Angola is set to host two Namibian memorial sites for the men, women and children massacred on May 4, 1978 by apartheid South African forces at Vietnam and Cassinga camps in that country.
This was the promise of Safety and Security Minister and former commander of the then People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) Charles Namoloh, during the remembrance of the fallen heroes buried in unmarked graves at the former Swapo military camp, Vietnam in Tchetequela village in Cunene Province, Angola.
Namoloh led a high-powered delegation of survivors of the brutal attacks on Vietnam and Cassinga, a refugee camp at the time.
Cassinga suffered airstrikes and an invasion of paratroopers in the early hours of May 4, 1978, leaving 300 children, 294 women and 165 men dead, while misplacing 200 Namibians. Vietnam camp was attacked at 13h00 and it is believed to have hosted close to 2 000 people.
“I would like to inform you comrades and friends that the Namibian government already has plans to construct monuments for our fallen heroes and heroines here at Tchetequela and Cassinga,” Namoloh told the colourful crowd of Namibians and Angolans.
He was joined by Swapo spokesperson Helmuth Angula, Namibian Police chief Sebastian Ndeitunga, Land Reform Minister Utoni Nujoma, Namibian Ambassador to Angola Grace Uushona and Consul General of the Namibian Consulate in Ondjiva, Kakena Nangula.
It is now 38 years since the attacks and the first time since survivors, some of whom were taken to Cuba at the time, are returning to the sites, while various commemorative events are on the cards.
However, the survivors had a rude awakening when all that marked the graves were two Aloe Vera shrubs, throwing them into a state of tears and disbelief that 26 years after the country attained independence no befitting monuments were set up in honour of the fallen.
This is also in great contrast to the fact that Namibia has been celebrating a national public holiday in remembrance of the victims of Cassinga and Vietnam with much-publicised commemorative events usually in the regions.
Also, this is so after the country has built various memorial sites in Namibia where fearless PLAN fighters were killed in clashes with the South Africans including at Omunguluwombashe, Namutoni, Enhana Shrine, as well other places such as the Independence Memorial Museum and Heroes Acre. Plans were strong at some point for the erection of regional heroes acres.
The 32 survivors became very emotional when they saw people walking all over the areas where their fallen comrades are believed to have been buried.
“I am too disappointed for words. I do not know what to say,” said a teary survivor who spoke on condition of anonymity.
While another accounted: “All that we are asking is that the government must at least put up a fence around the area where our comrades are resting. They must also put up proper graves. Even if we have to collect money ourselves we will. But this is not good.”
This is even the feeling of Tchetequela village headman Tobias Kamwandi who was there when the camp was attacked.
“What we are thinking here is that if only our two governments give us a school, most important a clinic,” said Kamwandi.
“And also to turn the former camps into memorial sites from which we can also benefit as locals.”
Another headman of a nearby village, Joel Katombela, said: “They should develop this place so that people can come and see where Swapo left its soldiers during the armed liberation struggle.”
“It is very important for the two governments to put plans together to build memorial sites. History should be taught to our children from them to know that the liberation struggle was long and bitter – the memorial sites will be a good example.”
When they arrived at the former Vietnam camp, the Namibian delegation was received by equally hyped Angolan nationals donning MPLA and Swapo colours as well the national flag.
During a performance by women from the area on the chronology of the Namibian struggle, Namoloh, Ndeitunga and Angula let their guard down as they were seen shedding a tear or two before a handsome financial donation was made to the women.