Peter Ekandjo: The Jungle Fighter- Living the life of a guerrilla fighter inside Namibia

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BY NATURE, guerrilla warfare is fraught with challenges, though some of them are surmountable. From the onset, I must admit that as guerrilla fighters of the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), who fought a well-equipped adversary, the South African Defence Force (SADF), we went through testing moments. Those of us who operated inside Namibia were not only required to employ the most appropriate tactics and strategies that would enable us to inflict heavy losses on the enemy forces with limited casualties on our side, but also had to fight under appalling social conditions.

We had to move from one jungle to another, most of the time exposed to vagaries of the weather such as rain and heat and, above all, we engaged the enemy forces on empty stomachs.

During the five years that I was operating inside Namibia on a continuous basis together with members of my unit, we had no place that we called our home. We had to spend all our days and nights in the jungles, mingling with wild animals. The worst thing was that during winter, we did not have blankets to shield us from the harsh cold weather, hence, had to rely on small pieces of tents that each of us was supposed to carry all the time. These tents were not helpful during winter, as they usually got cold.

Another appalling condition under which we fought the liberation war was carrying our armaments on our shoulders irrespective of the distance to be covered. Further, when a comrade was wounded in battle, we had to carry him on our shoulders using hand-made wooden stretchers back to Angola for medical attention.

I do remember that in 1980 when one of our comrades was wounded in Onamavo village, south of Omuntele gwa Shiliva in the Oshikoto Region, we had to carry him for about 200 kilometres up to Angola. We had to move during the night and hide the comrade in the jungle during the day, to avoid being detected by enemy forces and their collaborators.

Despite the difficulties, we were able to overcome most of the challenges, primarily because we had unity of purpose and a common objective to liberate our motherland and its people from colonial bondage. Our endurance and determination to fulfil our assignments was not based on any promises nor were we paid, but we were fighting as volunteer forces. Sometimes we were made to walk barefoot because our shoes would have been worn out. At times we had to depend on the locals to supply us with shoes and other necessities to fight the enemy forces.

We had to fight the enemy under a barrage of propaganda, some of which encouraged us to surrender to the enemy forces with the promise of a better life and so on. However, none of these threats, shameless enticements and propaganda meant anything to us because we knew what we wanted and no amount of persuasion would change our resolve.

A big number of surviving PLAN fighters who endured untold hardships during the armed liberation struggle found themselves faced with the reality of an independent Namibia, though some of them have never enjoyed the fruits of our independence.

They were denied the opportunity to enter formal employment mainly because they did not have necessary formal education required in both the private and public sectors.

They had gone without jobs for many years and lived under deplorable conditions. Many of these fighters ended up succumbing – due to ailments related to stress and other unacceptable social conditions.

I do sometimes feel that these PLAN fighters were not treated well by our own leaders, an act of betrayal as they did little to alleviate the mental torture endured by these heroes and heroines of the armed liberation struggle. It is unreasonable to demand formal qualifications from fighters who were never given the opportunity by the leaders to go for formal studies elsewhere like other exiled Namibians. I was one of those fighters who were never given an opportunity by the movement to go for formal studies, hence asking people like me to produce a formal qualification before I got employment was tantamount to a serious betrayal of the highest order. We spent our time in exile carrying guns and fighting the colonial forces. Moreover, that was what we knew how to do best.

As PLAN members, our assignment was to engage the enemy forces on the battlefront –an assignment given us by the top SWAPO leadership. SWAPO was a vanguard movement whose members were given different responsibilities. Some of our comrades were deployed deep inside Angola in rear bases, while some were deployed across the globe as either diplomats or students. These are the people who should be asked to tender formal education qualifications – not those who were at the battlefront because they only knew how to wage war and, hence, were supposed to be given the opportunity to defend the territorial integrity of the country they liberated through the barrel of the gun.

Notwithstanding the ongoing efforts by the Ministry of Veterans Affairs, I personally have never been appreciative of the way our leaders treated some of the former PLAN fighters in an independent Namibia. However, with the establishment of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, though the ministry comes a bit too late as many of our comrades have already died in abject poverty.

Many PLAN fighters who commanded the war at the battlefield ended up being given odd jobs such as cleaners elsewhere in the government establishments or institutions just because they could not produce qualifications of sort. For example, Cde Ruben Neshiko ‘’Matondo ga Niilonga’’ who was known for being a fearless detachment commander was employed in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism as work hand or ordinary warder at Waterberg Plateau Park before he passed away on 27 December 2002. This was an unfortunate development to say the least. Let his soul rest in eternal peace!

I must also register my appreciation on behalf of the living and fallen comrades towards what many local villagers in our operational areas had contributed to the fight against the colonial forces during the liberation war. Individual villagers took it up themselves to render all-round support to the freedom fighters during the war of liberation. These people had provided both material and spiritual support to the PLAN fighters under life threatening security situations.

They slaughtered their cattle to feed PLAN fighters, had their properties destroyed by the colonial troops because of their involvement in the liberation struggle and also went out of their way to ensure that we (PLAN fighters) were provided with the right information about enemy activities all the time until victory over the enemy was achieved.

Had it not been for the selfless sacrifices of our local village people towards the fight against the colonial forces, PLAN fighters would have found it difficult to operate inside Namibia, hence we must all acknowledge wholeheartedly the contributions made by these ordinary citizens to the defeat of enemy troops in Namibia.

* The book is available at the Book Den near Polytechnic of Namibia in Windhoek, Etunda filling station in Otavi, Omuthiya filling station, Okapana filling station in Ondangwa, Highway filling station (Selector) Ongwediva, Spar Shop Ongwediva, Book of Namibia in Ondangwa, Oshakati and Outapi, Hosea Kutako International Airport and at Bush War Publication in Durban South Africa.

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