When Phillip Abele, a 57-year-old paraplegic, speaks of how he found love, there is a sparkle in his eyes. True love, he says, found him under unusual circumstances 24 years ago and he remains with his lady luck to this day. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, his wife Muangu is faithful, dedicated and has vowed to love him for the rest of her life, he says.
Abele became paralysed at the hands of colonial police officers during the South African apartheid regime in 1982. The torture left him wheelchair-bound, consumed with fears and anxious that he would not be able to find love in his life.
The couple won the hearts and affections of many Namibians after President Hage Geingob, alongside the German government representatives, handed over a two-bedroom re-useable polycare modular assembly brick house to him and his family in Otjomuise’s 7de Laan where they previously lived in a shack.
Having to take care of anyone who is disabled is a full-time job. Many people consider it to be impossible, as you have to be available to attend to their needs immediately.
When New Era Weekend first visited Abele, his wife who is the family’s breadwinner, was out attending to their income as a domestic worker, their children had gone to school and we met Phillips seated outside his newly built house.
As New Era Weekend listens to Abele narrating his life, his wife phones to check on him. He tells her that he is with visitors and asks whether she is on her way home. “Where are you now? Are you not yet done? I am with visitors from the government who came to see us,” he affectionately tells her.
After the phone call he conveys that Muangu is busy and will return to attend to her family later.
When alone at home he keeps all doors closed out of fear that he may be found helpless and in a vulnerable situation. He is aware of Windhoek’s crime rate and doesn’t take chances with his inability to defend himself.
It all started one evening while Abele, at the age of 24, was walking home after struggling to make ends meet in Walvis Bay back in 1982.
He says while walking near the Walvis Bay old compound, colonial South Africa’s police officers approached and attacked him.
“I was a carpenter at the time. That time the political situation was terrible. The police attacked me near the Single Quarters. They beat me until I became unconscious. The next thing I saw, I woke up at Walvis Bay state hospital. I was there for two days until I was transferred to Windhoek for further treatment. My whole body was broken,” he narrated with tears in his eyes.
According to him, he spent 18 months in hospital in Windhoek.
Asked about the paralysis, he said it has negatively affected his well-being, job opportunities and having an intimate relationship. He couldn’t do anything to support himself, although unaware that God had plans to introduce love into his life.
In 1992 he met his wife Muangu – a meeting that eventually changed his life, turning him into a better and happier man.
“I never thought I would ever meet a woman who would love me. I had given up on looking for a woman. When I met Muangu, I told her that I needed a helper with my condition. She was a young girl at the time. She told me she would love me and would stay with me. We got married in 1993. God gave me kids – I am lucky because I can still make babies,” Abele narrates as tears flow down his cheeks.
Being paralysed has not stopped Abele from showing Muangu all the love in his heart. Muangu gave Phillip six children: four girls – Kunga, Tumbi, twins Olivia and Abigal, and two boys, Fudila and Phillip.
Asked if he forgave those who left him destroyed, Abele says, “I forgive them. Maybe they didn’t know what they were doing. I thank my God because they were supposed to kill me but I survived.”
He says his wife falls in the category of virtuous women, as she sees to his needs and ensures he is well taken care of.
When asked how they survive, Abele explains that his only source of income is the N$1 200 monthly government social disability grant that does little to maintain his family, especially the children who are all in school from primary to secondary level.
Abele says he applied in 2008 for war veteran recognition, but to no avail. According to him, he approached the Ministry of Veterans Affairs but officials there rejected him claiming he was born in Angola and didn’t deserve recognition.
“I have Namibian documents. I came to Namibia when I was a young boy, I moved to Walvis Bay in the late 70s. I registered and handed in all my documents that show my medical conditions, so I didn’t understand why they rejected me or told me that I don’t qualify … if I suffered at the hands of the South African agents. One lady at the ministry even said to me that I was born disabled and that I just want money under false pretences. Why would I want to lie about such things if there are witnesses as to what happened to me?” he queried.
Upon enquiries veterans affairs spokesperson Edson Haufiku said according to the information at their disposal Phillip was not a member of the armed forces and did not consistently and persistently participate or engage in any political, diplomatic or underground activities in furtherance of the liberation struggle.
This despite a testimonial letter, dated 19 September 2008, from the Office of the Secretary General of Swapo “confirming that comrade Abele was an active Swapo Party activist inside the country prior to independence”.
“It was in the course of the liberation struggle that he was physical harassed by the colonial forces, which has disabled him,” stated the letter signed by the director Hamunyera Hambyuka.
Abele also has another letter of recommendation from the Walvis Bay Urban Constituency, in Erongo Region, by Hafeni Ndemula, the then regional council for the constituency. The letter, dated 12 March 2012, states that Abele is a known “Swapo activist residing at the Single Quarters” in the early 1980s. And that he was attacked by “the notorious South Africa Police 15 August 1982…and the South African police at that time even refused to open up a case regarding the attack.”
Nevertheless, Haufiku was adamant that Abele “does not meet the requirements as stated in the Veterans Act of 2008 as amended, hence his application for veteran status was rejected by the Veterans Board.”
Haufiku says Abele should follow the correct procedures and appeal through the Veterans Appeal Board if he feels aggrieved by the decision of the Veterans Board.”
• The longer version of this story first appeared in New Era Weekend edition of 18 February.