community buried their fallen hero in the place where he rests to this day.
"I bowed my head to relieve the psychological damage. I spent months at Onandjokwe hospital to recover form the wounds. I was, however, never demoralised by their beatings. I continued rendering support to the combatants. I had been a staunch and unwavering support to PLAN fighters. My support for such people dates back to the mid-seventies. We have lived with them. Some of them lived with us for years, in our house, disguised as members of our extended family. Among these are included some who are now prominent politicians like Peter lilonga Nangolo and John 'Magala' Pandeni."
Some other sites which have been located include: Onamishu, Oshaampula, Omatha, Onandjila, Okathitu kaKahala, Ontokolo, Outapi, Eyanda/Olupaka, Oshadumbala and Etilyasa/Ongulugumbe. At Onamishu, in Oshikoto, there is a grave of a Swapo combatant who is only known by the name of Uushona from Ongandjera. He was killed in February, 1985. Another grave of a soldier who is said to have died of illness is located at Omatha in Omusati Region. He was an OtjiHerero-speaker.
Esther Naakondje Mulilo and Maria Ndeyamuyo Uutati who both attended to the sick soldier remember him by the name 'Kakoto'. Other PLAN combatants who were reportedly with Kakoto when he died were 'Disco', Shikongo Kalulu and Hilkanus Iiyambo Nangonya (deceased). The names of the PLAN fighters at the other sites, including two mass graves at Outapi and Ontokolo remain unknown to date.
The mass grave at Ongulugumbe contains the remains of eight PLAN fighters and one civilian who had been helping them. Another soldier is buried separately at a distance of some 800 metres from his comrades, as his body was only discovered three days later.
Reinhold Shikongo recalls that the search for this corpse only took place after a dog came into his neighbour's house carrying a foot entangled in a military boot.
The community at Ongulugumbe had been in close contact with the nine combatants for many years before the battle of 31st July 1986 which resulted in the death of all nine soldiers. It is impressive to see that the community has recorded the names of all the deceased and have published these names. The fallen heroes were Tobias Kamati from Omwandi in Uukwanyama, Mateus Nakale, Simon Ndeshipanda (Shipandeni) from Olukonda/Ontananga in Ondonga, Kafele Kangoyi from Ongandjera, Petrus Jack Mwaala from Uukwaluudhi, Iipinge Mushalukwa (Gerbhard ya Samuel) of Ongulugumbe, 'Mbwangela', 'Namwandi' and 'Shekupe' (Seven Days).
These grave sites and others scattered across the country are constant reminders to local communities of the sacrifice made by PLAN fighters in their effort to bring independence. It therefore seems important that the names, deeds and sacrifices of these patriotic Namibians should be remembered. Yet during my visits to the various grave sites I observed that many of the graves were deteriorating and providing homes to squirrels and mice or under water during the rainy season. Some are in Omahangu fields and are in danger of disappearing as people plough and plant their crops. The question for all concerned Namibians is should we sit idly by and allow these important symbols of the struggle for independence be forgotten? My utmost gratitude and appreciation goes to the community of Ongulugumbe/Oshiteyi for their committed efforts to preserve and protect the mass grave in their community.
Related links: Ondelshifiilwa
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