During the last week of August 1977, we were ordered to go on routine patrol as usual. We were a mixture of old and newly trained fighters numbering around 30 commanded by a certain Comrade Nauta. Our patrol started around 07:00 north-east of our base. After walking about 3 kilometres from the base, we came across fresh UNITA fighters’ footprints.
The footprints prompted the old fighters to take up firing positions, while some of us were wondering how to position ourselves. A few minutes later, I saw the Commander jogging behind us ordering us to follow the footprints in parallel formation.
It was then that I realised that the amount of training provided so far was inadequate in comparison to the one received by the old fighters, judging from the way they reacted when they saw the enemy’s foot tracks.
We moved forward systematically for about half a kilometre before the Commander ordered us to form two columns.
As we followed the footmarks, we came to realise that UNITA fighters were circling our base. Probably they were on a reconnaissance mission. We pursued them in the eastern direction about four kilometres from the base until we reached an area with thick and short bushes.
This was an area where UNITA fighters laid an ambush, waiting for us to come closer. We were in a semi-triangle formation when I heard the first shot. “Cover; cover’’, shouted the Commander. The other fighters had already started firing in the direction of UNITA. I opened fire too in the direction of UNITA fighters as I was trained.
The sound of the guns was so loud that one could hardly hear anyone speak. I emptied my first magazine and as I struggled to load the second one, I could hear the Commander shouting: ‘Forward, Forward’. When I saw old fighters moving forward, I followed suit.
As we moved forward a few metres from our firing position, UNITA fighters again opened fire at us, forcing us once again to take cover and open barrage fire. The battle intensified and we continued firing until the UNITA fighters fled. Suddenly our Commander ordered us to go forward. We pushed forward in the direction of enemy position. As we proceeded, just about 20 metres from our second firing position, I came across UNITA fighters lying down. Again, I was forced to take cover, as I was not sure whether he was dead or wounded. In fact, I fired two shots, prompting other fighters to open fire too. Later the Commander stopped us from firing and ordered us to go forward.
Later, we realised that the UNITA fighter was actually dead. One fighter removed a rifle that lay half a metre from the body. A Section Commander, who was close to me, shouted again ‘forward’. I quickly started jogging in a zigzag manner, as I had been trained to do, pointing my gun forward. Although I complied with the command, seeing the body of a dead UNITA fighter terrified me.
Again, we pushed forward across the battle scene trying to capture whatever was left there by the retreating enemy. I could see some comrades picking up war materials such as bags, pangas, and small military tents that were dropped by the fleeing enemy troops.
The Commander ordered us to stop moving forward, and ordered us to take firing position ready to repulse any attack. A few minutes later, he ordered us to go back to properly control the battle scene. We returned in the same formation and as we moved forward, I was praying in my heart never to come across the same dead body. In fact, I decided to change the direction from the dead body, not knowing that the worse was still to come. While moving forward into the enemy firing position, I came across another dead body of a UNITA fighter. This time around, another fighter asked me to help him pull the corpse to an open space a few metres from where it lay. First I pretended as if I did not hear the request but when the fighter shouted again in an aggressive voice, I had to comply.
Removing the corpse shattered me, but I was also shattered at seeing the bleeding enemy soldier pulled mercilessly. That was the first time I had encountered such a scene in my 18 years of existence. It was my first time to see dead bodies littered among the bushes. Strangely enough, though I was terrified by what I had seen, there was no one to comfort me as the most experienced fighters were simply laughing and smoking cigarettes.
I had to speak to myself for I had no one else. Other new recruits also appeared devastated by what they had seen. Nevertheless, I put up a brave face not to show that the dead bodies terrified me. This time, my inner voice told me that although I was not fully trained to fight that kind of war, the fact that I found myself carrying an AK-47 in my hand meant that I was no more an ordinary person so from that moment onwards I had to prepare myself to shed blood.
Thereafter, we were told to move forward towards a big tree where the Commander was standing.
When we arrived there we found four dead bodies of UNITA fighters. One of our comrades was also lying dead a distance from the UNITA bandits, while two others were slightly wounded. The dead comrade was one of the new recruits while those slightly injured, one in the leg, another in his right arm, were all experienced fighters.
The Commander ordered the fighters to burn the corpses before they left for the base. At the battle scene, we collected dozens of bullets, three rifles and magazines, bags containing biltong and two new uniforms similar to the ones worn by PLAN fighters.
It was lunchtime when we arrived at the base carrying our dead comrade. We were starving and exhausted but the combatants we had left at the base were unable to cook due to the fight we had with the UNITA bandits.
We found the fighters in their trenches ready to repulse the enemy attack any time. We had tinned food, as the security situation would not allow us to cook. After lunch, the group that went on patrol was summoned to assemble at the Commanding Post to be addressed by the base Commander.
As the Commander addressed us, I kept thinking about the dead bodies of the UNITA bandits that were left burning in the bush and the dead body of my own comrade that we brought to the base a few hours ago.
After the Commander finished addressing us, and as we left the parade for our trenches, one new recruit Comrade John Mbumba asked me why we burnt the UNITA bandits’ bodies instead of burying them. I had no answer, as I was also new like him and equally puzzled. Instead, I simply looked into his confused eyes.
Nevertheless, his question deepened my fear, as I continued to ask myself whether it was my bullet that had struck the UNITA bandit or it was somebody else’s. As I was not fully aware of the threat posed by UNITA bandits to the SWAPO fighters, I asked myself why we had to fight them.
Were they part of the ‘boers’ and ‘makakunyas’ that we left back home? Why did we have to fight each other anyway?
Those were the questions of an amateur fighter, who had just arrived from Namibia where UNITA was little known.
Since I did not raise this question with anybody, I did not get any answer until later on when things became evidently clearer.
Nevertheless, I was inspired and consoled by the spirit of the old fighters who showed indifference since we fought the bandits. These fighters behaved as usual, as if they did not burn the dead bodies of the UNITA bandits. This was contrary to the feelings of newly recruited fighters, who, even after they left the battle, continued to talk about what they had observed during and after the fight. Since that battle, we, the new recruits, had to stay in the base for almost a week without going out of the base for patrol like the old fighters.
We took over the responsibilities of cooking in the kitchen; collecting firewood outside the base, cleaning guns, slaughtering cattle captured from UNITA bandits and were posted on duty outside the base. These activities went on until the fourth week of August 1977 before some of us were again included in the groups that went out for patrols.
In the two days that we went for patrols before I finally left the base, we did not encounter UNITA foot tracks. However, we were able to collect hundreds of cattle, which we found grazing in the bushes unguarded. The livestock belonged to either UNITA bandits or villagers who had fled Oshitumba areas because of the war.