By Surihe Gaomas
Chaos erupted and tension rose last night when police sprayed teargas into a group of ex-Plan combatants who were protesting outside the open space in front of Telecentre and the Ministry of Justice.
At exactly five minutes past six in the evening, Special Field Force members sprayed teargas and beat the ex-fighters with batons, in an attempt to disperse them.
While some of the protesters ran for cover from the choking teargas, the majority stood their ground and chanted slogans and liberation songs.
The police action added to the already tense situation, amidst shouts of: “down with the police, down, down with the Boers, down!”
The police retreated after the brief encounter, and the crowd of ex-combatants then stood up and started throwing their fists in the air and singing freedom songs.
“We came here for our money, not for police brutality,” shouted one of the ex-combatants pointing a finger at the police. Another echoed, “This is just like the apartheid days, the days of the struggle and we will never surrender until our demands are met.”
During the brief scuffle with the police, two women and two men sustained eye injuries, while the gas also temporarily blinded one young girl.
“Let them use bullets, not teargas,” retaliated Alex Kamwi, spokesperson of the National Committee on the Welfare of the Ex-Combatants.
“My eye is paining, it is paining a lot,” said one of the injured women holding her left eye. “We just need an answer, why should they attack us,” added an elderly man, while a young man was crying as he walked aimlessly in front of the police.
Some women had babies as young as five months wrapped in their blankets.
Placed in the centre of the furious crowd was a television set powered by a generator put up with a loudspeaker system.
“We can die for what we know is right,” were some of the many slogans that were chanted by the ex-freedom fighters.
For most of the ex-Plan fighters, this startling reality and reaction by the police brought back memories of the old days of the brutal former regime.
“Why did the police do this and who gave them orders to start attacking us like this. We came here for a peaceful demonstration to meet the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Dr Ngarikutuke Tjiriange, for our money and now we are being forced to move by the police. We will never move until we get our money,” said Chairperson of the National Committee on the Welfare of the Ex-Combatants, Ruusa Malulu.
Talking to journalists at the scene, Director of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) Phil ya Nangoloh said the police made a big mistake by attacking the protesters. He added that there are other ways of dealing with the situation rather than the use of force and violence.
“The police have made a big blunder. They brought back the memory of the apartheid regime like in the early 1970s. Black ex-Koevoet police officers are being used as scapegoats as black police commanders are giving orders to white subordinates to assault the people like this,” said Ya Nangoloh, adding that the human rights organisation strongly condemns what he termed “police brutality”.
“I saw indiscriminate beatings of people by the police. Three people were injured, mainly by teargas and they were taken to Windhoek Central Hospital.
All were women. One was bleeding from the nose and two of them could not see,” he added.
Minutes before the police moved onto the crowd, they put on their riot gear and armed themselves with batons and teargas spray canisters. They brought in a vehicle and parked it right in front of the demonstrators who were sitting down at the time.
Leaders of the National Committee on the Welfare of the Ex-Combatants have promised to take up the issue of the use of force with the Ministry of Safety and Security.
“The money is not from the Namibian government, it is from the United Nations,” said Malulu, adding that they will not leave until they get a written answer from Dr Tjiriange about their demands for money.
Earlier that day, there was high security around the area and traffic congestion, as police cordoned off a large part of Independence Avenue for safety reasons.
Earlier the Khomas Regional Commander, Chief Inspector Samuel //Hoebeb, Regional Commander Deputy Commissioner Andries van der Byl and Abraham Kanime from the Windhoek City Police on two occasions negotiated with the leaders of the National Committee on the Welfare of the Ex-Combatants, to remove their members from the premises. However, this proved futile, as the demonstrators were adamant that they would stay until their demands were met.
Earlier that day the ex-combatants had handed over their petition to Dr Tjiriange, but decided to camp out, as they felt they did not get a satisfactory answer.