AS we approached the bushes where the fighters were, I could not help but worry, as I was not sure whether those were real SWAPO fighters or they were South African soldiers. While weighing all the possibilities, a soldier suddenly emerged from behind a big tree at the edge of the forest. He wore a dirty greenish uniform; his gun and shoes were quite different from those used by the South African soldiers, and indeed this could be a SWAPO fighter as the headman had told us. “Good afternoon brothers, follow me,” said the fighter.
It was time for us to answer a few questions from the fighters. The commander wanted to know where we were coming from, what we were looking for in that area, how we arrived there and most importantly if we were not sent by the ‘Boers’ to spy on them? After I answered all the questions on behalf of my colleagues, the commander thanked us for having taken the right decision to join the PLAN fighters.
The commander later requested all of us to touch the AK-47 machine gun, jokingly asking whether we were ready to kill the ‘Boers’. Touching the AK-47 machine gun was an emotional experience. We were all excited by what we had observed and what we had touched. After quizzing us, the commander took us deep into the thick bushes where we found a group of over 200 civilians. They were all ready to join the regular members of the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia.
As it grew darker, we were ordered to stand up and listen to what the commander had to say. The commander told us that since the group was too big, he would divide it into three small groups.
At that time the commander shouted, “We have enough bullets to destroy the Boers. You have seen the bazookas machine guns and other firepower around us. If the Boers want to be buried alive, they should try us. They know that our guns can vomit fire.”
The commander ordered us to form three queues and asked two fighters to divide us into three balanced groups – with each group consisting of a mixture of boys, girls and older people. We were ordered to line up in an orderly manner facing the north-eastern direction.
I was worried that my team would be dismantled. However, only Junias was put in another group, while Sam, Amukwaya and I found ourselves in the same group; hence we were still able to exchange views as we crisscrossed the thick jungles.
While we were lining up, some fighters were moving around telling people how they should behave during our long journey into exile.
“If you hear the word cover, you should lie on your stomach; you are not allowed to speak during the journey until you are told to do so. If you want to help yourselves, notify us to stop. Do not break tree branches and when we say stop, stop immediately without making any noise or talking,” said the two fighters who were moving along our queue.
We left the assembly point at around 22:00 moving northwards in three columns. After walking about 7 kilometres, we were told to stop. Later on, the fighters ordered us to shift a few metres from the queues to prepare our places to rest for the night.
Our journey involved crossing thick forests, which sometimes were teeming with all types of dangerous wild animals such as lions. It was at this time that I realised that we had more fighters than those we saw at the assembly point. While preparing our resting places, the fighters were busy positioning themselves around us. One could see intensive preparations on the side of the fighters cocking guns and laughing among themselves. Even though I was very hungry and exhausted, I felt fully protected by the fighters. Since some of the civilians had no blankets to cover themselves for the night, the fighters requested those with blankets and bed linen to help those who had nothing: a spirit of comradeship had already set in.
Some people chose not to sleep that night – preferring to spend the night sitting either against tree trunks or against their bags.
At around 04:00 the fighters woke us up and ordered us to be ready to continue with the journey.
We started off in the north-eastern direction in the same fashion – three columns. Throughout the journey, I could see a big number of fighters moving around the queues. These well-armed fighters impressed me so much that when we stopped at one place, I asked one fighter if he could give me one of the bazooka shells to carry. The fighter responded positively, telling me never to throw away the shell under any circumstance. Around 09:00 we heard the sound of an aeroplane behind us.
The plane suddenly came closer and closer until it hovered over us. At that moment, the fighters ordered us to take cover under the trees and bushes. As we lay under cover, the plane hovered over us four times and some of the fighters who were kneeling near us were contemplating to open fire.
However, before the fighters could open fire, the plane flew eastwards and never returned.
A few minutes later, we were ordered to proceed with our journey in the north-west direction. As we walked, I could see the number of fighters reducing, though I was later informed that some of the fighters were redeployed to protect us from behind as they suspected that the enemy was on our foot tracks. At some stage, one could hear the fighters telling people in the queues to move faster. At one time, we were ordered to jog, an indication of an abnormal security situation developing.
As we moved on, the situation improved. We could no longer hear the sound of the aeroplane and the fighters who had disappeared were back in position along the columns. I felt relieved after a tense situation. I was praying to God to help us reach the border without any attack. Owing to the sheer size of our group, hunger became our concern throughout the journey.
The majority of elders in the group went for a day-and-a-half without a proper meal, as food the villagers availed to us was given to the weaker people and children in the group.
When we reached the Angola-Namibia border, we were requested to be on high alert. I could see many fighters moving forward ready to open fire. Later we were ordered to kneel while all the fighters also took firing positions, a frightening development to the majority of us. A few minutes passed without hearing anything from the fighters: but body language and movements of the fighters indicated that something was not normal.