‘Of course we are war veterans’

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Jabulani_Ndeunyema Namvet SWATF

Jabulani Ndeunyema is the leader and founder of the Namibian War Veterans Trust (Namvet), an organization made up of former SWATF and Koefoet personnel. Over the years, Ndeunyema and his organization have been demanding war veteran status which government has rejected. Last year, they caused an uproar when they threatened government with unspecified action. New Era journalist Helvy Shaanika had an interview with Ndeunyema.

Briefly tell us who Jabulani is?

My name is Frans Jabulani Ndeunyema. I was born in Okalongo but I grew up in Ongwediva. I schooled in Ongwediva and at Oshela Senior Secondary School in Okongo. I did not complete my education because when I was in my first year studying education – we used to call it ECP One, I dropped out of school and joined the South West Africa military. After Namibian independence, I joined the Namibian Defence Force (NDF). That was until 2003 when I decided to pursue business. But while I was travelling around I saw that the situation of soldiers was very bad. That was the reason why I decided to establish the Namibia War Veterans Trust (Namvet). I am the architect of Namvet, I am the chairperson.

Do you have any role model, maybe a political figure, religious figure or traditional leader?

I don’t have a role model, I do what I think is right and that’s it.

Why did you join SWATF? Was it a forced conscription or was it a voluntary one?

The situation that time dictated what I would do. When I was at Oshela Senior Secondary School, the school principal received a message that PLAN fighters were plotting to abduct all pupils from Ongwediva. We were a group of 25 pupils from Ongwediva that were schooling at Oshela. We arranged with a friend of us who was in SWATF to fly us with a helicopter from Okongo to Ongwediva. I joined SWATF voluntarily but of course because of the situation. Friends, poverty and propaganda dictated. At the same time as a young boy life was tough. Parents could not give you all that you desired. I saw my friends riding bicycles, while I did not even have shoes. PLAN fighters used to come a lot to our house and we used to feed them, but they did not convince me to join Swapo. My sisters went into exile but I opted to stay at home. I did not want to leave my mother and my father alone in the house. I also remember one of the village headmen at my area (Ongwediva) getting killed by Swapo. At the same time our friends who were in the army including Karel Ndjoba, explained to us that Swapo was fighting for communism and we were told in communism you cannot have a house or a wife of your own.

What was your position in SWATF?

I was a corporal.
Can you shed some light on your personal experience including atrocities committed by SWATF/Koevoet during the war?

SWATF was a military component. We were properly trained. We never operated inside the country but when terrorists were inside Namibian borders then that was a different situation. I operated in Angola in the areas of Mupa, Cuvelai, Shamutete up to Okalonga. Our aim was not to destroy Swapo, but to contain Swapo, because Swapo was a terrorist organisation, just like Al Qaeda, ISIS and others in the world. You cannot totally destroy terrorism, you can only contain it. And I am proud that we managed to contain Swapo – they did not manage to establish even a single base in Namibia. We forced them to come to the negotiation table. It is not true that Namibia became independent because of Quito Cuanavale. Swapo had two weapons, one was an AK-47 and another one was propaganda. I myself was not at Quito but two of our company units were there. Quito did not bring independence.

When it comes to atrocities committed against civilians – such actions were never ordered by commanders but people are just people. In fact at times you would be disciplined if the commander learns that you had brutalized a civilian.

Do you think think Namvet’s claims are legitimate? Do you people have a genuine case?

What do you mean? Our demands are 100 percent genuine. In 1990 when Namibia got independence, people (SWATF/Koevoet) were scared of Swapo. Some of us were supposed to go and work for the South African Defence Force but the Founding Father President Sam Nujoma said Namibia is for all of us, we are brothers and sisters. The following year we were called to go and work for the Namibia Defence Force. Of course our demands are genuine. A veteran is not only someone that fought in a liberation struggle, a veteran is a former soldier. I know the Namibian Veteran Act has excluded us – I call it a draconic law. Members of parliament are supposed to make laws for all citizens but it is not the same case as with our MPs. The good descriptions of a veteran were given by Honourable Nahas Angula during the tabling of the veterans bill but when the act was passed we were excluded.

Honourable (Nahas) Angula gave three descriptions of a veteran: a veteran of a liberation struggle, a veteran who decided to remain in the country [and contribute to the liberation struggle] and former SWATF/Koevoet soldiers.
Our demands are genuine because first and foremost we are Namibians; secondly, we are retired soldiers and a former soldier is referred to as a veteran.

Last year you created hype by making some threats and giving deadlines to government. Were those threats empty?

Those were not threats, that was my opinion. After former president Hifikepunye Pohamba told us that we can go back to the bush our board sat and talked. It was around the election and there was an incoming president. We decided to wait for the incoming president and we are now in touch with him. We are just waiting for him to pronounce himself on the matter.

How does the future of Namvet look?

It is 50/50. It is 50 percent bright and 50 percent dark. The current president has not said anything about SWATF/Koevoet, so that will determine how bright or dark its future is.

Finally is there anything that you can share with us?

We want to maintain peace in the country and that is what we always discuss whenever our members meet at Commando. Our members must just remain patient and calm until the President [Hage Geingob] pronounces himself.

Namibians should also understand one thing; we have never claimed to be veterans of the liberation struggle, we will never be. Swapo was fighting for the liberation struggle, we were not. We just want to be recognized as war veterans.

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