Auguste yaImmanuel was the first Namibian woman to undergo military training and received the honorary military rank of colonel from former president Hifikepunye Pohamba during the 2007 Heroes Day Commemoration at Eenhana. She arrived in Tanganyika in July 1964, the only woman in a group of men who went into exile by leaving Namibia on foot in the middle of the night, crossing into Angola and eventually into Leopoldville, Kinshasa, in the Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo), Northern Rhodesia, Zambia, and Nyasaland (Malawi), before eventually ending up in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika (Tanzania). It was a journey that took a whole year. At Kongwa in Tanzania in 1965, she realised that she was the only, and the first woman to undergo military training with the first group of men that was to groom fearless soldiers, who would later become the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). Mukwahepoe was born on October 7, 1937.
“I have come to collect you. I want you all to pack your bags so we can leave right now, tonight, this moment. I will explain to you later where we are going. But it is a long journey that I cannot take without you.”
These words spoken by my fiancé, Shikongo shaHangala, changed my life completely. They marked the starting point of an arduous and testing physical, emotional and psychological journey, a journey that transformed me from a shy, traditional Owambo village girl to a national hero, a mother of the struggle for the freedom and independence of Namibia.
When everyone in the house was fast asleep, Shikongo and I hit the road, en route to Angola. We walked to the house in Oshikango, where we found Filimon Andreas (Kashumba), Johannes yaHaukongo (Danger) and Filipus Haukongo waiting for us. We rested for a while and as soon as mawila (the morning star) rose in the east, we were all on our feet.
We arrived in Luanda five days after leaving Ondjiva. We stayed in Luanda for about a week.
When we arrived at Kongwa, Tanzania, for military training I was still a village girl, very nice and soft. I was constantly intimidated by men, and was still trying to play the girl role from my childhood upbringing.
The men’s world I was now entering was foreign to me. All trainees at Kongwa gave themselves new names, combat names. As if the intimidating political discussions among men were not enough, the men decided unilaterally to change my name from Mukwanangobe, my paternal totem, to Mukwahepo, which means one who belongs to the poor clan.
They called me Mukwahepo to tease me because of my situation, woman alone in a military training camp, a woman amongst men in the liberation struggle movement (in other words, ‘the poor thing’). Mukwahepo became my name and has remained so ever since, no matter how hard I tried to tell my comrades that I was Mukwanangobe. It was like talking to deaf ears. Aguste yaImmanuel was never heard of again, except on formal papers.
* ‘Mukwahepo: Woman Soldier, Mother’ as told to Ellen Ndeshi Namhila. University of Namibia, 2013.
– First published in New Era: on January 2014.