Liberation struggle veterans calling themselves “Namibian refugees” have petitioned the United Nations in Namibia with a list of grievances and a demand for rehabilitation and resettlement, which was apparently promised to them at the time they were repatriated to Namibia.
The group of over 400 people – who say they were part of the liberation struggle and returned to the country in 1989 – were accompanied by a number of people born in exile during the anti-colonial struggle when they marched from Greenwell Matongo in Katutura to the UN head office in Klein Windhoek.
The group, which consists of veterans employed in entry-level government jobs, such as cleaners, and others who are unemployed and disabled, gave the UN leadership two weeks to respond to their petition.
Group spokesperson Tuulimoupyu Kakolonyah said the UN had three programmes for Namibian refugees repatriated in 1989, namely repatriation, resettlement and rehabilitation.
Kakolonyah said apart from the repatriation, which was successfully implemented, the resettlement and rehabilitation process was not effective.
“We want to know what happened to the money that was budgeted for these programmes and why these two programmes were never implemented in Namibia.
“Under normal circumstances the United Nations should have appointed someone to implement, monitor and evaluate the repatriation, resettlement and rehabilitation programmes,” she remarked.
She asked whether the N$10, axe, hoe, cutlass, single mattress and grey blanket, pot with lid, 1 kg of brown beans and 750 ml cooking oil offered to them were sufficient to resettle them back in 1989.
She said since “the UN failed” to properly implement the resettlement and rehabilitation programmes, the reasonable thing to do is for the UN to give them the money that was budgeted for the two outstanding programmes, so they can complete the process.
Kakolonyah said they want the UN to provide them with a full report on the implementation, monitoring and evaluation process of the repatriation, resettlement and rehabilitation programme, as per UN Resolution 435 of 1978.
She handed over the petition to acting UN resident coordinator in Namibia Jean-Pierre Ilboudo, who received it on behalf Kiki Ghebo.
“I’ve received the petition on behalf of our resident coordinator, Kiki Ghebo. She is out of the country and I’m acting for her, but I’ll make sure we process [this] and come back to you. Thank you so much,” Ilboudo said briefly.
Asked what would happen if here is no feedback after 14 days, group member Michael Mathias said they would explore other options. “That answer is not for now. You don’t need to put people under threats. Let them answer and after they answer we will give feedback to the group and discuss the way forward.”
Among the group is disabled 56-year-old father of 19 children Gabriel Naftal, who travelled from Omusati Region. He said he was shot and wounded in his right leg, which left him disabled and unable to work. He now receives a monthly disability grant of N$1 000, but struggles to make ends meet. Of his 19 children only one is employed.
“Since I returned to this country I have never worked. I joined Swapo in 1974. I was a soldier, but I never got a job, because I am disabled. I went to Okahandja when they were recruiting people for the defence force, but I was told I couldn’t be employed. Up to now I’ve been struggling,” Naftal explained.
He adds that he is still waiting for funding for his project – that he applied for in 2007 – to be approved by the war veterans’ ministry.
“We were told the ministry’s budget is not enough and we should be patient,” he noted.
Another petitioner, Ueshitile Shekupe, claimed the UN dumped them here without making a follow-up to see how they live.
“Some returned old and where will they settle to work if they are not educated? I’m retiring this year and what do I have after 26-years? I have never accumulated enough money to sustain my life and children and it is because I committed my time to the struggle for this country.”
“The country is nice now, but us, who committed our time are not taken care of,” remarked Shekupe, who recently graduated from a film school in Johannesburg. With his age advancing, he asked where he would get employment at the age of 60 years.
Fellow petitioner Michael Mathias opined that had they been properly resettled their children – who were born in exile – would not have been living along the road, or in makeshift houses at Brakwater: “They were supposed to be resettled with their parents, but unfortunately that programme wasn’t carried out.”