By William J. Mbangula
Business came to a halt between Ondangwa and Outapi over the weekend as the remains of the Minister of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development John Alfons Pandeni were transported to his home village.
The late minister’s village is at Omundjalala in Anamulenge constituency.
Multitudes of people thronged the roads, streets and villages to pay their last respects to one of the illustrious sons of Namibia.
A Namibian Air Force plane carrying the remains John Pandeni touched down at Ondangwa at 14h00 on Sunday after it was diverted from Ruacana airfield due to poor conditions there.
It took the convoy about two hours to reach Outapi, the regional capital of Omusati, some 100 kilometers away from Ondangwa airport.
Despite a short notice announcement about the plane being diverted to Ondangwa, the entire highway from Ondangwa to Outapi became a hive of emotional welcome by Swapo members, supporters and sympathizers sporting the party’s colours of blue, red and green.
People lined up the road in big numbers to pay their last respects. Some sang hyms while others sang Swapo freedom songs.
Among those who came to receive the remains at Ondangwa airport on Sunday were the Minister of Finance Saara Kuugongelwa -Amadhila, the Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare Marlene Mungunda, Deputy Minister of Mines and Energy Henock Ya Kasita, Chief Herman Iipumbu of Uukwambi Traditional Authority, Chief Oswin Mukulu of Ombalantu Traditional Authority, Senior Headman Boas Mweendeleli of Ondonga Traditional Authority, Swapo Youth League Secretary Elijah Ngurare,Deputy Chairperson of the National Council Margaret Mensah-Williams, regional and local councillors and church leaders, fellow Robben Island political prisoners, retired Colonel Bethuel Nuunyango and Peter Iilonga, the Deputy Minister of Labour.
Shortly after Bishop Johannes Sindano of Elcin Church said a prayer, preceded by spiritual songs led by Oshakati Elcin Church preceded by Longelomwene Choir (Work for the Lord) the casket was whisked away by an Avbob vehicle under military and police escort to Outapi where the remains stayed for the full memorial service the next day.
Before mourners dispersed, they escorted the widow Julia and her children Iita, Pendukeni (named after the Swapo Secretary General), Shafa and Vilho to the home of her in laws Shikongo Pandeni and Gebharda Iyambo.
Directed by the Governor of Omusati Sackey Kayone and assisted by his counterparts from Oshana Clemens Kashuupulwa and Ohangwena Usko Nghaamwa, the procession was received at Omundjalala village by among other people the Minister of Veterans Affairs Dr Ngarikutuke Tjiriange, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana who is also a Swapo Secretary General.
Leading the mourners in prayer at the house of the late minister’s parents Elcin retired Bishop Kleopas Dumeni said the late Pandeni ‘s life befits the Biblical verse in Psalm 26: “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me and I walk continually in your truth. I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked .”
On the day of the full memorial service, Monday, March 24, the late Minister’s body was taken into the Catholic Church at Anamulenge, near his home village. After holy mass, it was moved to the open field outside the church premises where thousands of people gathered for the
Welcoming the mourners, the Chairperson of Ombalantu Traditional Authority Chief Oswin Mukulu commended the grief-stricken audience from near and far for their sense of solidarity and patriotism. He also lauded the Government for allowing the remains of the late Minister to be brought to his native village of Omundjalala in order to allow all those who would not be able to get to Windhoek for the funeral day to pay their last respects.
” I would like to inform you dear mourners that you have come to treasure a very brave and dedicated man from Omundjalala village. He is a symbol of exemplary, dedicated and quality leadership . If you are in search of a seed for quality leadership, you can get it from the Pandeni family. It is available here and the late Pandeni was one of them..”
Delivering the eulogy the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Peter Iilonga told the mourners that the life of the late Pandeni could not be told within the limited time given to him because it is a long and interesting one.
Having met the deceased while they were very young at the village , both left the country in 1974 for military training at Kongwa in Tanzania whereafter they came back to Namibia fighting together.
Iilonga recalled how they fought together at Omuntele, Onamavo and Oshalongo where one of their commanders Max Nekongo, currently the Councillor of Onayena, was injured. They had to carry him to safety while the enemy was in hot pursuit of them. The late Pandeni took charge of the battle.
One memorable task he could remember was when the duo were given an assignment code named “mission of no return” inside Namibia. With the assistance of Swapo stalwarts such as Captain Hendrik Witbooi, former Deputy Prime Minister, and Willem Biwa now a Member of Parliament, they were able to infiltrate inland while carrying out military operations against enemy targets.
Unfortunately during the course of their operations the enemy got wind of their presence and they were arrested at a farm on the July 4, 1978 by police.
On November 14, 1978,Biwa, Pandeni and Iilonga appeared before Judge President Badenhorst under the combating of terrorism act. The two Swapo guerrillas were sentenced to 18 years imprisonment while Biwa got six years imprisonment.
The late Pandeni, prisoner no 06-79 on Robben Island only served eight years of the total sentence of 18 years. This was a fulfillment of his challenge to the High Court Judge President Badenhorst that the full circle of the punishment would not be completed by them.
Delivering a message of condolence Swapo Secretary General Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana said the late Pandeni solidly dedicated his life to the struggle and wellbeing of the people of Namibia. His premature death had robbed Namibia and Swapo Party of a committed, great and unwavering son.
Said Iivula-Ithana : “Cde Pandeni should forever be remembered and emulated by the contemporary and future generations as a fighter, a reliable leader and principled friend, a diligent and profoundly honest asset for Namibia, an extraordinary uniting force and beacon of hope. He can be summed up as a thinker and generator of ideas.”
Other speakers at the occasion were the late Pandeni’s deputy Kazenambo Kazenambo who described his former boss as a friend, father, peacemaker, colleague and a patriot.
“Comrade Pandeni is a person whom you cannot dilute and pollute his mind. If you try him on that score, you will find yourself on the wrong side. He has been living and walking his talk, consistent and solid. He was anti-tribalism .As a revolutionary, he concentrated on the weak and poor people of his country.”
The late Pandeni,57, whose remains were returned to Windhoek yesterday morning accompanied by a large number of family members, will be laid to rest at Heroes Acre on Saturday.