Peter Ekandjo: The Jungle Fighter The Battle of Onhumba South: Attempting to capture a white soldier

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THE Battle of Onhumba South was fought by members of the Far-East Detachment commanded by Commander Philipus Shikuma Kamati, supported by Deputy Detachment Political Commissar, Cde Paulus ‘Nambili Noshiwana’ Nghiwete, and platoon commanders such as Rubben ‘Matondo ga Niilonga’ Neshiko, Lukas ‘Kalute’ Nakale, and Nigegeti.

The battle was fought as part of the commemoration of the ‘Battle of Omugulugombashe’ on 26 August 1966. The unit comprised over 80 fighters armed with one 82mm mortar, three 60mm mortars, over 10 RGP-launches (bazookas), five PK machine guns, a dozen handgrenades and other firepower necessary to deliver a heavy blow on the enemy troops in the semi-liberated area around Okongo garrison village.

We set off from our base at Ohandabo about 50 km from the Angola-Namibia border before 26 August 1979. As we pursued the foot tracks between Ongolonga and Onhumba villages we came across positons where enemy forces had stopped for lunch, leaving emtpy tins and biscuit packets scattered all over the place. We arrived in Onhumba village at around 17:00.

Villagers told us the enemy had taken up position west and south of the village in the bush. We decided to circle the village in order to ascertain the exact position of the enemy in preparation for attacks by the main unit. Before we retired into the bush for the night we convinced the commander that reconnaissance cadres must spend the night halfway between the villages of Omushiyo and Onhumba so that they would be close to the enemy early in the morning before they woke up. The commander agreed to release seveen reconnaissance fighters only.

Cde Sacky, I, Namuxwika, Kaunda, John, Goliath Magongo and another I cannot remember, left the main group eating, moving along the busy and sandy road leading to Omushiyo village. After walking for about six kilomtres we saw enemy footprints seemingly returning from the south. As were were busy investigating we suddenly heard a cough in the eastern direction not far from where we were. Only three fighters heard that cough including myself. Those who did not hear it did not believe us, arguing it was the sound of wild animals. They thought we were simply afraid to pursue the enemy at night. While arguing in soft whispers another cough was heard at a distance. Everybody was convinced something was amiss. I managed to convince the leader of the group, Cde Sacky, that we should not go any further. We spent the night where we were. None of us could sleep that night. We sat with out backs against our military bags and tree trunks.

We took up position in a circle until early in the morning when it was bright enough to see the ground. Before sunrise we could already hear the enemy forces making noise in the direction where we had heard the two coughs the previous night. The enemy noises covered a wide area to the south-east, including the direction we were travelling in last night. We started circling the enemy from the south-western direction until we reached the eastern part of the enemy position. While moving east of the enemy position, we came across a white enemy soldier relieving himself. He had left his gun about seven metres away and was facing west, where his colleagues were. Cde Sacky who was walking in front of me immediately gave a danger signal. Upon seeing the soldier I whispered to Cde Sacky to take cover close to me while the rest of the cadres went on their knees pointing their guns in all directions.

While advising Cde Sacky that we send another comrade back to the main group, he insisted that we capture the enemy soldier alive. Without waiting for my response, he decided to execute his plan to either capture the enemy soldier alive or take the gun away. As I pondered over the next move, I saw Cde Sacky crawling towards the soldier mainly targeting the gun which was a bit closer to us. I hesitantly followed him while the rest of the section took cover ready to protect us from behind. Cde Sacky and I continued to whisper to each other as we crawled towards the soldier. As we were about to grab the gun, suddenly a shot went off in the western direction, followed by heavy shooting. It was one of our own fighters, who had attacked the enemy position. We found ourselves under heavy fire. We crawled fast northwards behind the enemy line until we moved out of the line of fire from our fighters. When we realised that none of us was killed or injured we quickly ran to join our comrades in the battle.

The battle, which lasted about two hours, was so fierce that heavy smoke and burning jungle engulfed the enemy territory. The enemy soldiers were equally determined to defeat us, though our firepower was superior and more directed than theirs. We tried three times to advance into the burning enemy positions without success owing to raging flames and thick smoke on the enemy side that were impossible to penetrate. Besides, unexploded bombs that enemy soldiers left behind were exploding indiscriminately due to the fire, making it impossible for us to advance.

Throughout the battle, I did not hear voices of the enemy commanders shouting as they usually did whenever under attack. All I could hear were whistles. The enemy commanders were using whistles instead of shouting out instructions to the soldiers. In our third attempt to advance, I heard commander Kamati shouting: “Kalute, Kalute, ningako manga, ondangwangwana” (Kalute, Kalute, please take over command, as I am a bit confused). As we pushed forward, I could hear cries, ‘Help me’ echoing in the enemy position.

We persistently directed our firepower until no single shot was heard from the enemy position. Our fighters were under instruction to shoot in such a way that even if the enemy soldiers were firing while taking cover, our bullets would still be able to find them. Commanders would reprimand any fighter firing above knee level, as it was a waste of bullets. Our fighting philosphy was that every bullet must be able to hit the target, irrespective of the position taken – whether lying flat under cover, kneeling or standing. Another tactic we had adopted was to open fire simultaneously in a crossfire fashion in order to overwhelmingly suppress enemy fire and in a way minimise our own casualties. On that particular day we killed about 11 enemy soldiers while 17 were reportedly wounded, some of them seriously. We lost four fighters while two were wounded, and one broke an arm after mortal shrapnel hit him. One of the wounded was Cde Haulyondjaba. The rest had bullet wounds. Among those killed was Cde Andreas Nekandu, who was wounded in the battle but later died in the bush. It appeared that after he was wounded Cde Nekandu left the battle scene unnoticed. Cattle herders stumbled across his body and rifle in the bush between Onhumba and Omushiyo villages months after the battle.

We not only managed to recover all the dead comrades from the battle scene but we buried them in an unmarked grave deep in the middle of the jungle, about five kilometres west of the battle scene. All the wounded comrades were safely taken to Angola for medical attention.

We later learnt that the enemies we fought at Onhumba were a combination of white South African soldiers and foreign troops from Europe. From what we gathered, there was no single black soldier among the enemy unit. After this battle the enemy soldiers hardnly spent the night in Onhumba village, though they chose to increase patrols during the day.

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