The last surviving sibling of late liberation struggle hero Brendan Kangongolo Simbwaye, Christopher Simbwaye, has since 2011 appealed to government to erect a shrine to honour struggle heroes from the Zambezi Region.
In a follow-up letter by Simbwaye written in 2013 to the then minister of youth and national service, seen by this reporter, the family represented by Christopher Simbwaye also appeal for the erection of a shrine that will honour heroes from the Zambezi that are largely unsung.
The first letter was addressed to the founding president Dr Sam Nujoma who referred the family to then president Hifikepunye Pohamba who at that time doubled as Swapo party president. Pohamba in turn wrote back the following year to the family advising them the matter should be referred to the regional governor, Lawrence Sampofu.
Simbwaye, the last born in a family of six, noted that Zambezi Governor Sampofu showed great interest. The latter had agreed to the proposal, he said, and an alternative site adjacent to where Brendan Simbwaye and Alfred Tongo Nalishuwa were arrested would be located for the monument as the actual area where the duo were apprehended has been developed into a motor repair business.
“We went to see the area with the governor and the mayor early this year in the company of other Zambezi struggle veterans who were also part of CANU such as Mr Edward Ndopu, Lucas Simubali and Boniface Limbo. We found the place has been developed and we identified a place opposite it but the mayor said he still needed time to ascertain whether the area identified belongs to someone else,” narrated Simbwaye.
Simbwaye who hailed the honour bestowed on his elder brother nationally further noted that it was befitting that he is equally given the same honour posthumously in his native region as together with other heroes he contributed immensely to Namibia’s independence.
“We appreciate central government honouring him with a prominent building in Windhoek and a maritime vessel (named after him). Brendan Simbwaye hails from Zambezi – it is thus befitting that something like a memorial or monument be erected in his honour in Katima Mulilo,” implored Simbwaye.
He was perturbed by the lack of recognition and stated that a primary school named after his brother in Katima Mulilo was a small gesture that does not tie in well with his immense contribution to Namibia’s freedom.
“The primary school does not even have a hostel which would add value and attract more learners. There is no street named after him in Katima Mulilo. As a family we ask ourselves why is that so. Why is Simbwaye recognised nationally but not in this region where he comes from?” he inquired.
Sampofu the Zambezi regional governor said arrangements were at an advanced stage to build an outdoor museum for struggle heroes that would house the statue of Brendan Simbwaye. “Yes during our deliberations the ministry of veterans’ affairs came up with the idea of building an outdoor museum. This is a pilot project in the Zambezi that is likely to go to other regions. The museum will depict the names of all our fallen heroes and all their activities. We also thought of building a statue for Brendan Simbwaye at the entrance of the museum,” assured Sampofu.
“We asked for land close to Imran garage opposite Total service station in the east. Brendan Simbwaye was arrested just behind the service station and that area is someone’s land now. The area was then known as Mafulo. It’s where Simbwaye was arrested and where political meetings were held,” he reminisced.
Katima Mulilo Town Council CEO Charles Nawa confirmed to this reporter that indeed council has received the land application but a section of the area under consideration belonged to Katima Security and that negotiations were ongoing over the piece of land.
He played down claims that the town council was not doing enough to honour Simbwaye and other struggle heroes from Zambezi. “The issue of street naming was opened to the public to bring proposals. Brendan Simbwaye was one of the names proposed by the veterans’ office but we could not take it because he is already honoured with one of the biggest primary schools in this town,” countered Nawa.
Brendan Simbwaye, born in Ndangamwa area of Malindi in the eastern floodplains of the Zambezi, was the founder of the Caprivi African National Union (CANU) that merged with Swapo in 1964. Seeing they were fighting a common enemy the merger followed after Simbwaye had met the leadership of Swapo earlier in Zambia when the negotiations started.
He could not see the finalisation of the merger in person due to his arrest and was appointed as vice-president of Swapo in abstention.
He was arrested at a first CANU public rally in July 1964 on the north-western outskirts of Katima Mulilo at a place known then as Mafulo (encampment) together with other largely unnoticed struggle heroes, first Alfred Tongo Nalishuwa and then Vernet Maswahu who joined them in detention after being picked up while taking a petition to the United Nations in Lusaka.
The trio served their prison terms at the Windhoek central prison and upon their release Simbwaye and Maswahu were served with a banishment order to southern Namibia that was meant to isolate them from their native area of then Caprivi. While in southern Namibia, Simbwaye served various prison terms, mostly in solitary confinement. In 1972 he was granted ministerial approval to visit his native region.
It is upon this visit that Simbwaye disappeared and his death remains a mystery and a subject of vigorous debate among historians.