News about the demise of Koevoet founder Hans Dreyer was received with mixed feelings in the northern regions, where the notorious unit brutalised, maimed and killed many Namibians during the liberation struggle.
Koevoet often killed innocent civilians in the northern war zone in its ruthless pursuit of PLAN fighters, the military wing of Swapo. The dreaded Dreyer, who was declared persona non grata after Namibia’s independence, died of organ failure in a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, on Sunday.
Dreyer was notorious for parading dead bodies in areas where the community assembled. Koevoet used to tie the dead bodies to trees or on the sides and tops of military trucks, which rode through the villages, as part of his psychological warfare to instil fear among civilians. Those in the know alleged he was also notorious for packing dead bodies like “sardines” in public places and once they “rotted” he heartlessly discarded them. While some people are celebrating Dreyer’s death, others have reconciled and said they have forgiven him and his allies for their war crimes.
“Namibia is independent now and we have adopted the policy of reconciliation.
“The struggle was bitter and long just as Toivo ya Toivo has alluded to. We have forgiven the enemy, but we will never forget the torture they subjected us to,” were the words of the governor of Ohangwena Region Usko Nghaamwa, who was among many Namibians captured and detained at the Koevoet headquarters in Oshakati.
The Koevoet headquarters, Oniimwandi, as it was known is today known as Okave and is home to police officers in Oshana Region.
Although Nghaamwa said he would not judge Dreyer’s crimes, the fractures and the holes in his ribs would always remind him of Koevoet’s brutality against Namibians. “They have even ruined my beard, it used to grow so nicely, but after they detained me they burnt my beard,” reminisced Nghaamwa. Saara Titus, a resident of Olwaadhiya in Onesi constituency in Omusati Region, recalled how her house, mahangu field and silos were destroyed when Koevoet soldiers invaded their home. “It was a scary day. Although they had often confronted us, that particular day was very scary. There were bullets flying all over and the bullet strikes are still evident in the trees in our yard,” said Titus According to Titus what is important today is to reconcile and enjoy the fruits brought about by independence.
The chairperson of the Namibian War Veterans organisation (Namvet) Frans Jabulani Ndeunyema called on the nation to not judge Dreyer.
“He was just human; we know people are blaming him for the death of many Namibians, but let us not judge him, it is not our job,” said Ndeunyema.
“I did not work with Dreyer, but I met him in 2010 and he asked about the living conditions of the people he had worked with. When I told him they are eating from the dustbins, he cried for 20 minutes,” said Ndeunyema while describing Dreyer as a “caring man”.
Asked about whether the adopted policy of reconciliation is functional in Namibia, Ndeunyema was quick to say that “there is no reconciliation”.
“Ask the former South-West Africa Territorial Force (SWATF), the Koevoets and the unemployed, they will agree with me,” said Ndeunyema.
Nghaamwa urged that history be documented to teach the younger generation the bitterness of the liberation struggle to prevent history from repeating itself.