LINYANTI – While many war veterans are benefitting from government’s assistance programme that reality seems to evade 93-year-old Zacharia Kutazo Situnda. The destitute war veteran, who made a contribution to the liberation struggle having even suffered brutal imprisonment in the notorious Pretoria Central Prison, is today eking out a living at Situnda village, situated some 80 kilometres west of Katima Mulilo in the Linyanti constituency.
Situnda, who is in fact one of the pioneers of the struggle from the Zambezi Region who was incarcerated in Pretoria for more than two years, has patiently been waiting for his benefits for more than five years despite having been one of the first applicants when the programme was incepted in 2008 and despite meeting all requirements. He was among the first group of Zambezi residents in the 60’s to be arrested for participating in activities that would bring independence.
But despite his plight, he seemed unruffled at first glance and greeted this reporter with a grin, showing no obvious signs of hopelessness or anger.
He narrated his life story from his early years as a CANU activist to the merger with OPO that eventually came to be known as Swapo, operating in areas such as Malundu, Kanono, Shaile, Kikiya and Linyanti that were some of the hotspots for the apartheid Casspirs that terrorised and rounded up people suspected of participating in the liberation struggle.
“I started getting involved in politics in 1963. We were with CANU back then. We were later fined to pay cattle for participating in politics by the apartheid regime. In 1964 we started again and later we crossed into Zambia for fear of persecution. That’s the same year Brendan Kangongolo Simbwaye was arrested. We stayed in Mambova (Zambia) and that’s where we met Pohamba (president) and Ben Ulenga. Later Nujoma met us there as well,” narrated Situnda who at times showed signs of amnesia due to his advanced age.
Situnda, who would later be arrested by the apartheid regime upon his return from Zambia, says he was subjected to torture when in prison in the Zambezi and later in Pretoria.
“When we came back in 1966 we were arrested for being Swapo members. They kept us in Katima Mulilo before transferring us to Pretoria until 1970 when I was released. I was arrested together with Solomon Puzeli, Alfred Siloiso, Benjamin Bebi and Society Limbo,” reminisced Situnda. Of the group only Situnda and Limbo survive today. Dissimilar from Situnda however, Limbo is receiving benefits even though the two were registered together.
Situnda, whose only means of survival is through subsistence farming and the meagre old age pension money, has an extended family of close to 20 grandchildren who from time to time look up to him for their upkeep.
He claims his application has even seen the end of terms of two regional governors but nothing has come of it. “The current councillor is also aware of my plight. I registered when Bernard Sibalatani and Leonard Mwilima were still governors but up to now there’s nothing. I don’t know what’s going on,” complained Situnda.
To aggravate matters, his hut was gutted by fire last year, resulting in the destruction of his property including valuable documents.
Linyanti Constituency Councillor, Cletius Sipapela, who promised to engage the Minister of Veteran Affairs, Dr Nicky Iyambo, agreed there was procrastination on the part of the authorities saying his office has also tried many times but to no avail. “This issue was even brought to the attention of former councillor (Dorothy Kabula). I found it when I got into office. We have written several letters but still nothing. People who registered together with him have already gotten assistance. I even personally spoke to the regional office to find out why but they are also in the dark as they have submitted the application to head office. When I get to Windhoek, I will have to see the minister,” promised Sipapela.
Sipapela partly attributed the delay to bureaucracy, urging for the decentralisation and prioritisation of applications based on age. “It’s not just Mr Zacharia, the wife of Masida passed on before the application could even be approved. Our war veterans are complaining about this. Let’s look at the age. Let’s give priority to old people because they might pass on before their application is even processed. If this process could be decentralised, these issues could be expedited. We already know who these people are,” stated Sipapela.
The Veteran Affairs regional office where Situnda’s application was handed in as far back as 2008 said letters and follow-up inquries were made but that no progress was evident.
“He registered in 2008 with the first registration. When he came back to us for follow-ups, we realised that among his group he was the only one who did not receive assistance. We wrote a letter and made follow-ups and that’s the step we took. We made follow-ups again in 2011, 2012 and 2013,” said Barry Malumo, an aassistant community liaison officer in the Ministry of Veterans Affairs.
Malumo said normally applications that do not contain clear information are sent back for clarification but his (Situnda’s) did not feature among applications sent back in 2010 and 2011.
When contacted for comment, the director for policy and social affairs, Katry Imalwa Larsen, declined the opportunity to shed more light on the matter but wanted to know from this reporter if Situnda had received a letter acknowledging that he is indeed a war veteran.
But when told that Situnda registered more than five years ago and that he had not received any response since then despite letters and follow-ups, she said responses were being formulated. She however could not answer why it has taken the ministry more than five years to formulate a response for Situnda, only saying she needed to consult the permanent secretary. “I am not ready to answer those questions. I am not the public relations officer of this ministry. I have to consult the P.S. before I can give a response,” said Larsen before slamming down the phone.
By George Sanzila